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Brothers to re-create historic steam car ride

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm •  Published: August 24, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) — Two brothers from Britain are going back in time — using a unique automobile.

Nick and Chris Howell are poised to move full steam ahead Tuesday in re-creating a drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon that was first undertaken at the turn of the 20th century. They will be riding in a Toledo Steam Car they spent more than eight years restoring.

"Flagstaff hasn't seen the car for more than a hundred years. We've got to do this. It's a bit of Flagstaff history," said Chris Howell, whose vehicle converts water into steam, which pushes the pistons inside the engine.

The Toledo Steam Car is what Los Angeles photographer Oliver Lippincott used when he attempted the same 60-mile drive in 1902.

Lippincott, along with two friends and a local guide, set off on Jan. 3, 1902, in a steam car attached to a trailer hauling supplies. The journey they expected to take three hours ended up taking three days, according to the book "Grand Canyon-Flagstaff Stage Coach Line."

The group was plagued with problems. The vehicle's boilers froze over, and its fuel got contaminated. They set out on foot to get help, and by the time they got within 18 miles of the Grandview Hotel at the Grand Canyon's South Rim, only one man was able to keep going. They were rescued and, ironically, horses pulled the steam car back to the hotel.

Tom Martin, secretary for the Grand Canyon Historical Society, said it was still a great feat at the time. The journey showed the potential for Flagstaff to have a technological edge by offering a way for cars to reach the Grand Canyon, which was already a tourist draw.

"Staying abreast of the latest technology was very important," Martin said. "This was like the concept of today, asking what kind of app do you have on your smartphone. That's what automobiles at that time represented to them."

Jim Merrick, an archivist at Kingfield, Maine's Stanley Museum, which chronicles the history of the Stanley steam car company, said steam cars began gaining popularity in the 1890s for their lightness. Using technology pioneered by the French, steam cars utilized coal or gasoline to heat a boiler or burner. The high pressure converted water into steam to power the engine.

"The steam car was called a rolling stove," Merrick said.

But by 1910, sales of the vehicles started to plummet as gas cars improved and got more popular, Merrick said.

Nick Howell, a car buff whose trip will harken back to the steam car days, bought his Toledo Steam Car at a Michigan auction in 2004. He and his brother discovered the steam car had a larger water tank and a longer wheelbase than the typical Toledo, which was manufactured by American Bicycle Co. in Ohio.

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