Here is a sort of a supplemental report of my doings after Jane and I left the Seattle Washington Meet. I had planned this trip with the idea of coining to San Francisco and getting a ride in the Besler Kaiser if I could wangle it. With this in mind, I rented a (gas) car and drove over to the Besler plant in Emeryville. I have been to the plant many times in the past 20 years (I used to live near there in Berkeley) but I still had to ask directions to find Harlan Street as it is only one block long.
Due to very careful planning on my part, I arrived at just lunch time and was invited to join Jim DeWitt, chief engineer and Bill Besler for lunch. Following lunch, Jim showed me through the plant while Bill caught up on the afternoon mail. Jim, by the way designed boats for me many years ago when I was in the boat building business in Oakland.
Halfway through our tour we were paged on the P.A. system and hustled down to the ground floor where we found the Kaiser, hood up with the rear ends of Besler and Brooks Gardner, project engineer sticking out. Bill explained that we might not get a ride as Barney Becker had put gasoline in the car just before departing for Seattle and thus far the fuel pump wouldn't pump it as it was used to #2 fuel oil. One of the reasons that Besler holds the position he does in the world of steam is that this sort of thing doesn't bother him. Screw driver and alien wrench in hand he adjusted the pump and while I watched, we had steam (1,000 lbs of it) a plenty but only 60 lbs of fuel pressure. Brooks drove and I sat in the front seat watching our normalizer temperature rise and fall and also that the steam pressure hovered very close to the 1,000 lbs. mark in traffic. Out on the expressway, it was like the old Stanleys; the speed went up into the fifties and the steam pressure came down to a comfortable 600. Further pushing at Besler's suggestion from the back seat raised the speed perhaps three miles an hour but brought our pressure down to 300 and at times 200 lbs. This same thing happens to me in my '10 Stanley-- if I push it, I lose speed and steam. However in this car the pressure goes down but the car still goes in the fifty mile range. That's the flash boiler for you--if you have a fire and water, well you have steam and speed enough. This car is also quiet. There is the sound of machinery but it is subdued, more like a slow turning engine. This engine is not slow turning, in fact Brooks told me that the gearing is the same as when the car had its gas engine.
After five miles or perhaps a bit more we turned around through one of the clover leafs and started back to Emeryville. By this time I had figured out the gauges and signal lights. (Green light, burner on; Amber light, feed water; Red light, fire off (too hot). All seemed to be well. The car was going like a bomb and not a soul was yelling, "Get a horse". In other words, if you put modern Detroit looking junk on a steam car nobody knows its a steamer.
As we neared Emeryville I noticed that our 60 lbs of fuel had gone down to 40. Turning off the expressway it petered out to 0 even though the green light was on. We had 300 lbs of steam at this point and obviously no fire. Oddly enough, Bill Besler had just been commenting that the trouble with monotube boilers was that there was not enough water in them to give any storage of steam and if you lost the fire you stopped immediately. I don't like to argue the point but that car went well over a mile in traffic before we glided to a silent stop!
After stopping, a quick check showed everything to be in order except we could not get fuel pressure no matter what. Bill was sure we were out of gas so he sent Jim DeWitt back to the shop to get some while we fiddled with the car. We discovered that the fuel pump and fuel strainer were quite warm, being located inches away from the boiler. I watch the Huntley-Brinkley news and Texaco is peddling "No vapor lock" gas these days. I suggested that perhaps the fuel strainer was hot enough to have broken our suction to the pump. We poured a bucket of water on the strainer and pump and as Jim returned with the gas we turned the switch on. Presto! 60 lbs fuel pressure, fire and in a moment, 1,000 lbs of steam. We steamed back to the shop, followed by Jim in his car with the unopened gas can while Bill Besler sat silently working his slide rule. I'm sure that to the slide rule set it is uncomfortable to have a Stanley cut-and-try man think of "Vapor Lock" but then I do watch the "Huntley-Brinkley Report".
Bill Besler says he's going to do it again but in a car with a bit bigger engine space. I want you to know this: He is on the right track. The Kaiser is admittedly an experimental car but it runs well and with modern traffic. I can't honestly think of anything it needs except a bigger condenser, and a fan behind it. One more foot of space and it would have been there. Even so I'd buy it if I could.
Morris P. Frost
E341 Cocoanut Row
Riviera Beach, Florida
Kaiser Besler Engine from Science and Mechanics, November, 1961, Page 118
Henry J. Kaiser commissioned Bill Besler to convert his 1953 Kaiser Manhattan to steam. This was done in about the summer of 1957 or 1958. The only printed mention of this project is in the November 1961 issue of Science and Mechanics magazine in a long article by Sam Miner, past SACA president, entitled: “Steamers Steam-Up Again”. There is a small photo showing the engine compartment of the Kaiser-Besler with the boiler and the V-4 all fitting under the hood. From the looks of a pressure tank in the corner labeled “Steam Separator” this probably was one of Besler’s pour-over steam generator systems. The caption under the photo says: “Conversion units like this are not available commercially, although Besler Corporation has considered making them so. $2500 is target price, two years hence.”
Personal communication with someone who was with Besler at the time said that the price quoted was much lower than Besler would have charged. In either case, people who have ridden in this car said that it went better than Besler had expected. The engine was much different than the design that Besler used for all of his other steam projects. The change in design was probably an attempt to make a more compact unit because Kaiser had requested everything to fit under the hood. Therefore the engine is a V-4 single acting uniflow with trunk pistons. It is a cross compound with piston valves across the high pressure heads. Thus only one set of valves is needed because the exhaust from the high pressure side is piped to the low pressure side. Because of the uniflow exhaust system no valves of any kind are needed on the low pressure side. This engine did have the usual trunk piston steam engine issues of water getting in the crankcase and blowing all over.
Other than this brief mention there is no other information found about
the Kaiser-Besler steam car. It does not appear to have been written up
anywhere. We do not know what Henry J. Kaiser had in mind for this project.
We only know that he was familiar with the Perrymobile steam car design
and that he had enough money to do what he wanted. There is an interesting
letter dated February 18, 1960 and written on the Besler Corporation letterhead
and signed by William J. Besler and H. Brooks Gardner. This letter is reproduced
here in full. Some considerable reading between the lines will make this
letter more meaningful.
It appears that Besler had sent out a questionnaire to the SACA club members asking them who would be willing to pay how much for a steam power plant to drop into a modern car. It appears that very few people were willing to spend money on this project and everyone had a different opinion on what they wanted. Witnesses to Besler’s reaction to these unrealistic responses say that he was not happy and gave up thinking about making a commercial steam car. Besler had calmed down by the time he composed this letter and it is very diplomatic. We do not know if he had in mind the Kaiser conversion or something else when he had sent out the survey. At least we know that the Kaiser conversion was his most recent steam project, and a very successful one at that.
It was hoped that there might be a common meeting of minds as to desires and specifications so that at least limited quantity production might make a reasonable price possible. The wide variance in desires, however, forces the conclusion that there is no average requirement and, accordingly, vigorous effort is not justified. Replies from most boat enthusiasts indicated the price should be competitive with the quantity-produced, simple, reliable and efficient diesel engine. This is not feasible. Replies regarding steam cars generally indicated a desire for a plant to fit into a modern automobile chassis and which would be competitive in every respect with internal combustion engines including price! The internal combustion (I.C.) automobile won out because it was simpler and cheaper to build, and this situation has not changed.
From the survey it is interesting to note the many misconceptions which are apparently commonly held, particularly regarding power required to propel a car, the efficiency of the steam cycle and the condensing problem. We feel impelled, accordingly, to enclose a sheet including some impartially prepared graphs to which your careful attention is respectfully directed.
It is our belief that the steam plant should not be considered to replace the more efficient, simpler and cheaper Otto cycle engine. Approached as a hobby for those who can afford the time and painlessly absorb the cost, a steam car or boat of modest performance can be an engrossing and enchanting escape from present tensions. For the elite and enlightened enthusiasts to whom cost and efficiency is not the deciding factor, custom-built steam power plants will undoubtedly be required.
There are some applications where the special attributes of steam justify its use. These applications include silent operation, storage of power, or where you must have steam anyway for heating or processing, etc. Considering the information received from the survey, we cannot offer encouragement for a quantity-produced automobile or boat steam plant at this time. However, should the situation change, you will be advised.
Very truly yours,
BESLER CORPORATION – Advance Research
William J. Besler
H. Brooks Gardner
A KIT CAR?
By Jim Crank
Several members have mentioned SACA-sponsored "kitcars" in recent months. Kit cars, whether sponsored by SACA or by private enterprise, are not a new subject. At a meet at Tucson, Arizona in the early sixties, Bill Besler and I discussed this subject at length over a period of several days. We concluded that the then relatively new Chevrolet Corvair would be an ideal platform for a modest performance steam car conversion; engine in rear, boiler in front, two condensers, one in the rear deck hood, another in front between the headlights.
The engine was to be the same one used for the Kaiser. It was a 90 degree Vee-four, single acting compound, one transverse inside admission piston valve across the two high pressure cylinders, with uniflow exhaust directly into the low pressure cylinders with no low pressure admission valves, and uniflow low pressure exhaust. There was a shifting eccentric for variable high pressure cutoff, actuated by a spring-loaded centrifugal flyweight governor. The higher the speed, the shorter the cutoff. The steam generator was to be the larger Besler Navy smoke generator with two extra coils added. Bill had probably a hundred of them, complete with thermostat. The burner was to be pressure atomizing, using a Monarch nozzle. The water pump was to be a Besler three cylinder pump from the Beskil insecticide sprayer, good for 1500 psi. The kit buyer would get a finished steam generator, either a completed engine or a set of unmachined castings, water pump, throttle, full blueprints, and wiring and plumbing instructions. It would be up to the buyer to provide the chassis, the rest of the necessary parts, and to install and assemble everything.
Bill decided to retain the Corvair transmission for reverse and for warming up the engine in neutral, which also gave three lower gears if needed. We felt that an honest 50 HP would do the job. I saw this engine produce 85 HP at 3200 rpm on a dynamometer on several occasions, and I drove the Kaiser on the freeway at 80 mph with six people aboard, and it had plenty of punch.
Bill and I made up a three or four page questionnaire that we sent to all SACA members. Not one returned questionnaire matched another; everyone wanted something different. One return was bizarre indeed, recommending a Stanley boiler and burner.
Only one return was anywhere realistic in price; he was willing to pay up to $10,000 for the kit. A few thought that it should cost as little as $2,000, a ridiculous amount. Bill said to me in disgust that he wouldn't have anything more to do with such a program, to say nothing of the very real risk of lawsuits if anything went wrong. He gave up on the idea of making and selling any form of conversion kit, even when we figured the engine as a kit of unmachined castings, plus all other finished parts. Even in those days, such a kit in a production run of 50 units would have an OEM cost of about $8000.00 to $12,000.00 each. Besler intended to just include the basic smoke generator for free, as the top floor of the plant was piled high with them. No, building a steam buggy to thrash around the parking lot is one thing. Making a power plant that can run a standard vehicle on the freeway at freeway speed, be reliable, and actually be a usable automobile is a whole new ball game. When I say a modern steam car that is usable as an ordinary road vehicle, I also include the general neatness and presentation of the system. A car that when one opens the hood, it shows professional workmanship and neat, sanitary plumbing and wiring. Not something that looks like an explosion in a player piano. The admission price to that new ballgame is quite steep also. Engineers and machinists don't work for chicken feed any more.
A buyer of a kit steam power plant had better have at least $50,000.00 in his pocket even before starting. Not to forget a shop equipped with a good lathe, milling machine, TIG welder, loads of hand tools, and let us not forget, the skill to use those tools. If the would-be steam car builder has to farm out all the work, then a fund of$100,000.00 plus is more in order.
If I were to consider a comparable kit today, I would specify a forced draft, post vaporizing burner for cleaner combustion, a CAT water pump, and most certainly a Lamont type steam generator. If I were to design a new engine for a steam car, I would spend considerable time examining the Wankel and Lysholm compressor concepts. Trying to package a double acting engine, no matter what configuration, in a modem chassis is a most difficult task. We do not have chassis that sit a foot off the ground anymore and that use 20" wheels.
I would do a very thorough thermodynamic analysis, leakage, and general mechanical design analysis of several concepts, before making any choice. Just because the design has not been used in a steam car before, does not mean that technology has not advanced the concept to a degree where it should not be considered again. One concept that I would look at with a degree of hesitation is the single acting engine. These come handicapped with considerable thermal losses that cannot be eliminated. The oil cooling the underside of the pistons, losses from the heat being transmitted down the connecting rods and general losses by conduction down the cylinders and into the crankcase. There are also the severe losses by leakage around piston valve rings, and the piston rings themselves at slow speed and heavy load. Abner Doble discovered this in an elaborate series of tests, both at Emeryville and while in England. It is not a matter to be ignored, it is serious.
SACA member George Nutz put me onto the advantages of the Lamont type of steam generator, and after much discussion I saw that what he was proposing was a distinct improvement over the conventional forced flow once-through monotube (sometimes called "flash") steam generator. About a third less weight, half the heating surface for the same output, and totally eliminating all of the control problems of the conventional monotube, yet retaining the monotube's fast steaming, good overload capability, and safety. I really do want to thank George for opening my eyes to what I consider to be a better idea.
I feel that the modern steam car is a viable idea, one that can be designed
and produced and that would be very satisfactory to operate and loads of
fun to drive. It would have a very limited market, but the steamer does
have some operational advantages not found in the internal combustion engine
car, in spite of all of the complicated refinements under the hood of modem
cars. The steamer still has a place.
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