The History of Stanley Steam Cars in New Zealand and More

Donald R. Hoke

Jacket designed for Donald R. Hoke
and the Virtual Steam Car Museum
by Nathan W. Moehlmann, Goosepen Studio & Press

New Zealand is an unusual place to find such a man as Hector Halhead “Steam” Stewart, an automobile pioneer enthralled with steam technology. HHS, as he was known, built his first steam car in his teens and during his life corresponded with and visited virtually every person interested in or associated with steam transportation in the 1920s and 1930s.

Flush with the proceeds of a taxi service, two movie theaters, and military vehicle maintenance earned serving Featherston’s mammoth army camp, Stewart traveled to Newton, Massachusetts, and in 1920 obtained the New Zealand Agency for the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. Importing two Model 735 Stanleys, this man of great vision, undeterred persistence, and saddening failure encountered the bureaucrats at the New Zealand Marine and Inspection of Machinery Department. As he emerged from that struggle, the Stanley Company crashed into bankruptcy.

Remaining committed to steam, HHS returned to America in 1924 to help the Steam Vehicle Corporation design its new Stanley, the sv252 “Light Steam Car.” Even that firm’s bankruptcy auction in 1926 failed to dampen Stewart’s enthusiasm for steam. He came back to see Abner Doble’s Detroit Motorbus Company experiments and then played the critical role of bringing Doble to New Zealand, where A.& G. Price built steam busses in the 1930s using Doble’s designs.

In Hector Halhead “Steam” Stewart, award-winning author Donald Hoke illuminates Stewart’s contributions to automobile development in New Zealand and America. Over 525 illustrations accompany this comprehensive biography of a visionary entrepreneurial engineer tirelessly working a world away from international manufacturing centers.

“Steam” Stewart remained true to his vision. In 1939, he corresponded with the Bryan Steam Company to purchase drawings of its 1920s steam tractor. Stewart’s health broke from stress suffered as a subcontractor making Mills hand grenades during World War II, but he continued to collect newspaper and magazine articles about steam cars until he died in 1950. Despite his failures and the toll they took on his family and himself, Stewart’s life not only broadens the knowledge of New Zealand’s early automobile business, but also inspires those with a similarly critical mind and dogged entrepreneurial spirit.

DONALD R. HOKE is a Recovering Museum Director™, having started his career at the Smithsonian Institution. His long-suffering wife notes that it has been downhill ever since. His only notable stops were the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Outagamie Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, and the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, Maine. He contracted Steam Car Disease in high school but could not afford it until 2004. In between he suffered severe bouts of Watch & Clock Disease as well as Typewriter Disease, both of which led to major publications, but are now in remission (the diseases, not the publications).

He holds a BA in economics and theater arts from Beloit College, an MA in the history of technology from a university that expelled him, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Prominent in his list of over one hundred and twenty-five publications is his dissertation, Ingenious Yankees: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector, which won the Columbia University Prize in Economic History in Honor of Alan Nevins in 1985, and The Time Museum Catalogue of American Pocket Watches, now a standard horological reference.

The Hoke family currently owns three Stanley Steam Cars and purchased Vintage Steam Products from the late Art Hart. The author is proud to have infected his daughter, CJ, and his wife, Carolyn, with Steam Car Disease.

Hector Halhead "Steam" Stewart is an upcoming title. In the meantime, visit the Virtual Steam Car Museum.