Will steam power give way to compressed air for driving locomotives and hauling fast passenger trains? That is the vision of William E. Boyette, of Atlanta, Ga., whose amazing challenge to the iron horse—a monster truck-shaped locomotive propelled by compressed air—was about to undergo a trial run between Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., at this writing. The forty-foot locomotive, illustrated above, is designed to attain a maximum speed of 125 miles an hour. Its power is obtained from air compressed to a pressure of 400 pounds to the square inch and carried in tanks behind the cab. Should the pressure in the tanks drop below 360 pounds, a pump operated by electric storage batteries automatically replenishes them. Besides high speed, Boyette claims the advantage of exceptional economy in operation.

  1. Gazzie says: January 12, 201110:28 am


    You posted this back in 2008 from a different mag with more info.

  2. Christoph says: January 12, 201110:36 am

    Brilliant! Batteries to power pumps to compress air to drive the train! I wish I lived in these times, if this guy could get funding for this stuff, the stars would be the limit for me.

  3. TomB says: January 12, 201110:57 am

    At a local model railroad show, the large-scale modelers demonstrate their steam engines with compressed air.

  4. Myles says: January 12, 201111:26 am

    Along the lines of what Christoph said, what charges the batteries, a diesel engine? The article says “Should the pressure in the tanks drop”, as if that is not too likely to happen, and the batteries are just for emergency.

  5. Myles says: January 12, 201111:30 am

    Quote from previous article about this train – Inventor Boyette claims his invention is quite simple, even though it is contrary to all principles of engineering.

    Yup, its a perpetual motion machine which he admits leaks a tiny little bit.

  6. JMyint says: January 12, 201112:17 pm

    Perpetual motion seems to be the “thing” for all compressed air systems no matter when then are made.…

    Compressed air is an attempt at addressing the biggest problem we have with energy systems and that is storage. There is a big waste in electricity production in that systems have to built to meet peak demand yet that production is wasted off peak. Currently there are several systems that store off peak production by pumping water into a reservoir, but this is only suitable for very large systems. Small systems could take advantage of compressed air as a clean storage medium.

  7. Kosher Ham says: January 12, 201112:25 pm

    Take your pick, pneumatic, hydraulic, steam or electric– all have been used for railroad purposes.

    The basic idea using a compressor or generator as a brake, regenerative braking, is used in today’s hybrid automobiles.

  8. Richard says: January 12, 20115:24 pm

    Intesting, the previous link which Gazzie pointed to portrays this as a perpetual motion machine, with both the air compressor and the battery charging generator being powered by the wheels, which in turn get their power from the compressed air. Thermodynamics makes that kind of operation impossible. But this particular article here is shy on details, and makes no obvious blatantly impossible claims, just saying that “Boyette claims the advantage of exceptional economy”.

    Wonder if the Popular Science editors somehow refused to run claims that were obviously contrary to thermodynamics? But if they recognized the impossibility of the claims, why did they give the kook any publicity at all?

    To be fair, the Modern Mechanix editors did note that the device was “contrary to all principles of engineering”.

    Both articles ran in Feb of 1934.

  9. Myles says: January 12, 20115:59 pm

    It is hard to tell with these old grainy photos, but are we looking at a model (mockup) or a prototype? If a protoype I am impressed with how much money it must have cost.

  10. Greg says: January 16, 201111:58 am

    Even if the guy wasn’t claiming the magic self-charging perpetual motion (or if Popular Science cut those parts), it’d be hard to make a decent argument for hauling heavy batteries to run a compressor rather than just skipping the compressed-air stage altogether.

    I suppose it might make sense if it could get hundreds of miles on the compression tanks, and the batteries really were just an emergency measure, but I find that unlikely.

  11. George says: January 17, 20115:15 pm

    Why does that look like a radiator on the front? Probably to cool the gasoline engine that runs a generator that powers an electric fan that brings air to the coal fire that is used to make steam that runs the pump to fuel the diesel engine that compresses air in emergencies.

  12. Simon says: February 10, 20117:57 pm

    By George ^^ you are right!!

  13. John says: February 10, 20119:41 pm

    Well, here is the patent he received for his idea.

    Assigned to the Boyette Air Electric Car Company of Florida. Gee, do you think that they are still in business?

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