Bohnet Steam Automobile
George J. Bohnet was an intriguing young man, who from all indications his education was all his own doing, basically he taught himself how to be an engineer and an electrician guided by, in all probability William Lansing. Born in Francisco, Jackson County, Michigan on January 10, 1875 to Peter and Christina (née Oesterle) Bohnet, George lived on the family farm in Sylvan, Michigan until the age of 18 when he moved to Lansing with his family. His first job was working in the Holmes’ Music store at 122 N. Washington, oddly enough the music store also sold bicycles. By 1900 he worked as a bicycle repair man at a shop in the rear of the Armstrong Music store at 227 N. Washington. He began tinkering with automotive design in 1900 and had as a silent investor Usa H. Forester. Why was Forester an investor, well the steam engine used in Bohnet’s vehicle could be removed and installed in Forester’s boat which he used on the Grand River. Bohnet would build two steam automobiles; the first had a double expansion 8hp steam engine with 410 flues. The engine was powered by gasoline to heat the fuel; a five-gallon tank located under the front floor of the vehicle while the engine was under the seat and the boiler was placed directly behind the seat. In the rear of the automobile was a water tank, which could hold 20 gallons of water. The water sustains the vehicle for 20 miles while the gasoline could power the automobile for 40 miles, meaning the driver would need to stop after 20 miles to refill the water tank. The steam pressure reached 120lbs within three minutes allowing the automobile to reach a speed of 40mph with a safe speed of 25mph. Bohnet designed several interesting features for the vehicle. The water from the reservoir passed through the muffler, preheating the water before it entered the boiler resulting in a savings in fuel. After the steam is used it returned via a condenser to the reservoir to save water. The vehicle could turn in a 15-foot circle with tiller control (?) with a lever that operated the throttle and brake. After previewing the vehicle three orders were placed. (SR 6/4/1901) In July of 1901 Bohnet began the construction of another steam driven vehicle at the Lansing Electrical Engineering Company with the assistance of William Lansing. (LJ 7/18/1901, SR 8/1/1901 and SR 8/2/1901)
Bohnet Steam Automobile
On May 28, 1902 George J. Bohnet’s second steam automobile made its appearance on the streets of Lansing. The vehicle had a 10 HP steam engine with copper tube boiler 18×19 inches containing 600 flues. The engine used gasoline as a fuel and had a gas tank with a capacity of eight gallons, which was located under the front floor of the dashboard. The engine was located under the seat a fact that undoubtedly made for a comfortable ride; I wonder what Consumer Reports if it existed would have made of this configuration? The fuel allowed for a range of 80 miles or 10 miles per gallon, while the water capacity of 36 gallons lasted only for 35 miles, which would explain the problems faced by Mr. Fuller in the next article. The boiler generated a steam pressure of 175lbs and was automobile was capable of speed of 40 mph. The vehicle had an interesting feature, that if the driver was thrown from the automobile the throttle shuts down and the vehicle stops. This raised and interesting question, just how many drivers were hurled from early automobiles? The design also had an added safety feature which when the boiler hit 175lbs of pressure it shut down and did not resume until it dropped to 170lbs of pressure when it reignited and provided power to the vehicle. The gross weight of the steam automobile was 1,450 pounds. (SR 5/29/1902)
Lansing Automobilist had Troubles of His Own.
“A Lansing man named Fuller bought a new steam automobile about two weeks ago, and last Friday started for Jackson to exercise it. He forgot that the boiler needed a supply of water occasionally, and north of Leslie discovered that the boiler had gone dry and burned out. He called W.N. Rogers [William H Rogers], who went out with his dray and hauled the beast into town [Leslie]. Rather then ship it back to Lansing for repairs and buy the cigars for his friends, he loaded it into a car and took it to Jackson to get a new boiler.” (SR 6/1/1902) Why is this important well it tells us that either a Bohnet vehicle was still in the area, it may still exist. Just who Fuller was is unknown.
Just why the Bohnet Steam Automobile failed, it may have been just a matter of simple economics, a Curved Dash Oldsmobile sold for around $650 while other manufactures produced a two-seat runabout at a lower price then Bohnet. George sold his first car to a DeWitt physician for $1000 while the second vehicle was sold to William Lansing and the Capital Electric Company. Just who the Fuller was who drove the vehicle to Leslie and how he obtained the use of the car described in the above article is a mystery that may never be solved. The Leslie paper shed no light on this incident. George J. Bohnet was an up and coming young man, William K. Prudden took an interest in George and offered him a job as his secretary, but as George explained he did not know anything about shorthand and the position went to Harry Harper, the future head of Motor Wheel. Prudden did not forget George and employed him as treasurer of the Capital Automobile Company. After the company was sold in 1932 George along with his brother Herman opened the Bohnet Brothers manufactures of flashing beacons and other electrical fittings. George John Bohnet passed away at his cottage at Eight Points Lake, Michigan on July 20, 1961 at the age of 86. (LSJ 7/21/1961)
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