- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Almost exactly one year ago Allyn Kilsheimer was about to fulfill his dream of owning a car from the earliest days of automobiles.

In August, 2001 he answered an ad for an 1899 Locomobile placed by a man in Bear Lake, Calif. who was looking for a good home for his little steam runabout.

The buyer and seller are both engineers, which was helpful during the getting acquainted phase of the initial interview.

Eventually, the seller decided that Mr. Kilsheiner passed muster and the deal for the then 102-year-old car was made over the telephone.

As Mr. Kilsheimer, a structural engineer, was making arrangements on Sept. 11, 2001 to have the car trucked to his Washington home in northwest, five terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

Mr. Kilsheimer specializes in going to disaster sites and trying to make order out of chaos. Usually he travels to farflung sites around the world. This time the disaster was in his back yard.

Less than five hours after the airplane hit the building, he was standing amid the still smoking, body-strewn wreckage with Pentagon officials assessing the damage and formulating plans to cope with the destruction, clean up and eventual reconstruction.

Wearing borrowed protective gear from firemen Mr. Kilsheimer, while amid the carnage that only hours before had been the office of the Army officer with him, told him, "We'll get this place fixed and rebuilt in a year."

Military experts estimated a three-year timetable.

Mr. Kilshiemer sent the California man the money for the Locomobile and explained that something unexpected had come up and asked him if he would mind holding onto the car for awhile.

The understanding owner agreed to keep the car until further notice. Eight months later, in the spring of 2002, Mr. Kilshiemer for the first time found the time to have his Locomobile trucked home. The one-year effort at the Pentagon runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, consuming most of Mr. Kilsheimer's time directing the 2,977 people accomplishing the task.

He was ecstatic when his little steam car arrived. It is four-feet, five-inches wide and five-feet, four-inches tall (to the top of the seat back).It is seven-feet, three-inches long bumper-to-bumper if it had bumpers. The entire rig is supported on a 57-inch wheelbase by white rubber 28x3-inch, four-ply tires made by the Universal Tire Co. of Elizabeth, Pa. They are mounted on 40-spoke nickel-plated bicycle wheels.

With a full load of five gallons of water and three gallons of gasoline the total weight is still less than 700 pounds.

The little steamer has a black wooden Stanhope body with a spindle seat which is designated model number one.

On either end of the dashboard are vertical slots for the reins controlling a horse to pass through, evidence the body was initially made for use as a horse-drawn carriage. Three panels, one on each side and one across the rear of the wooden body are painted a contrasting Brewster green. The color of the pinstriping on the Locomobile is gold.

Once Mr. Kilsheimer had possession of the car, he corresponded with the previous owner in an attempt to learn how to operate the five wooden-handled valves behind the leather flap behind the driver's ankles. The six-metal-handled valves on the outside of the car also posed perplexing questions.

The previous owner sent him a cryptic message: "Don't try to start it!"

Mr. Kilsheimer abided by the warning not to light the boiler, but he did hook the Locomobile to a compressed air hose and actually drove his car on the limited tether in his driveway propelled by air under pressure instead of steam under pressure."I wanted to make sure it ran," he says. Compressed air works just as well as steam to verify the workings of the engine.

Besides the lack of a top, doors or windows, the Locomobile has no storage space. The horsehair-packed tufted leather seat cushion sits directly over the boiler, Ottawa burner, Maxwell pilot and Mason engine.

What would have been cargo space behind the seat in a horse-drawn carriage is a water tank shrouded by a leather cover with a flap for access to fill the tank.

A hex-nut in the center of the floorboard provides access to the fuel tank. Mr. Kilsheimer says the fuel of choice is Coleman lantern fuel which gives us an indication of the octane fuel of a century ago.

Brass was big in those days and Mr. Kilsheimer, while seated at the tiller of the right-hand drive car, discovered a brass rod protruding between his legs from beneath the seat cushion. That brass rod operates the steam whistle.

At the rear of the vehicle a pair of brass exhaust pipes emit steam from the engine that operates between 180 and 300 psi."You can go about 20 miles before you run out of water," Mr. Kilsheimer explains.

He surmises that the design of the car was completed when an excess of exhaust was discovered. Hence, an unfinished, crude-appearing T-shaped smoke stack was installed, rising through the leather shroud over the water tank.

A brass bicycle pump is used to pressurize the fuel tank to 40 psi before lighting the pilot light, preparatory to starting the two-cylinder double-acting engine.

"If your trip was less than five miles it was quicker to walk." Mr. Kilsheimer says, "No question about it."He suspects that ownership of an automobile, any automobile, a century or so ago was strictly an ego trip for the owner.

Locomobile publicity literature from 1899 touted the steam car's ability to go up to 40 mph, climb grades of 36 degrees and go between 20 to 40 miles on one tank of water. It was understood, of course, that all the claims were gross exagerations.

Mr. Kilsheimers Locomobile carries serial number 170 which indicates that it was manufactured in 1899. It is sprung with three sets of leaf springs, one above each rear sheel and one transverse spring above the front axle.

In the driver's seat two guages are visible, the fuel pressure at the far left of the dashboard and the steam pressure at the far right.

In addition to those two guages the only other function the tiller-operator has to contend with is the brake beneath his right foot.

The sight glass, displaying the water level, is mounted on the right side of the body where the driver can't see the glass.

Conveniently located at the drivers elbow are two levers, one to put the car in forward gear, reverse or neutral. The other lever controls the acceleration.

"A lot of the controls are useless," Mr. Kilsheimer says, "but nobody at that time knew what they were doing."

The frustrating part of owning the Locomobile is that after almost one year since he purchased the car Mr. Kilsheimer hasn't had time to enjoy his car.

All that will change once Mr. Kilsheimer has completed his task of rebuilding the Pentagon before September 11.

He still has a week and a half and swears he will meet his self-appointed deadline.

Then, and only then, will he begin to appreciate his 1899 Locomobile."I can't wait," he says anxiously.

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