Cars

Stanley Steamer in the breakdown lane

IT RUNS ON WATER: This 1908 Stanley Steamer belonging to the Owls Head Transportation Museum broke down in Newbury last weekend when a linkage rod failed. Driving was museum trustee Norm Shanklin with his wife Molly (rear seat) and the museum’s Warren Kincaid (gray duster).
IT RUNS ON WATER: This 1908 Stanley Steamer belonging to the Owls Head Transportation Museum broke down in Newbury last weekend when a linkage rod failed. Driving was museum trustee Norm Shanklin with his wife Molly (rear seat) and the museum’s Warren Kincaid (gray duster).BILL GRIFFITH

NEWBURY—The pictures capture a scene that would have looked much the same if they had been taken 100 years ago.

A 1908 Stanley Steamer cruises to a stop by the Lower Green in Newbury with the old one-room schoolhouse in the background.

Only this is in 2013 and the 1908 Stanley Steamer Model K was part of last Saturday’s Tour d’Elegance on the day before the 4th annual Misselwood Concours d’Elegance at Endicott College in Beverly.

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The Stanley Model K was a “semi-racer,” which was the company’s fastest production car at the time.

“It was capable of 100 miles per hour. That was huge for the day,” says Warren Kincaid, ground vehicle conservator at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine, which owns the car.

The Stanley brothers, twins Francis and F.O., sold their photographic developing process to George Eastman in the 1890s and used that income for seed money to build their cars in Newton.

The Model K at the Owls Head Museum wasn’t a factory car; instead, it was built from spare parts.

“We’ve had the car at the museum for more than 30 years,” says Kincaid. “It finally deteriorated so badly that we obtained a grant from the 1772 Foundation and got it restored. After that, it was so beautiful that we didn’t want to run it, even though using our display cars and planes is a basic tenet of our museum.”

Five years ago the decision was made. “Run it and not watch it deteriorate,” says Kincaid.

Under new museum director Russ Rocknack, the museum is starting to do outreach beyond its Maine location.

“This trip to the Misselwood Concours was a three-part process,” says Kincaid. “We wanted to promote ourselves, support Misselwood, and continue the shaking-out process with the Stanley Steamer.”

Museum trustee Norm Shanklin of Wilton, NH, and his wife, Molly, represented the museum on the trip. The Shanklins own another Model K, thus helping account for half of the four Model Ks known to still exist.

Shanklin has another talent—the ability to drive Stanleys.

“It took a special kind of person to own and drive a Stanley—both then and now,” says Kincaid. “That’s because of the complexity of the vehicles. It takes a purist to want to run one. You need to pay attention to detail and have the willingness to assume risk.”

The Model K had a 30 horsepower engine, which doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards. But where today’s performance cars might have 300 lb.-ft. of torque, the Stanley had more like 1,000 lb.-ft.

“The car’s limitations were breaking parts,” says Kincaid. “That’s why running it was an art form.”

Stanleys can be rated in miles per gallon—of water.

“It gets about 10 miles on a gallon of water,” says Kincaid. “That’s comparable to what a gas-powered performance car gets today.”

The part that broke last Saturday was a linkage rod that actuates all of the automatic pumps. “We were able to generate plenty of steam,” says Kincaid. “We just couldn’t get it where it needed to go.”

“It was a reproduction part,” says Kincaid of the linkage rod. “We made it out of the wrong material.”

A new one is being made of drop-forged steel at a company called Rempco in Michigan,” he says. “They know us well. We also have them building an axle for a Stevens-Duryea.”

The Stanley had covered about 30 miles before the breakdown, but it hardly put a damper on the Owls Head trio’s weekend.

“We’re prepared for this,” says Kincaid. Another participant in the tour—one of many who stopped to offer assistance—drove Shanklin to Endicott to get the museum’s trailer.

“When he got back, it only took about 10 minutes to load up the Stanley Steamer and for us to be on our way,” says Kincaid.

They took the car to the Misselwood grounds and set it up for the next day’s concours.

“We weren’t there to be judged,” he says, “but the organizers insisted.” The Stanley wound up taking home a best-in-class (brass and nickel) trophy.

“It was our first time at a concours,” says Kincaid. “We were very happy with the Misselwood experience. It was a very friendly event. Everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome.”

This weekend, the car, awaiting its new part, is back at the Owls Head Museum for this weekend’s major Wings & Wheels, featuring all things with wings and wheels, at the Knox Country Airport.

“Our cars are driven and our planes are flown,” says Kincaid, “so breakage isn’t anything new to us. What we had was a normal breakdown for a 100-year-old car.”

At any time, the museum has approximately 45 cars, a dozen aircraft, and assorted other transportation-related items on display.

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