This is to comment on the letter to the editor from Russell Bowman (“Could steam engines make a comeback?” Farm Collector, June 2011).
Mr. Bowman posed the question “Has anyone revisited steam power to run farm equipment, industrial applications such as wood mills or other types of equipment?” Members of the Steam Automobile Club of America (SACA) have addressed that issue indirectly while designing modern steam-powered automobiles. Our club is, by default, the only repository of information on modern steam power in the world. Modern steam means mono-tube steam generators and high-speed, high-efficiency steam engines. Our work can be easily adapted to either agricultural or stationary use.
That said, it is not easy to make a modern steam power plant. There is almost no infrastructure in place to facilitate such work. “Infrastructure” refers to educated, experienced steam engineers and manufactured, off-the-shelf components. Therefore, the question as to whether plans exist that would allow a good machinist to fabricate a modern steam plant has to be answered in the negative. Before plans can be furnished, there needs to be an existing working power plant that has shown good reliability. We do not have that. Design, engineering, testing and fabricating such a plant involves huge capital investment as well as more skills than those typically possessed by one person.
Having a solid, fuel-fired modern steam tractor makes a lot of sense and it should be done. The basic designs and theoretical work have been done. There is no complete agreement on designs because several possibilities exist. However, enough work has been done to proceed. SACA members have worked with mono-tube boilers and their control issues and have developed several possibilities. Currently, most who work with steam prefer the LaMont because it is reliable and easy to control. Uniflow engines are preferred for efficiency, although work is underway at present with very low clearance volume counter-flow engines.
One problem with modern steam is psychological. While I support the work being done in preservation of antique steam traction engines, it is publicity from such engines that colors the public’s perception, making it hard for many to consider modern steam. When we have some good working examples, that perception can be changed.
If you are interested in modern steam, I recommend that you visit our website (www.steamautomobile.com) and join the association. Dues of $35 should be sent to SACA Membership Secretary David Lewis, P.O. 31, Carson City, MI 48811. This is the best way to get acquainted with our storeroom of steam information, our bi-monthly publication and membership, some of the most interesting people in the world.
Tom Kimmel, president, Steam Automobile Club of America, P.O. Box 247, Berrien Springs, MI 49103.