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Interest in steam-powered cars gains momentum

Marshall Steam Museum
This 1916 Stanley is one of many steam engined cars in the exhibit.

100 years ago cars were a lot different. Back then, some of the most popular vehicles were powered by steam, not gasoline. The Marshall Steam Museum in Yorklyn has a new exhibit showcasing the wonder of  classic steam engined automobiles.

Let's say it's 1916 and you’re late to work. You run out your front door, jump in your car, and put the pedal to the metal, right? Wrong. Like many Americans back then, you have a steam engined car, which has no ignition.

"You literally have to fire it up. So starting the car begins with a blowtorch and vaporizing the fuel," Executive Director Susan Randolph said.

Steam cars used basically water from any source and a bit of igniter fuel to get moving. "It’s a lot like a tea kettle on a gas stove, you have to get the fire going with something," she said.

The museum holds the world's largest collection of operating steam powered cars. Cars that actually move is a big drive for attendance, according to Randolph.

The Marshall Steam Museum’s latest exhibit Letting Off Steam: The Stanley Legacy, highlights its collection steam-powered Stanley Motor Carriages.


“It’s the story of a company that has a rise and a fall. And then almost a resurrection in the sense of the collecting hobby,” Randolph said.

Stanley produced cars between 1902 and 1924, when gas engined vehicles cornered the market.

The exhibit will feature the museum’s first audio guided tours, Randolph said, allowing visitors to roam at their own pace. It opens August 7.