The era of the steam engine lives on at the Marshall Steam Museum at the Preserve at Auburn Heights in Yorklyn, thanks to the Marshall family and their obsession with steam cars.
But while the cars from the turn of the century are elegant and fancy, they were a royal pain in the you-know-where when it came time to actually “fire” one up – and oh yes, fire was involved.
According to Bill Schwoebel, a member of the all-volunteer “Steam Team” at the museum, the cars could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to get going, with an ignition process that involved an acetylene torch used to manually heat the boiler and vaporizing tube.
“That forces the liquid fuel where it goes in at the back of the burner against the inside walls of the tube,” he said. “It’s a liquid when it starts out in the back – when it comes to the front … by then it’s a vapor.”
“It could give you a lot of trouble on a windy day,” said fellow “Steam Team” member Bill Rule of starting the engine.
The cars used both gas and kerosene to run the boiler and the headlights, respectively.
Catch a firing up demonstration at the next Auburn Heights “Steamin’ Day” on Sunday, Aug. 5.
The late T. Clarence Marshall developed a liking for steam cars in the early 1900s, building his first when he was only 19. The decade he spent working for the Stanley Motor Carriage Company from 1910 to 1920 only further piqued his interest in the cars.
When he returned home from WWII, Clarence’s son, Tom Marshall, started helping his father collect steam cars and other similar machines, eventually installing a 1/8 scale steam train and track on the grounds.
By the 1970s, the family had opened its doors to the public to view its “Magic Age of Steam” collection.
In 2008, Marshall and his wife Ruth donated the property to the state, in an effort to preserve and protect the property from development, with the site being managed by Delaware State Parks.
The museum is considered one of – if not the largest – collection of working steam autos in North America.
For more information on Stanley Steamers and how they work, visit stanleymotorcarriage.com/GeneralTechnical/GeneralTechnical.htm.
For more information on Auburn Heights and the Marshall Steam Museum, visit auburnheights.org.