Steaming Through the Rockies
by Pat Farrell
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This years Western National Steam Car Tour was a 427 mile hub tour held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado June 8th-12th. The Stanley Hotel was first opened in 1909 with 88 rooms by F.O.Stanley, who was one of the famous twins of the Stanley Steamer automobile. The Hotel is a National Historic Site and is well preserved. Fifteen Stanley Steamers were assembled on the front lawn for a group photo and they arrived from all parts of North America to attend this event. A few even steamed their cars all the way to the meet. Ron and Roxanne Parola steamed their 1922 Stanley model 740 from Geyserville, California, 1,400 miles to Estes park to attend the meet.
My wife Merrily and I arrived on Sunday at Con Fletchers home to visit his fine display of antique cars. Con needed help in getting his mountain wagon ready for the tour so we pitched in and stayed up until 1:30 A.M. swaging tubes in his boiler so that he would be ready. Loren Burch and Al Martin were there too, trying to get the water pumps up to performance. Monday we all left for Estes Park for the first leg of the tour. It was like unwrapping presents on Christmas morning watching all of the pretty Stanleys being rolled out of their trailers at the Stanley Hotel. Each one was different and exciting.
As we drove up and down the mountains Tuesday, it was a primer for what was ahead of us for the rest of the week. There are no level roads with in 40 miles of Estes Park and for the first time in 13 years that we have had our steamer, we finally got to check out our vintage inclinometer for road grades. Eleven percent and higher, the scale showed. Some of the steeper grades lasted for more than 12 miles and it soon became apparent to the operator that proper water management was most important, especially since water was so scarce along the remote wilderness roads. Due to the usual 10,000 feet elevation, many Stanleys were running rich and had to thin their kerosene with gasoline to achieve complete burning of their fuel.
Wednesdays tour retraced the old roads that the original mountain wagons traveled. As we passed the original watering trough that they siphoned from and the railroad station that they picked up their passengers from, we felt that we were reliving the past. Visiting an art castings foundry, was educational and interesting too. By this day, our swaging tool and hammer had worked on three different boilers. That evening, a herd of 15 healthy elk grazed grass along side of our 14 Stanley roadster.
Thursdays tour took us over the Trail Ridge Road. (highest continuous mountain road in the U.S.) We knew that we were in for an adventure when we had to wait for the snow plow to clear the road ahead of us. Our designated water stops were often frozen over and at 12,200 feet elevation we found ourselves in a blizzard. 45 mile an hour winds were blowing hail and snow sideways through our Stanley, and about a two inch deep snow drift was moving across the road at the same speed. We found that after filling up with water at the top, the 25 mile down hill was tougher on the brakes. Using reverse for braking, our engine overheated and was burning the steam cylinder oil leaving a blue cloud behind us. The Hotels hot tub was well used that night by us frozen adventurers.
Friday arrived in time to see Cons15 mountain wagon making
its first full days tour. Today he learned that ginger was a good boiler fix
for leaky tubes. Al Martin learned how to fix a broken perch pole with a hose and hose
clamps. It had been 15 years since Bob Ingerwersen had been back to Estes Park and he
learned not only about the new population growth, but from the motorcycle policeman,
" not to try to wave him by in a no passing zone." Only non moving vehicles
are allowed to be passed in those areas. Sue Davis calculated not miles to the gallon
but fire extinguishers to the mile with the museums 1910 model 70 this day. Alma Hix
said it best when you have these nasty delays. "This is a Stanley moment". Our
thanks go to out to all, who made this tour possible. Truly an adventure!
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