I Want One – Fire Is Your Friend

OK, let me get it out of the way right up front:

I’m a motorcycle rider from time to time, I like to go fast, I like “old stuff”, and I’m keen on “eccentric things”… Oh, and I have something of a minor passion for the ‘sweep of history’…

So I was pondering some steam engine ‘quirky’ things (that Steam Aeroplane posting…) and got to wondering if I could maybe make a little steam engine… that lead to maybe putting it on something (starting with a home electricity generator) and that lead to other small appliances that led to looking at the idea of a ‘steam motorcycle’…

Well, like all good ‘researchers’, I decided to check out ‘prior art’ first. I expected to maybe find one from the 1920’s or 30’s or something. Little did I know. Try 1896. Looks like the first guy to make ANY motorcycle made one of steam, then made this one in 1896. He also is the first known ‘motorcycle fatality’, but … Seems he got this thing up to about 60 miles per hour and had a heart attack. A bit unclear exactly what the order of events was (heart then crash or crash then heart)… But still, the device is just amazing, especially for it’s time.

Notice how small the expander (engine) is? About the size of a ketchup bottle… Replace the bulky tank boiler with a small monotube boiler and use a propane burner directly, the whole boiler box would be about 1/3 that size and ‘warm up’ would be about 30 seconds. Almost enough time to get your gloves and helmet on. I want one… (Though there is a certain charm to having one you could run on bits of wood from along the way… )

Yes, there are other steam motorcycles. Yes, there are newer and more powerful ones. But somehow this one has captured the imagination…

Some Others

In 1904, Haleson had gone to a flash tube boiler and things are coming together nicely. It has also gone to a higher speed engine and belt drive (though one wonders why with steam):

Haleson Motorcycle - see link for attribution

Haleson Motorcycle - see link for attribution


There is also a large sized image on the link. Here’s a video of one going a round a track:

In particular, note that they say it is NOT running at full open as the track conditions will not allow that speed…

Here is a 1908 different English model (video in German):

By 1912 things had gotten bigger, but one wonders about faster…

This clip is a 15 second snap of one going up a hill. It uses ‘saddle bags’ for some tankage / parts

This one is more of a ‘scooter’ layout, with small wheels. It’s also not nearly as ‘finished’ as the one from the 1890’s gunsmith…

But it does go…

Then too, you need not be English or German to be a bit daft… Here’s one with a more “Latin” flavor:

while this one looks more like a recreation of the first one using modern materials and methods in the boiler… but I really don’t like where the steam vents…

And a more full sized one that would benefit from better editing and camera work, but you get to see it move… I hope the ‘moaning’ sound is a bad whistle and not lousy brakes ;-)

Now we’ll finish with a nicely done montage of various stills, an inside look at the assembly of what looks to be a recreation, and an overall nice retrospective sweep.

Somehow I find the old ones (and their recreations) making the newer attempts look really lame. More craftsmanship and finish work. I’m also eying all those weekly lawn clippings on the street again and pondering a tricycle with large basket area suitable for grocery runs… Cruising speed of, oh, 45 to 55, but capable of 70 if you find a ‘freeway run’ needed, mostly for just the day-to-day errands. Who needs OPEC Oil OR the electric company? Hmmm….

There’s just gotta be a lot of folks in 3rd world locations who would like a ‘local trash powered’ buggy of some sort…

I know my mechanic (who is also a machinist and makes hard to get parts if needed) could make one of these. (He also rebuilds his motorcycle every few months after finding a new edge of the envelope ;-) Maybe I’ll ask him how much he would charge to make one…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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25 Responses to I Want One – Fire Is Your Friend

  1. George says:

    Rather than propane or even wood, how about kerosene and a wick, sort of like a Zippo. You could make the wick rather long and horizontal.

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Were I to use Kerosene, I’d do it in something like an old kerosene / gasoline blowtorch. Better fuel burn that way (like a multi-fuel camp stove).

    Then again, it would be kind of interesting to have a ‘no moving parts’ burner / boiler… (You can ‘pump’ the feedwater in with a steam entraining vortex / venturi arrangement – strange but true, these were used on old steam engines so as to avoid pumps with parts prone to failure…)

    My “fantasy” design would include a modular boiler section that could be swapped, so you could put in the ‘fussy, larger and slower’ wood / trash burner if desired or needed, or in an hour or so of ‘wrench time’, swap to a liquid fuel driven more efficient / smaller / more power model (but where you must buy the liquid fuel…). With a nice super clean propane module that gets you about 10 miles on a commercial disposable cylinder should you have local ‘smog inspection’ requirements ;-)

    Then again, it would be interesting to ask them “So, what are your regulations for charcoal briquette open burner emissions?”… Maybe put a flat spot on top where a burger could be cooked and ask what they require of OTHER portable BBQs??? ;-o

  3. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M. Don´t play with fire….. :-)

  4. adolfogiurfa says:

    Why don´t you try two small jet engines (the ones used for model airplanes)?

  5. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, for one thing, they are noisy. Part of the attraction of steam, for me, is the low sound level potentials. Also, the jets are expensive and some models don’t make decent power levels unless they are moving for some ram air.

    On the other hand, 20 kg of thrust from one of these in each of two saddle bags ought to make things move nicely ;-)

    but I still want that lovely “chuf…pause… chuf…pause…chuf” sound on a cool day with a wispy billow of steam as I pull off the line…

    Besides, ever try to run a jet turbine on lawn clippings? ;-)

    You can do it, but it’s a bit large for a bike:

  6. R. de Haan says:

    Really great. love it.

    You will love this too

    They broke the speed record in 2009

  7. Are you kidding me? This is incredible….

  8. P.G. Sharrow says:

    A self propelled Bar-B-Q ! I love it. 8-) pg

  9. Jeff Alberts says:

    I’m getting a Kindle Fire, does that count? ;)

  10. Sera says:

    I haven’t used my mountain bike in over ten years- looks like a winter project. I wonder if I could use those dusty bottles of propane and the single burner camp stove…

  11. Sera says:

    …and the old steel diving tank…and the sterling engine for the piston…

  12. Scott Finegan says:


    Good luck building a bike in a reasonable amount of time (few years). There are so many distractions these days, not much gets finished in its intended time frame.

    (“1st” below relates to joint meet)
    The 1st Steam Meet and Technical Conference of the Steam Automobile Club of America (SACA) and the International Association for the Advancement of Steam Power (IAASP)

    January 13, 14, and 15, 2012 – Sacramento, California

    Further details at http://www.steamautomobile.com

    The Steam Automobile Club of America has a discussion Forum http://steamautomobile.com/phorum5214/

    Our annual meet is currently held in Michigan in September.

  13. Matthew W says:

    Not bad.
    Another couple of hundred years and we’ll a steam powered plane.

  14. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M. Perhaps some folks will think that riding such an explosive combination in between the legs would probably end like the “underwear bomber” :-)

  15. adolfogiurfa says:

    BTW: Did you all know that the first ANTIGRAVITY machine WAS invented by Montgoflier, in the 18th. century: A hot air baloon?
    Think it over: A plasma device, a burner, charging air and changing its molecular arrangement, the same as the thousand of tons of ionized water (hydrogen hydroxide) which float over our heads, defying Saint Newton´s Holy Law of Gravity; when that water loses its charge fall down inmediately as Hydrogen Oxide. :-)
    It´s just describing phenomena not as our Dad and Mommy told us, but seeing them as they are. Tags do not clear up anything, thinking does.

  16. Jason Calley says:

    @ adolfogiurfa “It´s just describing phenomena not as our Dad and Mommy told us, but seeing them as they are. Tags do not clear up anything, thinking does.”

    I am reminded of my favorite old saying (Chinese, I think) which is: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true name.”

  17. gallopingcamel says:

    This is “Off Topic” but it does relate to your earlier threads on LENR.

    Lubos Motl has an excellent post pointing out that the Rossi device probably works the same way as the coffee makers used by the average house wife.

    You can boil water and raise it several inches with the energy input that Rossi uses. I agree with Motl’s analysis but reject his suggestion that Rossi could be deluding himself. From the outset Rossi has come across as a scam artist who deliberately used the hydrogen “input” as a red herring to confuse potential investors.

  18. Pascvaks says:

    One day someone is going to come up with a decent, self-contained, mini-nuclear reactor, or two, and solve all our fuel problems. Bikes, cars, boats, trucks, trains, ships, and little-homes, middle-homes, big-homes, office buildings, factories, and super carriers, submarines… wait a minute, don’t they already have them on super carriers and subs? See, told ya it wouldn’t be long. Imagine, every home with it’s very own power plant. No more TVA’s or Three Mile Islands, no more Fukushimas, just an occassional little pooof and a machts nichts little house fire somewhere, every now and then. I’ll bet the air would be cleaner too. And we can finally take down all these telephone poles messing up the view;-)

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    We already have them… There have been small nukes on space probes for a while now. There are dinky ones in small subs with massive power out. There are small ‘teaching reactors’ of many types. There are neutron cannon driven reactors.

    Heck I think I could make one out of “enough” smoke detectors ;-)

    It’s not a technical problem to make small reactors. (We have nuclear bombs that fit in cannon bores… just need to slow down the rate of the reaction ;-)

    The problem is that it’s not a really great idea for the Average Joe to be fooling around with a nuke in his basement… That ‘local fire’ could put contamination for then next century over a wide area… (We’re already seeing this in medical radiation machines being badly ‘recycled’ in some countries and resulting in radioactive steel in buildings…)

    I’m hoping the ‘e-cat’ works out, then Organic Fluid Rankine cycle engines (that are already commercially available in small sizes) become a real game changer for automotive and home power needs…


    While I don’t say much about it, one of my reasons for some of my interest in steam is the potential for small scale home power systems from modest heat sources. (That turbine is a better solution, but I’d rather have a ‘chuff chuff chuff’ in the garage ;-) While I usually mention lawn clippings (yard waste is definitely practical right now for me) I’m often thinking “any heat, even ‘cold fusion’, would do…)

  20. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “I’m hoping the ‘e-cat’ works out, then Organic Fluid Rankine cycle engines (that are already commercially available in small sizes) become a real game changer for automotive and home power needs… ”

    While I have never tried it, I remember reading some years ago that the older style of automobile air conditioner compressor can be ran on steam to power a generator.

    Something like this: http://www.endtimesreport.com/home_bred.html

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley:

    Pretty much all compressors are the same basic idea as steam engines only running the other way. Pumps and compressors and vapor engines are substantially the same physics, just one runs mechanical to thermal and the other runs thermal to mechanical.

    The problems come in with the engineering (as opposed to the physics).

    The two major problems I see with the compressor idea are that the compressor is engineered to expect a non-water fluid with lots of lube oil in it. Steam engines expect a semi-corrosive fluid with maybe a tiny bit of lube oil in it. I would expect the AC compressor to work, but fairly rapidly freeze up with corrosion. And #2, the valving is often poorly designed for things like control or timing.

    IMHO, it would be much easier to just convert a combustion motor as they already have a lot of the lube system in place and expect hot water vapor from the combustion products to be all over the place. Oh, and it has already been done. Often.

    I’ve also, some folks have converted lawn mower engines:

    So don’t toss that old lawn mower, make a toy out of it ;-)

  22. Pascvaks says:

    MADISON, WI!!! i mean madison, wi??? shhhhh… do the you-know-who know about this place?? Can’t believe we, us, this country, has something like this still here. Are they planning on moving to Mexico soon. This just can’t be possible! They’re not still in business; you’re pulling my leg. OK, what’s the punch line? When do they go bottoms-up? Wisconsin? We are talking about the USA here, right? Did the you-know-who buy Wisconsin?

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    I presume you are talking about the organic fluid Rankine turbine folks (who are in Wi….)

    Shhh!! It takes a while to find where they are located on their web site. If you say it too loudly, someone in D.C. will notice that Wisconsin is part of the USA and tax or regulate them out of existence… As it is, them and the “Minnesotans For Global Warming” folks are just ignored as being in “flyover country” so they can do way cool stuff!

    I especially like their 300 W ‘kit’… I’m tempted to put one on my exhaust manifold of my car and take a load off the alternator ;-)

  24. Pascvaks says:

    In “The Graduate” the sage advice for making it big was “Plastics!”, as I recall. Wonder what the NEW field of opportunity is? “Waste Heat Power Generators”? “1.21 GWt Mini-Storage Batteries”

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