A Conversation About Steam Engines Versus Gas Powered Engines

A Gas Engine Magazine reader shares his thoughts on steam engines versus gas powered engines, with a newfound inclination towards gas engines.

Four cycle Engine

Gas engine photo from John P. Wilcox.


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Gas Engine Magazine reader Laurence Graves of Suisun, California starts a conversation about steam engines versus gas powered engines. He seems to think steam power is tame and gentle gas power seems wild and uncontrolled. 

Enclosed find subscription for the Gas Engine Magazine. Although I'm a Steam buff, and it appears my loyalty is slipping, I think a gas magazine is a of a good idea! I used to have a 4 cy. Fageol tractor and used it many years from '34 to '62. A neighbor called it a man killer. The big grousers on the drive wheels were big 6 foot long spikes and gave little slippage and at same time acted like a soil tamper. I think they made a swell layer of hardpan all over our place. Finally gave it to Cal Tinkham over at Reno who will display it at their future National Nevada Heritage Museum.

Steam power is tame and gentle gas power seems wild and uncontrolled. Modern multi-cylindered tractors, with self-starters have overcome these problems, but some large Diesel jobs are still hard work. They don't call them cat-skinners for nothing.

I would appreciate reading any articles on hot air engines. I read a very interesting write-up in May 1960 Popular Science. This data tells the development of modern hot-air engines in Holland. General Motors Allison Div. experimented with them and also their research department at Warren, Michigan.

I sent for the plans to build a model from Mr. Walter Huff over at Cinncinnati. I'm building an engine and although I realize it won't have performance of General Motors experiments, it is head and shoulders above steam power in thermal efficiency. Perhaps some of your overseas readers can tell us about hot-air over there. The article I read said they are used to run home lighting plants, refrigeration, and in liquifying air. They are extremely simple and burn any fuel. Thermal efficiency is a whopping 36%. Higher than Diesels, but less than fuel cells.

Thus the quiet, unnoticed struggle of survival of the fittest continues in the mechanized world. Some farmers in California are switching from Diesel back to Butane (liquid petroleum) gas. Repair bills on Diesels are too high. I know of a Diesel tractor that recently had a $4000 repair job on it.

I have a few acres, too small to farm and too big for just a home. If I planted orchard trees, taxes would go up.

This model was built by the Columbus Machine Co., Columbus, Ohio from 1901 until 1913. It is a No. 6300, the first digit of the number denoting the horsepower. This engine is a four cycle and operates on gasoline with make-and-break ignition and hit-and-miss governors holding the exhaust open. This governor is particularly interesting in that it declutches the cam cluster from the side shaft so that it stops rotating. The clutch is contained in the large drum just in front of the side shaft bearing and is of a pawl type so as to re-engage with the came in proper time. It can fall in after any type so as to re-engage with the cams half revolution of the side shaft so that the engine can cut out for only one revolution of the crank. The brake band around the outside of the drum keeps the cams in place with the exhaust held open while the clutch is disengaged.

I have the Columbus in a 35 horsepower, natural gas size as well, and that one makes a dandy crack when the port opens up.

That's an 18 HP Reeves upright behind the Columbus. No connection with the Reeves Steam Engines this one was built by the Hope Forge & Machine Co., Mt. Vernon, Ohio.