Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

This car uses an alternative fuel

By Dick Hirsch
Even before spring arrives, Charles and Ed Erler are tuning things up and making plans to get their car out of the garage and back on the road. They’ve been following that routine annually since they bought the car in 1950.
They devote the winter to maintenance. Some is always required, even though the car has no transmission, no radiator, no spark plugs, no gears and no clutch. What is does have is a mysterious collection of handles, faucets, knobs, levers, dials and gauges, all of which provide needed assistance to the driver.
The car is a 1917 Stanley Steamer and the brothers well remember the excitement generated on the day they bought it 57 years ago. They hooked it up to the back of Ed’s ‘42 Mercury and towed it back to Buffalo from the barn where it sat in Massachusetts. Since that defining moment, the brothers have treated it with the kind of loving care that antique car owners lavish on their vehicles.
This is not what a conservationist would call a green machine, a car offering fuel economy to the owner. The Stanley gets about 6 to 8 miles per gallon from its 20 horsepower engine, sometimes attaining a speed as high as 30 miles per hour. Most of the destinations to which it travels are car shows, and one summer weekend a few years ago I met Charles when he was heating up his boiler at the close of an exhibit in North Tonawanda. He generously offered to give my wife and me a ride, and we drove around for 15 minutes or so. It was a memorable interlude because everybody, whether in their cars or on the sidewalk, waved at us. It’s a four door open touring car and we waved back, naturally, easily assuming the role visiting dignitaries.
The Stanley Steamer probably attained its greatest glory after production ceased in 1927. There were other manufacturers of steam driven cars, but their names have been forgotten by all but auto historians. The steamers succumbed to the gasoline powered internal combustion engine. Now, with the surging interest in alternate fuels, the Erler brothers are among those watching and wondering as other fuels for powering cars are considered. They know the days of steam are long gone, but they realize some fuel changes are likely.
Never did a Stanley Steamer have two more appropriate owners. Charles, 86, was a railroad fireman and engineer for 45 years, first in the days of steam engines with New York Central, and later with diesels for Conrail. Ed, 80, regards his older brother as a true authority when it comes to steam driven locomotion. Ed was a machinist for many years before moving out of the shop to a job in the front office.
They were in their 20s when they bought the car and it has provided them with a common interest since the beginning. They probably never dreamed they would still be driving around in the Stanley in their 80s; neither did their wives. Betty, who is married to Charles, and June, Ed’s wife, consider the car to be a member of the extended family, but don’t go for very many rides.
“We paid less than a thousand dollars for it and I wish we would have bought six more,” said Charles, who then explained the basics.
“The first thing we do is light the pilot on the boiler,” he said, pointing to an acetylene torch fastened to the running board. Since a match won’t do the job, the torch is used to light the pilot. Kerosene is the usual fuel for the boiler, although the car runs just as well on a mixture of kerosene and unleaded gasoline. The water tank holds 25 gallons, and when Charles fires up the boiler it takes about 20 minutes to develop enough steam to consider a drive. That volume of water will produce enough steam to travel about 80 miles.
“A lot of people who see us think the car just runs on water,” observed Ed. “They think that it must be a very cost effective operation, but they forget we have to boil the water to get the steam.”
It has a throttle, but only one forward speed with no gears or transmission. It will go in reverse if the driver steps on a pedal with the left foot.
It has a black and white 1917 license plate, B58-917. Be sure to wave if you see them. Yes, there is something undeniably seductive about antique cars. Ask any man who owns one.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Still talking about a favorite subject

By Dick Hirsch
Sure, I enjoy talking about my favorite subject, but only in a limited way.
My favorite subject isn’t business or current affairs, sports or music, food or travel, art or chocolate chip cookies. No, while I believe I maintain a lively interest in all of those topics, they aren’t my favorite. My favorite topic is me.
Let’s be honest. It’s the same with you, too. Somebody once said “If I am not for me, who will be?” or something like that. I don’t know who it was, but it has always been an accurate statement with a universal application.
But some people carry it to an extreme and it is very obvious. They are happiest when they are talking about themselves. Endlessly. I am not going to name any names here, but I can assure you that I have come in contact with several people over the years who fall into that category. I have been fortunate because I do not have one friend who thinks he or she is absolutely the most intelligent, interesting, vivacious, compelling person in this part of the state.
My friends don’t really dwell on themselves. They admire themselves, I’m sure, but they don’t dwell on it, at least not with endless elocution about themselves. They understand that no one is as interesting to the rest of the world as they are to themselves. Probably the reason we get along so well is that all of us are willing to answer questions about our lives and activities, but we don’t consider an inquiry to be an invitation to embark on a length declamation.
You may be wondering about why I have chosen this topic. That’s a semi-interesting matter. I never feel impelled to bore readers who ask about the source of my ideas by explaining my methods. In this case, however I raised the question myself because we’re dealing with a personality issue.
I usually carry a small notebook into which I occasionally write messages regarding possible topics. Some of those notes never are acted upon. The particular note that prompted this subject has been in that notebook for at least three years. It says: “ppl tlkg abt slf.”
I remember the precise time I wrote that down. It was after being exposed to a person who finds himself extremely brilliant, irresistibly attractive, exceedingly well-coordinated, a remarkable conversationalist, a professional of renown in his chosen field as well as a variety of other areas. He considers himself a person to be admired.
I had known him for several years, so I knew what was in store for me when we met at a social event. He gave me the full treatment. It probably lasted only 20 minutes before I was able to escape, but it seemed much, much longer.
”I’ll be right back,” I lied. “I want to get a drink.”
Of course I had no intention of ever returning to that spot. But it wasn’t a complete lie because after what I had endured, I needed a drink. My departure didn’t matter to him. As I moved quickly away, I wasn’t watching, but I’m sure that he was scanning the room, looking for another potential listener.
Whenever I see him---hopefully it is at a distance---I think of the punch line I heard years ago. It went like this: “That’s enough about me. What’s new with you? How did you like my latest movie?”
There is a word for people like that. It is called narcissist. Such people adore themselves above all else. They love themselves. They are examples of egomania carried to an extreme.
The tale of Narcissus from Greek mythology is relevant in these cases. There are some minor variations, but the accepted story is of a handsome youth, Narcissus, the son of the river god, Cephissus, and the sea nymph, Liriope, who saw his own reflection a fountain and, having previously spurned a maiden who loved him, soon fell in love with his own image. He pined away for the reflection with such intensity that his condition eventually deteriorated until he perished and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.
I provide this brief story concerning “ppl tlkg abt slf” primarily to express my support of and sympathy for those trapped in some kind of relationship with a narcissist. It also sends an alert to readers about the presence of these individuals, who can be found lurking in the most unlikely places. When encountered, think of an exit strategy and excuse yourself as quickly as possible.