Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Old Grey Mare She Ain’t What She Used To Be

Or is she? Today’s underdog; the steam engine.

The Old West Locomotive, chugging across the wilderness. The Mississippi Riverboat, making her way up the river at an “elegant” speed. Two Icons of America’s past with one thing in common; a heart of steam!

More a novelty than a practicality today, the old steam engine has had to step aside for the electric motors, steam turbines and diesel engines. And even many of the old steam troopers that remain in service today have had their coal or wood burners replaced by diesel or propane.

What if a heating element could do it’s job and use not a drop of fuel? Would this not give the old steam engine a new lease on life? Let’s see.

I have some friends that run a couple of old steam locomotives at an amusement park. One of those trains is the oldest continually operating steam locomotive in North America. One of my friends says that steam engines are very efficient, that those trains they care for could haul much more than just the four or five passenger cars that is their usual burden. Back in the day, steam engines were used for much more than just transportation. They ran pumps, powered machinery, drove generators… hey! Wait a minute. Drove generators! What if a steam train, or riverboat for that matter, could haul it’s load and run a generator that would be used to power it’s own electrical heating element! It would have to be brought up to steam by an external power source but after that it could be self-perpetuating.

But, you say “All the old water towers along the way are gone. Where would they stop for water?” In the ‘90’s (the 1990’s) the Santa Fe railroad, just for an employee trip, sent an old steam locomotive cross country. How did they water? They were met by the Fire Dept. of each city they stopped at. But with regular trips, a permanent facility would be set up at each station.

Granted the steam engine doesn’t have the muscle of say a steam turbine but it could still haul tons and tons of people and product, by rail or river. How much fuel would that save every year?

But why stop there? A stationary steam engine could run a generator that’s sole purpose is to power the heating elements of other steam engines that would drive other generators that would provide power for general use.

Wow! Guess that old song has merit, “Everything Old is New Again”.