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Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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Why Jay Leno's Steam Car Caused a Gasoline Fire

Posted November 21, 2022 8:17 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: steam cars

As we've all learned this week, following Jay Leno's widely reported incident with a steam car that left part of his face burned, steam cars often use gasoline to fire the boilers that produce the motivating steam. However, that wasn't always the case, with gasoline coming and going out of fashion for steam car operators over the years and with some steam cars even fitted for burning multiple types of fuel.

Multiple outlets reported early this week that Leno, the former "The Tonight Show" host who currently showcases his and others' cars via his CNBC show "Jay Leno's Garage," suffered burns to his face on Saturday while clearing a clogged fuel line on a White steam car, one of several steamers in Leno's collection. Leno has told Variety that he is fine and "just need a week or two to get back on my feet."

The reports raised a number of questions among enthusiasts about the fuels used in steam cars. Even though steam cars are considered external combustion, do they still require gasoline? Weren't kerosene and other fuels also used to fire the boilers?

Yes and yes, according to Stanley Museum Archivist Jim Merrick, who noted that prior to 1910, Stanley cars used gasoline as both main fuel and fuel for the pilot burner. The Stanley twins, in fact, had pioneered not only the commercially viable steam car but also the use of liquid fuel - in their case, gasoline, at the time a byproduct of kerosene distillation that was widely available at drugstores for use in lighting lamps - in a steam car's operation. Prior to the Stanleys, steam automobiles used wood, as seen in the operation of the 1769 Cugnot fardier a vapeur or more commonly coal, as was the case with Sylvester Roper's Boston-based experiments in steam power.

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Re: Why Jay Leno's Steam Car Caused a Gasoline Fire

11/21/2022 1:52 PM

I certainly wish Jay a speedy recovery. Burns are painful and can be disfiguring. It's pretty cool that he keeps these museum pieces operational. Too much in our world gets "locked behind the glass" and people don't get the opportunity to truly appreciate these machines. It's like when an old radial-engined warbird flies overhead, the sound is truly unique and sends a chill down my spine.

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Re: Why Jay Leno's Steam Car Caused a Gasoline Fire

11/22/2022 7:15 AM

One must always make a provision in the case of historically, regionally, nationally and globally important collections. Far too many are "StABLE" - Stashed Away Beyond Life Expectancy. Personal ownership might not be the best future for them both individually and as a collection, and due process in placing artefacts in some form of not-for-profit historical trust organisation might be better in the long term.

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