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"Has anyone considered realistic Steam powered vehicles" Topic

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609 hits since 29 Aug 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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CAPTAIN BEEFHEART29 Aug 2017 7:03 a.m. PST

It seems that most, if not all vehicles in the VSF stable consists of a WW1 British tank with a smoke stack stuck on the back. That or a something with legs with said smoke stack.

Since steam needs water (lots) and a means of focusing the stuff into a viable means of propulsion, I think we need more than a clown straw painted black to represent this.

Just a topic for discussion. (and yes I know, it's just a game)

Vigilant29 Aug 2017 7:14 a.m. PST

Steam was actually used as a means of propulsion in many early cars and lorries. Try looking up Stanley Steamer for images and info. Nothing like the VSF models we get which look cooler, but are not realistic.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART29 Aug 2017 7:23 a.m. PST

That steam propulsion was used is understood. It is the depiction of it in model form is of interest. Many thanks for your reply.

Palewarrior Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 7:47 a.m. PST

I have wondered about this with the Warmachine steam powered Warjacks. They don't seem to have large water tanks, but at least my Cryx are ok…they just suck the fluids from the dead . Or so i imagine ;-)

Personal logo x42brown Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 8:31 a.m. PST

The water tanks are not necessarily huge. There are other practical needs for good condensers which would also reduce the size of water tanks.

My bugbear is how they would dump heat rather than store water.

McLaren 10NHP Road locomotive No. 1332 "Gigantic" by Benjamin Matthews, on Flickr

The main water tank on this traction engine is the box between the wheels.


CAPTAIN BEEFHEART29 Aug 2017 9:19 a.m. PST

I rarely start a thread but this one is getting good.
Many thanks to all!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 10:09 a.m. PST

"Has anyone considered realistic Steam powered vehicles?" Well, yes: Isembard Kingdom Brunnel, for one.

Personal logo Andrew Walters Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 10:14 a.m. PST

This question puts you on the horns of a dilemma – "realistic" vehicles aren't as exciting as those that dispense with the realities of steam power, but the exciting vehicles are sometimes insulting.

I used GURPS (3rd edition) Vehicles to design a steam powered submarine. A big compressor filled a high pressure tank to give you power while submerged. I definitely learned that steam power is not easy to work with. I almost made the sub clockwork powered.

GURPS Vehicles gives you a great way to figure out the mass and performance for a speculative vehicle. It even has guidelines for embracing more and less realistic genres. It's easier to use than people say. You can also do your own extrapolations form locomotives, traction engines, and steamships, but you end up in the same place – if you have more than an hour's coal and water and you want exciting combat performance, you're going to have a really bulky vehicle.

Ultimately, this is a question of aesthetics and everyone should embrace what they like. You want sleek tanks and battle mechs with rivets and a smoke stack, go for it. A wave of your hand a less-than-polite "pshaw!" can clear off anyone who seeks to darken your day with math and physics. If you want some bulking tanks, external tubing, exposed wheels and connecting rods, and a big wobbling beam across the top, offer to duel anyone who maligns the appearance of Old Betsey. If you want to do all the math and rejoice not in the appearance of your patented auto-motivated field gun but in it's viability, more power to you, literally, power is work over time, work is force over a distance, etc.

You may have a tight definition of "Steampunk", but in common use it covers a *lot* of territory. I have often wished we had a cool coding scheme so that when something is described as Steampunk I could know in an instance whether this steampunk is with or without the spaceships, vampires, robots, computers, flying ships, energy weapons, time travel, etc that often appear center stage and often do not exist at all. If you tell me something is "steampunk" all I know is people are wearing goggles and corsets on the outside. I really don't know anything else about the work being described, not the tech level and not the social situation.

So just go have fun.

Lee John Ayre29 Aug 2017 10:39 a.m. PST

Wouldn't a fireless steam vehicle be more "realistic" ? No need to carry coal and water. link

Nowhere near as cool though :)

goragrad29 Aug 2017 1:46 p.m. PST

Fortschen doesn't go into detail on the construction of the wheeled, armored, non-rail locomotives (i.e. steam powered armored cars) in his Lost Regiment series.

However, based on his descriptions of actions involving them, I picture them as something like a steam tractor.locomotive with the boiler at the back. As with the Char Bis there is a cannon mounted forward in the main body with a steam powered Gatling in a turret.

As with railway locomotives, for extended range they tow a coal tender which can be dropped when going into action. And as with locomotives they have a condenser to cut down on water refills.

Always seemed to me to be the most logical course of development, but then Fortschen got his degree in Military History and the development of technology.

Might be of interest someday when I have the time to use work out a design that would fit his concept.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART29 Aug 2017 1:51 p.m. PST

Lots of thoughtful remarks here…Keep the cards and letters coming!

DyeHard29 Aug 2017 4:37 p.m. PST

I have provided some images of actual and fanciful land steam transport here:

Such as:


Coelacanth29 Aug 2017 5:55 p.m. PST

U.S. built wheeled steam tank, ca. 1917: link


Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP29 Aug 2017 8:41 p.m. PST

That's why I prefer the 1870 Nemo-bility* engine design:


* Or would that be Nemo-motion? :)

Covert Walrus30 Aug 2017 12:25 p.m. PST

You'd certainly need realistic Traction Engines with Krupp guns and Gatlings if you gamed A Bertram Chandler's novel "Kelly Country".

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Aug 2017 4:37 p.m. PST

Our Hive, Queen and Country Universe has tried very hard to maintain its technological realism. We looked at all sorts of machinery (including fireless engines). Craig at Gaming Models produces them in 15mm in resin.







arodrig630 Aug 2017 5:48 p.m. PST

As tsofian mentioned, we address a lot of these issues in our upcoming book. The water consumption rate for steam engines is prodigious, but a combination of superheating (so you get more energy per unit mass of steam), compounding (so you extract as much energy from the steam as possible) and condensers (so you recycle as much steam into water) helps. Condensing also is handy to reduce the pressure at the end of a multi-stage turbine.

Fireless engines are another possibility, though they tend to be pretty range limited – keeping a lot of steam or other gas at a high temperature and pressure requires a big (heavy) pressure vessel, and often insulation.

E.g. This vehicle:


Uses a compound 2.4MPa engine and condenser to produce 227kW of power. It uses 120kg/hr of water, which is high, but not horrible.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART30 Aug 2017 11:13 p.m. PST

Such thoughtful posts, thanks to all.

arodrig631 Aug 2017 7:54 p.m. PST

Other interesting aspects:

• The transmission systems – steam powered vehicles can often get away with a much simpler transmission which uses direct drive or just 2 gears.

• Turbines can be a useful motive engine in the later Victorian. Our President's Landship are driven by electrical motors that are powered by a steam turbine. The turbine is a six-stage impulse pressure- compounding turbine. It is similar to the Rateau turbine design. In this engine, 365°C (143° of superheating) steam enters the 80cm diameter first stage at 2.48 MPa and, five stages later, exits to the condenser at 0.005MPa (thanks to a consender to get things sub-atmospheric). The 1700 ton vehicle has a ground pressure of only 85kPa (less than an M1 tank)



(Also, not the heat radiators on the upper surface.)

• Unlike coal or other fuels, water can often be scavenged from local sources, so you can get away with carrying less. However, on more sophisticated steam engines (water tube or flash boilers) unprocessed water can quickly screw up the works. A water purifier or processor to remove sediments or dissolved solids can be handy, either on a larger tank or a supply vehicle.

• Speaking of different types of engines – there are a lot of tradeoffs.
Flued boilers are the simplest / cheapest, but only allow low pressure. Fire Tube boilers are more efficient and can provide higher pressures. Water tube boilers are safer (pressure bearing tubes are smaller), but more expensive and require a little more volume. 'Flash' boilers (sort of an evolved water tube) are even safer and the quick conversion of water to steam means the engines can quickly produce power and don't need to wait to "build up a head of steam."

• There are also a number of 'accessories' which might be handy for a practical vehicle. For example, steam nozzles which could blast soot build up from the engine compartment will improve efficiency, but 'cost' weight. Quick blowdown valves (to safely and quickly vent steam pressure) can also be useful to avoid catastrophic failures.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART01 Sep 2017 8:48 a.m. PST

I am overwhelmed by the responses. It goes beyond the concept of the 'steam box'. I get the Goggles and corset approach but suspension of belief is the 'true' rivets approach. Thanks to all that have voiced opinions here.

and forgive my misspellings.

Borathan02 Sep 2017 9:34 p.m. PST

Partially realistic, I've made a few walkers that were more based on the strandbeest style which looks pretty good for it. On top of that, if you go with some of the models, the things might actually be capable of locomotion on their own…

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Sep 2017 1:44 p.m. PST

If anyone is interested in more details please check out or are very active Yahoo Group link

Personal logo J Womack 94 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 6:57 a.m. PST

Ultimately, this is a question of aesthetics and everyone should embrace what they like. You want sleek tanks and battle mechs with rivets and a smoke stack, go for it. A wave of your hand a less-than-polite "pshaw!" can clear off anyone who seeks to darken your day with math and physics.

Which is why the rare mineral in my VSF universe which functions as an airless generator of extreme heat for the boiling of water (think nuclear engine) is called handwavium.

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