Propane and the Steam car
Posted by: (---.wavecable.com)
Date: May 22, 2008 12:51AM
Discussion has recently been made on the Stanleysteamers web site about the use of propane fuel in the steam cars for pilot lights. Jim Crank did us the favor of recalling what can happen with propane fuel and the steam car. Location...Knotts Berry Farm, California.
Bill Marsh and I were there the weekend before, and I
know what happened. The accident was directly the result of Wayne's
stubbornness and probably his ignorance of how to use propane tanks.
Described as a chain of events.
Wayne had a huge propane tank in the back of his garage property to
fire his heat treating furnace.
His Stanley used kerosene for the main burner; but he had a long
small diameter propane tank in the floor of the tonneau for the pilot
light. The tank was up against the back of the front seat and thus
right over the cylinders.
Wayne filled this tank from his big one; but not the right way, I saw
this happen, I watched as he did this. He inverted the propane tank
and filled it until a solid stream of liquid propane came out of the
vent on the pilot tank. THIS is his big mistake. That vent valve has
a tube inside the tank that goes down and provides about a 20% gas
volume at the top of the tank when it is used in the proper way with
the valves on top. It starts spitting liquid propane when the level
comes up to the bottom of this tube. Then you are supposed to stop
filling. The void is to take care of liquid propane expanding in hot
We went out in the Stanley and I remarked to Wayne that I smelled
propane in the rear seat of the car, a lot of it. I opened one rear
door to try to let the cloud of propane out of the car after we got
Wayne got mad and told me that he damn well knew how to use propane
and not to mention it again.
When we were about to leave, I told him: "Wayne, that pilot tank is
venting raw propane out the safety valve because you overfilled it
and this was very dangerous. Fran Duveneck and I also use propane for
out pilots; but we don't deliberately overfill the tank like you
do." He didn't want to hear this for sure and got quite mad that I
brought this up again. I told him: "Wayne, this is going to cause an
accident, so think about that." Then we left.
At Knott's Berry Farm, it was a very hot day and the parade was just
creeping along, so there was not even a breeze to dissipate the
propane from the tonneau. Not only a hot day; but remember the tank
was right over the hot Stanley cylinders.
The tank vented again and filled the tonneau with propane. Mrs. Bill
Schutz and her two children were in the back seat. She lit a
cigarette and the propane in the tonneau blew up. The Nuttings were
killed from their burns, Mrs. Schutz was very badly burned and the
kids less so. I was told that she could not be seen in public until a
lot of skin grafts and other reconstructive surgery was done.
Bill Schutz sued the Nutting estate for a lot of money and that is
how he got into the vintage car business, from the payment by the
When we got home, both Fran and I dumped our propane pilot tanks and
went back to using white gas.
On the several Steam Car Tours in Idaho and Colorado, only the hand
torch to warm up the pilot light was permitted. Any car using propane
for main or pilot fuel was denied entry to the tours, as you should
There was also a propane explosion on one of the London to Brighton
runs. The car was a 1904 White, which has the gas tank under the
floor right next to the steam generator and burner.
The idiot replaced it with a propane tank and, of all things
possible, used a rubber hose to run the main burner at full tank
pressure, about 250 psi. The hose froze up and broke and the car was
enveloped in a ball of flame. The driver and passenger were not
A friend of mine was only two cars down line when this happened. He
said that people ran in panic and several fell down and got badly
I was asked to and provided a report to the Veteran Car Club on this
by a friend of mine who was then the dating chairman. Why this
happened, propane tank next to the steam generator and rubber hose. I
recommended that the owner be banned from any club event until he put
the White back as it was made. This happened.
As far as I am concerned, any steam car that uses propane for either
the pilot light or the main burner, should not be allowed on any tour
or even in the parking lot. Hand torches are OK, not much else you
Anyone who wants to use propane in any steam car is an idiot. There
is no where the BTUs per gallon compared to gasoline of kerosene and
it is just plain dangerous to use.
If they can't figure out how to burn liquid fuel, then take up
Hope this helps.