From Station Wagon to Steamboat

"Steamboat" builds a steamboat

Ford station wagon

The steamboat Delta Queen, built by Laemon "Steamboat" Mathis from a steam-converted Ford station wagon, is a source of great enjoyment to "steam men" and children.

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A few years ago in December 1975, I purchased a 1964 Ford station wagon which had been converted to steam by F.A. Osteen of Winnsboro, South Carolina. Mr. Osteen, 80, had converted the car to steam in his own shop and pathetically passed away soon after completing the conversion. I bought the car from his widow, Mrs. Bertha Osteen.

A friend of mine, Mr. Leamon Mathis, a capable mechanic and welder of Hampstead, North Carolina, made some adjustments on the power plant, especially the atomizing burner, and drove the car briefly in and around Hampstead a few times in January 1976. We found that the weight of the water tube boiler, which was in the rear of the car behind the second seat, caused the back of the chassis to sink too low. This not only spoiled the appearance of the car, but also interfered with proper springing.

Mr. Mathis happened to have at the time two 16-foot airplane fuel tanks and it suddenly occurred to him to make a steamboat using the fuel tanks as pontoons and the two cylinder Osteen engine. Mr. Mathis, 50, was nicknamed “Steamboat” many years ago because of his interest in making a steamboat. Hence the original title of this article, “Steamboat” Builds a Steamboat.

Mr. Mathis began work on the steamboat in January 1976, and had it completed in April of that year. He could not devote full time to the boat because of his regular work in welding and mechanics on his own shop. The Osteen car was taken apart and all parts of value were salvaged.

I bought a water tube boiler and steam atomizing burner from Dick Dannhardt of Bristol, Virginia, and Mr. Mathis installed these in the steamboat. The Dannhardt boiler has a central vertical drum about 8 inches in diameter and several vertical coils of pipe for generating steam around the drum. The burner is steam atomizing and uses kerosene. Steam can be raised to 150 psi in about 10 minutes once the fire is turned on. The Osteen engine is a two-cylinder piston valve type and runs almost as smoothly as a Stanley engine.

A local man, Tom Johnson, of Hampstead, made a paddle wheel of plywood and this was attached to a shaft between the pontoons at the stern of the boat. With 150 psi the boat cruises at about 10 knots and maintains this pressure. The boat has a very pleasant sounding low tone tugboat whistle. Another interesting feature about the craft is its great stability. A heavy person can walk anywhere on the deck of the boat without causing appreciable listing. The boat is 16 feet long and the beam is not over 5 feet. The fuel is kerosene. A reserve water tank of 25 gallons is placed below the burner.

A young friend, Gary Osman, of Wilmington, North Carolina, made the canopy in April 1977. Another young friend, Diane Osman, of Wilmington, painted the canopy and other parts of the boat.

Bill Cottingham, 25, of Wilmington, a young “steam man,” has steamed the boat up several times and has been with me on cruises on the Cape Fear River. Others who have enjoyed the boat are Mr. and Mrs. Samuel (Wanda) Price, of Elkins, West Virginia. Mr. and Mrs. Price recently bought my 1922 Stanley Steamer phaeton, which I had in my possession since April 1935.

I am inviting anyone interested in building a steam powered boat to write me for help in finding components. IMA 

Brooks Jones’ address from the original article has been removed. — Ed.