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Stanley Steamers come to Jackson to tour area

Driving his 1910 Stanley Turner steam car is Mark Smith. He and his wife, Debbie (seated behind him), are from Kingfield, Maine, where she is executive director of the Stanley Museum. Riding along are Mark Turner and his wife, Catharine McCloskey-Turner, from Detroit. MI. They are about to leave the Bavarian Halle parking lot in Jackson for a tour of Cape Girardeau on Sept. 15. Photo by Gregory Dullum

You may have seen one zipping down the road recently and not even have known what it was — you might have thought it was just an “old car.”

But it was much more than that! About a dozen Stanley Steamers — steam-powered autos built over 100 years ago — came to Jackson recently.

There are only about 300 Stanley Steamers left in the world, and about half of them are in England. There may be about 100 in the U.S., and 12 of them came to Jackson!

The Bavarian Halle in Jackson was the home base for a week of touring by these antique auto aficionados.

The first day of touring was Tuesday, Sept. 12. They went to Thebes, IL, and saw the courthouse there. On Thursday, they visited Perryville, where they toured the Saxony Lutheran Memorial and the Antique Tractor Museum. On Friday, they toured Cape Girardeau, visiting sites there. On Saturday, they went to Oak Ridge.

“Mostly, we drive,” said Mark Smith, whose wife, Debbie, is the executive director of the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, ME. The owners of these cars just get pleasure from driving them, he said. The steam cars have a touring speed of 40 mph. Smith only smiled when asked about their top speed.

Their engines are rated from 10 to 30 horsepower, depending upon the model.

There is no transmission on these cars, except to go into reverse. To go faster, more steam is applied to the engine. Drivers don’t like to go very fast, because they still need to stop, and the faster they go, the harder it is for their brakes to stop them. Most of these cars have hydraulic brakes.

Kerosene is usually used to heat up the water and turn it to steam. Some drivers, however, use jet fuel. The steam that is created pushes the pistons. The engines run as quietly as electric cars — there is no engine noise when they are running. The only sound these cars utter are their distinct horns and whistles and the occasional hiss of excess steam being let off.

Sometimes other drivers on the road mistake the steam for smoke and try to tell them that their car is on fire, Smith said.

Getting started in the morning takes time. It can take from 15 to 45 minutes to get up a head of steam, depending upon the model.

This where the term comes from, “to fire up the car.” Also, the phrase, “to let off steam” can be attributed to steam cars, Smith said.

The very first Stanley Steamers looked like a carriage without a horse. They were called “horseless carriages.” Later, two kinds were developed. First was called the “coffin-nosed” because the front end looked like a coffin. Then in 1916-17, Stanley came out with a condenser radiator style that looked more like conventional autos of that time.

The 1910 Stanley Turner that Smith was riding in was a coffin-nosed model with a boiler that holds 10 gallons of water. His boiler has two metal plates — one on top and one on the bottom — and 400 metal tubes running between them. The heat from the fire warms these tubes, and with so much surface area in contact with the water, the car produces enough steam to start driving in only 15 minutes.

These cars lose a certain amount of water as they drive. Their water tanks hold a total of 35 gallons, and the cars lose about a gallon of water per mile. So, every 35 miles, the drivers must stop to add water. The cars don’t burn much kerosene. They can go all day without adding kerosene, Smith said.

Stanley created the steam-powered car because he owned a hotel in Colorado and needed a car with a lot of torque to carry passengers from the steam train up the mountain road to the hotel.

Some of the Stanley Steamers have the steering wheel on the left and some have them on the right side. Smith said they were originally on the right side, but in 1914, they were switched to the left side, because by then there were more automobiles on the road and they started driving only on the right side of the road. It made sense to move the driver to the left side.

The week of tours in Jackson was co-organized by Joe Graziana of St. Louis, who knows this area, because he used to volunteer as a fireman on the Iron Mountain Railroad steam-powered locomotive in Jackson. His partner in organizing this event was Dick Friedman. Graziana brought his Stanley Steamer here to be part of the tour.

These Stanley Steamer tours usually last nine days, Graziana explained. The drivers head out each morning and travel a 50- to 70-mile loop before returning back each evening. To become a tour site, there needs to be enough interesting sites around — and this area has them!

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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