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.


| March/April 1966



Four cycle Engine

Gas engine photo from John P. Wilcox.

PHOTO: JOHN P. WILCOX

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.