Collections FAQ



1. Who owns the collection?

The entire collection was originally owned by Thomas C. Marshall Jr., our teacher, mentor, leader and benefactor. Over the past few years, Mr. Marshall has donated all of the cars in his collection to the Friends of Auburn Heights, the last donation occurring in spring 2011.


2. Why is this collection significant?

It is estimated that a total of about 600-800 Stanleys remain in existence out of nearly 11,000 originally built. Of the surviving vehicles, perhaps 50% are in factory/semi-original condition, with the remainder in either unrestored or modernized condition. Many of the Stanleys seen at shows and tours are recently built replicas. The Marshall collection is made up of 14 original, road-worthy Stanleys representing a cross section of Stanley manufacturing years and operating technologies. The Marshall collection is the largest operating collection of Stanley Steam Cars in the world.


3. Do you ever drive the vehicles?

Almost all of the cars in the museum, except the 1901 Mobile and the 1924 Stanley Model 750, are licensed for on-road use, and many are regularly driven during the warmer months in spring, summer, and fall. The Stanleys and Packards are driven to events within 40 miles of Auburn Heights. They are also used to give driving lessons to the volunteers who participate in the cars’ maintenance. For events at longer distances, we have transported the cars by trailer, but that can be costly so such trips are kept to a minimum.


4. Are they all in original condition?

The answer to this question depends on the vehicle under discussion. Parts wear and are either replaced with original (if available) or newly made restoration parts. In some cases, safety improvements have been made to vehicles – i.e. hydraulic brakes. If you would like information about a specific vehicle’s condition please send us a note at


5. Where do you find parts for the vehicles?

With most of our collection close to 100 years old, keeping vehicles in a state of good repair is a labor of love. Parts age and need to be replaced even when treated with the greatest of care. Our sources for parts are varied and include swap meets, trade publications, the internet, shops that machine replica parts, etc. When a part is needed, we will call just about anyone in the hobby to find a replacement. When no other source is available, we will sponsor the casting of new duplicate parts and if possible share costs with others having the same need.


6. How much is the collection worth?

It’s not about money. Our collection represents a unique assemblage of vehicles from a turning point in American history. It is impossible to put a price on history and the lessons it can teach us today and our children tomorrow. So few of these cars are transferred between owners that the value can only be set for each individual transaction.





1. Why is it important that we preserve our steam heritage?

When you consider that the majority of the electricity we use today is still produced utilizing steam-powered turbines, it is hard to imagine a more important historical advancement than the advent of steam power. Even our nuclear power plants produce steam to turn turbines and produce electricity. Without steam power, our modern culture could not exist. It is therefore important that we retain our understanding of the technical advances that led us to our current technical prowess.


2. What does a Stanley Steamer use for fuel?

Many think erroneously that Stanleys “run on water.” Some think they burn wood or coal. Stanley steam cars use gasoline or kerosene as the primary fuel, depending on their vintage. Stanleys built before 1914 were sold as gasoline cars. But due to the cost advantage of kerosene, most cars built between 1910 and 1913 were converted to kerosene by their owners. Stanley provided conversion parts to support this change. All Stanleys built from 1914 on were built to run on kerosene. Either gas or kerosene was burned to convert water into steam and power the engine. Every Stanley also has a pilot burner that remains lit whenever the car is in use to ignite the main burner, similar to what is found today in many gas water heaters or stoves. In kerosene-fired cars, gasoline was still used in the pilot system, but today hexane works best for this purpose. The gasoline fired cars use the main fuel in the pilot.


3. Why are there two fuels to power many Stanleys?

Kerosene pilots were never satisfactory, as not enough heat is generated from the tiny pilot light to keep the fuel vaporized when the main burner is off. Gasoline was a more volatile fuel, easily vaporized. Not only did it work well in the pilot, but it could be used to ignite the main burner before things were hot enough to vaporize the kerosene. Today’s motor fuel has many additives, including octane boosters and ethanol, and hexane is the purest in the family of rubber solvents and burns the cleanest for pilot use.


4. How many miles per gallon do you get?

On average about 10 m.p.g. of fuel and 1 m.p.g. of water, varying somewhat with the size and weight of the Stanley. With the advent of radiators to condense the exhaust steam in 1915, water mileage was improved somewhat but varied widely with temperature and terrain. The pilot burns about one gallon in eight hours.


5. Were there problems with Stanleys that condensed their exhaust steam?

On all Stanleys, a small amount of oil is injected into the steam pipe between the boiler and the engine to lubricate the slide valves and the pistons. This oil residue is also in the exhaust, so it passes through the radiator (condenser) and the water tank and back into the boiler. Oil build-up in the boiler reduces boiler life. Improvement in water mileage, therefore, was complicated by this problem. Today, most people running condensing cars have added some sort of filtering system for removing this exhaust oil.


6. How fast/slow can a Stanley go?

On the “roads of their time,” the answer is simply: “It didn’t matter how fast the car could go given prevailing road conditions.” With unpaved, dirt, or cobbled roads, you weren’t going to want to go very fast. On today’s modern roads, a Stanley can easily and comfortably do 35 m.p.h. Greater speed is possible if you and your passengers are comfortable driving with rudimentary suspension, primitive friction brakes on only two wheels, and skinny tires. When these cars were made, they were considered fast, smooth, and quiet compared to their internal combustion counterparts.

How slow a Stanley can go seems like an unusual question, but Stanleys excel at slow speeds. A Stanley can easily match (and potentially outperform) a modern car in a “go-slow” hill climb. A Stanley can surpass an internal combustion vehicle by moving from a dead stop at the foot of a hill and crawling (we’re talking reeeeaaaaalllllly slow) up a hill without effort.


7. Did Stanleys disappear because they were less efficient than internal combustion vehicles?

No, not really. During their day, both internal combustion engines and steamers were achieving comparable fuel mileage. Arguably, the steamer was a more efficient engine than engines of the early internal combustion type. As a matter of fact, steamers were by far less complicated machines to operate and repair than their combustion cousins. Fewer moving parts, no complicated transmission, and absence of a clutch made Stanleys a preferable alternative to many early motorists. The likely deciding factor in the demise of steam cars was the relatively long firing up routine when compared to an internal combustion car. When the electric starter for internal combustion cars replaced the hand crank, anyone strong or weak, car savvy or not, could start the engine and drive. Steam cars had no answer for this.


8. Can a Stanley’s boiler explode?

There has never been a documented case of a Stanley boiler exploding. The design of a Stanley boiler makes it safe at very high pressure. While minor mishaps with the pilot have resulted in some unexpected flames in and around the burner, the Stanley is a very safe vehicle to operate.


9. What kind of boiler pressure is required for operation?

While this varies by vehicle, operating pressure for most of the Stanleys is around 500 PSI. As an added safety feature, Stanley boilers had safety valves designed to vent excessive pressure once steam pressure in the boiler reached about 650 PSI.


10. What kind of power can a Stanley generate?

Stanleys were powerful vehicles. In the early years 8 horsepower was typical and more than enough to make the Stanley a peppy car. As demand for larger, heavier, and faster cars arose, the Stanley brothers introduced 10-, 20-, and even 30-horsepower vehicles. The Marshall collection has a good representative sampling of each. The horsepower rating is boiler horsepower. For example, a 20-horsepower Stanley engine will develop 105 horsepower, given an unlimited steam supply.