Full steam ahead as students gain mileage from history

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A rare 1920s steam-powered car, one of only a handful left in Australia, took its first drive in decades today after being restored by Challenger TAFE students as part of their studies in marine engineering.

Excited students and lecturers fired up the seven-seat, soft top 1923 Stanley Steamer and chugged around Challenger’s WA Maritime Training Centre at Fremantle wharf.

Considered the Ferrari of its day, the classic vehicle was restored by a group of students under the guidance of lecturer Rupert Condick, who said that not only had it been a novelty to work on; it was an invaluable and relevant training aid.

“The training benefits of the Stanley Steamer are enormous because the steam car features the same fittings as a modern boiler,” Rupert said. 

“Understanding the properties of steam is essential because around one-third of shipping involves steam power and, of course, nuclear power plants are also steam-driven.

“Challenger TAFE has a reputation for producing marine engineering graduates who are highly regarded by the maritime industry. By being able to offer our students hands-on experience in the workings of a steam automobile, we are ensuring that our training goes above and beyond the expectations of industry.”

WA Museum senior conservator Richard Garcia said the car was originally part of a collection of vehicles on display at the WA Motor Museum in Whiteman Park, but it had not run for many years. He was thrilled that the students had given it a new lease of life.

“We’ve been able to draw on the expertise of Challenger TAFE to get the vehicle operational again,” Richard said. “It’s fantastic also that the College can gain practical benefit from what might be considered old technology.

“The relevance of the WA Museum has been greatly enhanced through this partnership with Challenger TAFE, with younger generations now literally being able to learn from history.”

The Stanley Motor Carriage Company, founded in the United States in 1902, built 12,000 steam cars from the late 1800s until 1924. Only about 600 are still in existence world wide.

The Stanley Rocket set what is still recognised as the land speed record for a steam car, reaching 205kmh at Daytona Beach in 1906 – coincidentally on Australia Day.

Challenger TAFE will retain custodianship of the Stanley Steamer for the benefit of future students. In the long term it will return to Whiteman Park.

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