100th Anniversary ~ Mount Washington Hill-climb
When F.O. Stanley and Wife climbed this road on 31 August of 1899
George K. Nutz  


The Mt. Washington auto road is presently 65% paved and wide enough for two way traffic. The official starting point is at the toll house at an altitude of 1565' and progresses upwards 7.6 miles to a parking area below the summit of 6288'. The actual climb is about 4600' and has an average grade of 12%. This grade varies from about level at the start to between 8-15% on the way up. The final few hundred feet into the parking lot is a steep 22% so have your boiler pressure up! There are eleven or more pulloff/parking areas on the way up and at the halfway point water is available at the Halfway House(3.8 miles). Pulloff areas are especially important on the way down to stop in and cool down brakes-see attached map.


This fall in the week between July-August antique cars will have the opportunity to climb Mt. Washington in celebration of the first car to do so-a Stanley Steamer-in 1899. The road at that time was very narrow with dirt and stone surface and is a great tribute to the Stanley brothers to be the first to accomplish such a feat. In 1904 FE Stanley climbed the hill in 32 minutes with a Model BX(flat top) or CX(curved top), I believe a 10HP car with a 16 inch boiler. On July 18th, 1905 he again climbed the hill with a model G or H? gentlemans speedy roadster that had a factory advertised dry weight of 1350#. It appears that it had a small version of the 20HP engine and possibly a 23 inch boiler---his time was an astonishing 22-3/5ths minutes! This was a Glidden Tour contest and his car #5 is in a photo in Clymer's Steam Car Scrapbook. This may well be the steam car record on this hill.


Last year Brent Campbell climbed the hill for his third time in a Stanley Steamer. He had one of his H5 Gentlemans Speedy Roadsters, a heavier version of the Model H. His curb weight with tools, fuel and water, and two persons was 2700# loaded. This car also has the smaller 20HP engine (3-5/8X5) with a 23 inch boiler. His time was 28 minutes even which represents a steady output of 15HP. It appears from calculations that a 20HP Stanley with pumps on and a 4 Gallon per hour firing rate has a sustained output of 16HP without an economiser. When one considers the difference of weight of his car with FE Stanleys in 1905 it is very respectable. Brent ran this whole hill in short cutoff with 1.2 gearing and 35 inch wheels never letting boiler pressure drop, burner full on--the legendary reserve capacity of a Stanley boiler is only a positive on much shorter hills!

This H5 has water pumps driven directly from the engine and pumped enough water up the hill so that stopping and jacking up a wheel to pump water was not necessary. He averaged over 16MPH and from calculations required about 160# of water to get this effort done. He has kindly suggested it is wise to have a passenger along with wheel chocks ready in case the car has to be stopped and blocked while ascending and DECENDING this hill. He has also stated that climbing Pikes Peak in Colorado was an easier task.


I have studied the hill for several cars and believe the strategies demonstrated by Brent Campbell are the best choice especially for Stanley participants. That is run 600psi on the boiler at all times so that the steeper sections can be run in short cutoff for maximum steam efficiency and burner full on all the way up; long cutoff for the final few feet up the 22% grade into the parking lot. Examples of maximum performance for standard cars without burner modifications or added economizers are:

-20HP Condensing Stanley@4500#-1.5/1 gear with 36" tires--

Optimum performance without stopping for water pumping water would take 38-40 minutes at an average speed of 12 miles per hour, 160rpm with a constant 16 horsepower. On the steeper sections this could require 500psi in the steam chest so keep the pressure up. Speeds would vary between 9 to 15mph depending upon gradient. If the run is done entirely in short cutoff (except the 22% at top) it will require, with all things tight, 220-230 pounds of water . Unfortunately a standard condensing car only pumps about 20+ pounds per mile with both pumps on so a boiler deficit of 70-80# would result without stopping and jacking up a wheel, hand pumping by the passenger all the way up is a tiring alternative. This deficit on the boiler is equivalent to 10 inches of water . Remember that no matter what speed one progresses up the hill the same fixed amount of water will be pumped, if one had a Baker or slotted burner of higher burn rate that created more steam the pumping deficit would grow as the evaporation rate increased! Smaller tires than 36 inch would increase pump speed and engine speed and be of benefit.

-30HP Vanderbilt Racer 30" boiler-8GPH fire-1.2 gearing-36" tires-3700# weight---

Optimum performance without stopping would be 18-20 minutes at an average speed of 24 miles per hour at an average engine speed of 270 rpm. . This car, with pumps on, could sustain 37 horsepower and in short cutoff would also require 500psi at the steam chest on steeper grades. This run would also require about 220-230# of water to be pumped, however the boiler capacity in drawdown is much greater. I do not know the water pumping capacity of this car. Brent Campbell has mentioned that he did not think any of the turns were sharp enough to require backing and restarting--the road is a lot wider than it was in the early days. This would possibly be a new steam record and possibly could be improved if the considerable reserve capacity were called upon the last one-half mile.

-E-DOBLE with exhaust turbobooster-20+GPH fire, 6000+# weight---

This car is capable of over 190HP in mid cutoff(60%) with 850psi on engine. Theoretically it could do the hill if straight in about 8 minutes even with its weight and wind resistance but that is impossible. A nice leisurely stroll up the mountain at an average speed of 30 miles per hour would result in a minimum time of 15 minutes and only require 80+ horsepower. This magnificent car would not have to speed up or slow down due to change of gradient! This would certainly be record setting if the curves permitted such performance and the formidable Doble pumps were up to the task of pumping almost 300# of water on the way up. In all of these considerations the most important factor is the preservation of all these magnificent autos. Thanks to Jim Crank for information on this magnificent steam automobile.


I am not knowledgeable enough on these fine cars except to know that a 20HP White will maintain 20HP(when running optimumly) unlike a Stanley and with two speed axle and pumps on the higher speed engine should have no problem pumping enough water. SACA/Northeast member Coburn Benson has good recollection of a "recent" White climbing the mountain and am positive that he would be glad to supply additional information.


This formula is applicable to low speed cars where owners know there loaded weight, there actual (not advertised) horsepower, there ability to run the hill in short cutoff(steamers) and an adequate water reserve and pumping rate(steamers) to not stop on the way up. This is with a totally tight engine without packing gland leaks or valve leakage.

Time(minutes)=0.14 X Total Weight of car /(Actual Horsepower - 1), ( -1 equals rolling/wind resistance)

For instance a light non-condensing Model H loaded 2000#:

Time= 0.14 x 2000# / (16HP-1HP) = 18.7 minutes @ 24mph

For instance a non-condensing Model K Semi Racer loaded at 3000#:

Time= 0.14 x 3000# / (25HP-1HP) = 17.5 minutes @ 26 mph

For instance a heavy condensing 20HP Stanley loaded 6000#:

Time = 0.14 x 6000# / (16-1) = 56 minutes. @ 8 mph

Gasoline cars are much more difficult as there horsepower is only at one specific RPM unlike the steamers that are nearly constant over RPM by varying steam chest pressure.


Safety equipment for stopping and blocking the car recommended with a passenger included to help. Brent Campbell says its more difficult coming down than going up; look at the parking areas and keep in mind both ways especially for cooling brakes on the way down. He has devised a water cooling method of dribbling water on the brakes that greatly helps in this effort. It would be wise to know the water pumping capacity of you steam auto in consideration of climbing this road. This mountain has such unpredictable weather that it has been known to be below freezing and snow in July so be prepared with warm clothing when at upper altitudes. It could be very helpful to take the Auto Road passenger van up and down the hill to enjoy the scenery and look over the task at hand before attempting such a climb in a valuable antique auto, I understand the rates are reasonable. Please look at the enclosed fact sheets and the graph including gradients to help determine a plan of attack.

Thanks to the Mt. Washington Auto Road for supplying a splendid detailed map , their website at http://www.mt-washington.com , and giving you the opportunity to experience this mountain climb. Thanks to Brent Campbell for his"long-long" distance call that provided much of this information. Thanks to Coburn Benson for his historical knowledge and information.

Hope this is of help, George K. Nutz

Extracted from a longer paper presented 13 February 1999 at a SACA-NORTHEAST chapter meeting.

A detailed map of the Mount Washington Auto Road accompanied the version of this paper printed in the Stanley Museum Quarterly, vol. 18, #2, copies of which may be obtained from the museum.

Back to Papers
Back to PageOne


Hit Counter