Monday, 22 June 2015

The putt-putt boat

The ideas floated for driving Bessler's wheel, other than using the force of gravity include some other, pretty off-the-wall ideas.

My favourite is the put-put boat.  It is a toy with a very simple steam engine without moving parts, typically powered by a candle or vegetable oil burner. The name comes from the noise made by some versions of the boats.

Technically it is a thermodynamic self-oscillating toy dating at least from the 1880s. The toy was very popular in the early 20th century, but is no longer readily available except on the internet probably because it must be made of metal, while most toys today are plastic.

The putt-putt works by heating (usually with a candle) an internal tank filled with water and   connected to submerged exhausts. It is usually easy to adjust the heat so that the water level will self-oscillate.

As water is alternately blown out and sucked in through the exhausts, the boat moves forward with a
noisy vibration that gives the toy its name.  Below is a typical example, not dissimilar to one I made when I was a kid.

There are no moving parts and only a candle to heat the water; brilliant!

THere are a lot of web sites dealing with the making of such toys among them this one and of course wikipedia

It has been suggested several times to me that Bessler found a way of adapting the technology to drive his wheel, but I came to the conclusion many years ago that it wasn't possible.  The nearest thing to this would be Ovvyus's ambient temperature changes used to drive it, and I remain unconvinced of that too.




  1. I still think there were trained hamsters running around in that wheel.

    1. Possibly mechanical steam-driven hamsters? Using the putt-putt technology?


  2. Cute toy of which I had not previously heard. I'm surprised someone did not try to use several larger versions of these pulse type engines working in sequence to steadily propel a full sized boat. The advantage of no moving parts is nice. No, I don't think Bessler used anything like this or trained animals for that matter.

    Update. I spent much time this past weekend fiddling with my wm2d models and achieved nothing impressive for my efforts although I always seemed enticingly "close" to doing so. I've now made it to model # 1182 and have returned to an earlier model which I abandoned a hundred models or so ago, but which I'm now going to try to make workable. My main problem continues to be the 6 o'clock going to 7:30 weight carrying lever. If the rest of the levers are perfectly balanced by spring tension, then it will not swing into the orientation it is supposed to have at 7:30. If I lower its spring tension so that it does, then the rest of the levers are not balanced. Truly a frustrating dilemma, but, somehow, Bessler found a way to overcome it.

  3. "Cute toy of which I had not previously heard." K.B.

    And, I suppose you did not because too young to have owned one.

    I did.

    As I recall it was made in Japan as were most of those enameled pressed thin steel jobs. Just after the end of the WWII various of kinds appeared. It was all the poor Japanese people could do at that point to gain income for the wrecked islands.

    They are real collectors' items now, especially when coming equipped with original containers.

    (If this one is yours, John, you possess an authentic little treasure.)

    Now we have THIS as news: " I've now made it to model # 1182 and have returned to an earlier model which I abandoned a hundred models or so ago, but which I'm now going to try to make workable."

    Of course this is delightful news, the advancement to one thousand and eighty two although there would seem to be some prevaricating back-tracking going on. Hope not. Blessed relief from continuous, dreary reports would 'seem' just around the corner, now.

    (Heh !! I'll believe it AFTER the glory of silence itself has materialized.)

    Ciao !



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