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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Shelburne, Vt.) - If you've ever thought so many of the cars on the road today look the same, John Linderman may change your mind.
"It's where I get my kicks," he beamed, as he drove his 1910 Stanley Steamer. "It's sort of an oddball thing, even among the antique car crowd."
More than 20 steam-powered cars are touring Vermont this week. Most date from around 1910. The owners are staying in Stowe, and heading out from the resort town on day trips in their vehicles. The group turns heads seemingly wherever it goes, and Linderman said that may be because only a few hundred steam-puffing cars are still operational in the country.
"It's a very nice ride," he noted. "It's very smooth."
Linderman told New England Cable News the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, based in Newton, Mass., was a luxury car brand in its day. Linderman estimated his car would have sold for around $1500 originally, more than twice the price of Henry Ford's Model T.
Those Fords were perceived as more efficient and easier to operate, perhaps contributing to Stanley's closure in the 1920s, Linderman added.
"I travel only about 35 miles per hour," he explained.
Another former steam car manufacturer represented in the group is the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The steam cars need frequent stops for water, but something has to boil that water, so drivers fill up with gas or kerosene, too. By modern standards, the vehicles are not known for their fuel efficiency, Linderman said.
"I get maybe about eight miles per gallon of gas," he noted.
His 35-gallon water tank needs filling at an even faster rate, so Linderman stops at homes with hoses and asks residents for help filling up.
"We get good at spotting the houses that have hoses out," he chuckled.
Linda and Marvin Feldman of Clearwater Beach, Fla. showed NECN their nearly 100-year-old Stanley they dubbed "Ellie," short for "elegant." Linda Feldman joked that her husband's hobby is a very messy one, because he often must contend with oil drips, and less frequently, with gas residue catching fire.
"I was talking to my daughter on the cell phone one day, on a tour, and I said, 'Wait, hold on, we're on fire again.'" she recalled. "And she said, 'You people are just crazy!'"
Despite that, curiosity and joy from onlookers are what seem to keep the steam car drivers chugging along. Monday, the tour visited Vermont's popular Shelburne Museum, where 6-year-old Freja Nilsson of Shelburne looked at the vehicles with wonder.
"They're from a different time," she said.
"As an excuse for the hobby, we say we're preserving history," John Linderman said. "But the guys are just having fun!"