condenser with the decorative brass shell removed

In 1915 Stanley changed form manufacture of non-condensing cars to the manufacture of condensing cars. When Stanley initially began car production, horse troughs were plentiful and taking on water was as simple as finding a horse trough or stream and filling the water supply tank using the siphon. However as cars replaced horses as the preferred means of personal transportation the horse trough moved into extinction. The availability of horse troughs was also greatly diminished when some towns believed them to be sources of disease and illness. Thus it became necessary to recycle the water for increased travel range on a gallon of water.

Another factor that probably contributed to the need to recycle water was that the condensing cars were heavier being steel-framed than their non-condensing cousins. Thus saving weight became a necessity and with water weighing in at nearly eight pounds per gallon the more that didn’t have to be carried on the car the less weight the car had. Non-condensing Stanley cars generally achieved only a few miles to the gallon of water. Condensing Stanley cars improved the water mileage to eight to ten miles per gallon depending on how efficient the condenser performed.

Stanley improved water mileage by the addition of a condenser at the front of the car. Not only did this transformation somewhat improve water mileage, it also provided Stanley with a styling not unlike the internal combustion cars of the era.



Most people refer to a Stanley’s condenser as a "radiator" because it resembles the radiator found on internal combustion cars. In fact the design of the Stanley condenser is in reality a heavy-duty radiator as used for cooling large internal combustion engines. If one checks the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary they will discover the definitions of condenser and radiator as follows;

con dens er; (kOn dEn ser); noun; 1686

1: an electrical device characterized by its capacity to store an electric charge
2: an apparatus that converts vapor into liquid
3: a hollow coil that condenses by abstracting heat
4: lens used to concentrate light on an object

ra di a tor; (rA dE A tor); noun; 1836

1: any object that radiates energy
2: heater consisting of a series of pipes for circulating steam or hot water to heat rooms or buildings
3: a mechanism consisting of a metal honeycomb through which hot fluids circulate; heat is transferred from the fluid through the honeycomb to the air stream that is created either by the motion of the vehicle or by a fan

Since steam is being converted back to water the proper term to use is condenser. Initially Stanley used a V-shaped condenser on their cars but they found them prone to leak at the V-joint. Stanley then changed to the more common flat condenser similar to a radiators found on today’s cars.

Steam is admitted to the top of the condenser from a pipe routed from the exhaust (front end) of the feed water heater. Thus the exhaust steam of the engine is first partially cooled by its contact with the cooler boiler feed water piping inside the feed water heater. While some condensing of the water occurs in the feed water heater, the hot condensed water and the remaining exhaust steam flows to the top of the condenser.

As the car is driven air is passed over the zigzag metal fins between the tubes of the condenser. Additional heat is removed from the steam and additional condensing of the steam back into water occurs. An opening at the bottom of the condenser is piped to the water supply tank so that the condensate can run back to the water tank to begin the steam-making process again.

Not all the steam that enters the top of the condenser is condensed back to water. Depending on the temperature of the ambient air and the speed of the car the amount of steam condensed can vary. Obviously the cooler the ambient air the more cooling effect the fins of the condenser have on the steam thus the condensing action is more effective on cool autumn days than on hot summer afternoons. The speed of the car affects the ability of the condenser to return the steam to water as well. The speed of the car determines how fast the airflow is across the fins of the condenser and thus condensing efficiency. However driving the car faster and faster does require more steam to be supplied to the engine to maintain the higher velocity. The increased steam flow means more pounds of steam per unit time that the condenser must cool and return to water. So while going faster might seem like a way to improve the condensing action, in reality more steam is being fed to the condenser per unit time and thus can actually reduce the efficiency of the condenser. A like situation occurs when climbing a hill where the throttle must be opened significantly in order to climb the grade but the speed of the car is reduced and thus airflow across the condenser is reduced.

The exhaust piping from the engine, moving the steam through the feed water heater and the condenser also work to a disadvantage with the engine. The exhaust pathway provides resistance to the steam trying to exit the engine and in particular each of the engine’s cylinders. Each of the devices in the path of the steam leaving the engine serves to increase the pressure of the steam leaving the engine. This is detrimental to the engine’s efficiency since any pressure on the exhausted side of the piston reduces the effective pressure across the piston and thus the amount of work the piston can achieve during its stroke. Hence it is important to keep the feed water heater, condenser, and associated piping as unrestricted as possible. The condenser being piped to the water supply tank and the water supply tank having an ample overfill pipe venting to atmosphere insures the steam exhaust system piping does not become pressurized.

As there is steam cylinder oil in the exhaust steam of the engine, the steam cylinder oil will also condense back to oil. However, when this occurs the oil is of a much different character than when it was poured into the steam cylinder oil tank. The steam cylinder oil after passing through the engine and being thoroughly dissolved with the steam will condense into a thick, gooey, sticky, very high viscosity semi-liquid. It will stick to everything it comes in contact with almost like heavy axle grease. While hot it will flow but once its cooled it becomes more difficult to deal with. Most of it will end up in the supply water tank floating on top of the water unless the car has been equipped with a steam oil separator to trap the oil before it gets to the condenser and water supply tank.

Because of the tendency of the used steam cylinder oil to foul the feed water heater and the condenser, both of these devices should routinely be filled with kerosene to flush out any accumulated steam cylinder oil deposits. An easy way to check for condenser restrictions is to remove the condenser cap and replace it with a pipe cap with a small ˝" hole drilled in it. When driving the car a minimal amount of steam should escape from the open hole on the cap. If the exhaust of the engine discharges forcibly from the cap’s hole then it is an indication the condenser’s narrow cooling-tube passages may be partially obstructed with dirt and steam cylinder oil deposits. The condenser should have the discharge line to the water tank disconnected and blocked off. Filling the condenser with kerosene and letting it sit for a day or so will dissolve most of the steam cylinder oil. In real bad cases the condenser may need to be removed, disassembled, and cleaned by a professional radiator repair shop.

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