PHOENIX — Two brothers from Britain are going back in time — using a unique automobile.
Nick and Chris Howell are poised to move full steam ahead Tuesday in re-creating a drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon that was first undertaken at the turn of the 20th century. They will be riding in a Toledo Steam Car they spent more than eight years restoring.
“Flagstaff hasn’t seen the car for more than a hundred years. We’ve got to do this. It’s a bit of Flagstaff history,” said Chris Howell, whose vehicle converts water into steam, which pushes the pistons inside the engine.
The Toledo Steam Car is what Los Angeles photographer Oliver Lippincott used when he attempted the same 60-mile drive in 1902.
Lippincott, along with two friends and a local guide, set off on Jan. 3, 1902, in a steam car attached to a trailer hauling supplies. The journey they expected to take three hours ended up taking three days, according to the book “Grand Canyon-Flagstaff Stage Coach Line.”
The group was plagued with problems. The vehicle’s boilers froze over, and its fuel got contaminated. They set out on foot to get help, and by the time they got within 18 miles of the Grandview Hotel at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, only one man was able to keep going. They were rescued and, ironically, horses pulled the steam car back to the hotel.
Tom Martin, secretary for the Grand Canyon Historical Society, said it was still a great feat at the time. The journey showed the potential for Flagstaff to have a technological edge by offering a way for cars to reach the Grand Canyon, which was already a tourist draw.
“Staying abreast of the latest technology was very important,” Martin said. “This was like the concept of today, asking what kind of app do you have on your smartphone. That’s what automobiles at that time represented to them.”
Jim Merrick, an archivist at Kingfield, Maine’s Stanley Museum, which chronicles the history of the Stanley steam car company, said steam cars began gaining popularity in the 1890s for their lightness. Using technology pioneered by the French, steam cars utilized coal or gasoline to heat a boiler or burner. The high pressure converted water into steam to power the engine.
“The steam car was called a rolling stove,” Merrick said.
But by 1910, sales of the vehicles started to plummet as gas cars improved and got more popular, Merrick said.
Nick Howell, a car buff whose trip will harken back to the steam car days, bought his Toledo Steam Car at a Michigan auction in 2004. He and his brother discovered the steam car had a larger water tank and a longer wheelbase than the typical Toledo, which was manufactured by American Bicycle Co. in Ohio.
They have only located 13 other Toledo owners, all with vehicles lacking the larger parts. As a result, the brothers believe their steam car may be the original used in 1902. Martin, of the historical society, agreed that it is a real possibility.
The car already has had quite the journey. The siblings shipped it from England to Los Angeles. Former “Tonight Show” host and car collector Jay Leno offered them the use of his garage and workshop before they brought the vehicle to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show on Aug. 17 in Pebble Beach, California.
It was while making plans to travel to Pebble Beach that the brothers learned about the car’s place in Arizona history from an old newspaper article. They made contact with the Arizona Trail Association, which researched a possible route for the Howells’ re-creation.
Chris Howell said they will spread the drive out over two days with multiple stops. The schedule calls for the car to travel at about 10 mph. The trek will end at Grandview Point, where the Grandview Hotel used to be. After that, they will bring the car to Scottsdale and Tucson.
Unlike the 1902 group, who didn’t bring food and water, the Howell brothers are coming prepared. They will be traveling with two-way radios in case they run into car troubles.
“The car’s an old lady, and it’s a bit temperamental, and we’ve got to try to sort her out. It’s running well, and then it’s not running well,” Chris Howell said. “Hopefully we can all come up to expectations.”
There will be trucks hauling water for fuel stops along the way. The car holds 6 gallons of unleaded gas and 43 gallons of water. It takes about 45 minutes to start and they use a blowtorch to start a pilot light, Chris Howell said.
Meanwhile, Martin said volunteers will also be bringing lunch and “copious amounts of tea, because they’re Brits after all.”
The Howell brothers also decided to go for as much authenticity as possible, down to an early 1900s wardrobe.
“It doesn’t look right if you’ve got jeans and a T-shirt, does it?” Chris Howell said. “We might be a bit grubby at the end of it but you know, why not?”