Worlds First Colour Moving Pictures 1902

Thursday, January 31, 2013 0 comments

We take colour films for granted nowadays.

But there was a time when it was novel indeed.

This article at the BBC has a video showing the very first true colour films ever produced.  Made by pioneer Edward Raymond Turner from London who patented his colour process on 22 March 1899, these films used three different colour  filters and three cameras to film the same scene. Then a complicated projector displayed the three films through corresponding filters simultaneously giving the illusion of colour.  Prior to this colour films were created by painstakingly hand tinting each frame.

This is a similar system that was used for the original tests of Colour TV in the 50s.

Turner's process wasn't successful, not because the film didn't work as it obviously did, but because the mechanical projector system wasn't reliable enough


Sounds like a great Steampunk tinkerers project to me biggrin

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

More Crabfu Awesomeness

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 0 comments

I love these machines.

Lots of construction pictures and details here:
Crabfu Steam Beetle

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

How to Handle Rush Hour...


This will keep them moving!

From 1899.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

"Airship Design" 1927

Sunday, January 27, 2013 0 comments

A recent acquisition.
(Literally two days ago)

And a real treasure!
This book, entitled simply "Airship Design" by Charles P. Burgess, originally published in 1927, was intended to be a TEXTBOOK on the design of rigid airships. This 300 page book is absolutely stuffed with engineering formulas, diagrams, tables, and in depth discussions of the design of rigid airships. There is information here that can be found nowhere else outside of original German documents from the time.

Burgess was an Aeronautical engineer  with the Bureau of Aeronautics, United States Navy. He was also Associate Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at MIT.  He attempted to collect in one place all the critical analysis necessary for the design of these aerial leviathans.  At the time the large rigid airship was considered to be one of the great modern inventions. The future of which was still very bright!

The US Navy had acquired the Los Angeles,ex LZ126, from Germany  as war reparations in 1924, and was in the process of designing its own large rigid airships the Macon and Akron. The destruction of the Shenandoah in a storm  in 1925 had only increased the interest in the design problems and this book was an exercise in making the current knowledge available for designers, inventors and students working in the field of rigid airship design.
My copy is a 2004 reprint by the University Press of  the Pacific in Hawaii, and is available here at Amazon. Reading through this book is fascinating, every page has some bit of information that just thrills the engineer in me.

For example, from a randomly chosen  page (104) under the heading Dynamic Lift:
Moderate inequalities of the static forces of weight and buoyancy may be compensated by aerodynamic forces imposed upon the hull and horizontal tail surfaces through controlled operation of the elevators. This dynamic lift varies as the square of the speed, and increases with the angle of attack up to large angles, provided the speed is constant; but the increase in drag with the angle of attack reduces the speed so rapidly that at any given horsepower, the maximum dynamic lift is obtained at about 8 degree pitch. Figure 30 shows curves of the speed and dynamic lift of the U.S.S. Los Angeles.
This book also contains diagrams and photos of the structural components of these ships, as well as the analysis and design calculations necessary to insure their structural stability.

A fabulous source of engineering information from a time when Airships truly were the masters of the sky.

Airship Design

Charles P. Burgess
Aeronautical engineer  with the Bureau of Aeronautics, United States Navy. He was also Associate Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at MIT.

University Press f the Pacific
Honalulu, Hawaii, USA

Originally 1927
Reprinted 2004


Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.


Saturday, January 26, 2013 0 comments

A neat little puzzle game.

This point and click puzzle game is a great way to spend some time in an alternate world.  A world of fantastic machines with lots of puzzles to solve. Just click on everything to see what happens.  There is a definite Steampunk feel to the art work.

Here is a promo video for the game which gives you a feel for the look and atmosphere:

The game is available for download for $10.00 from the website where you can also play a free demo version in your browser.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

A Unique Watch

Friday, January 25, 2013 0 comments

The Antikythera mechanism as a watch!

Hublot painstakingly recreates a mysterious, 2,100-year-old clockwork relic

Hublot's miniature replica of the Antikythera mechanism


Keep your sightglass full and your firebox trimmed.

Her Majesty's Army, 1890(ish)

Thursday, January 24, 2013 0 comments

This is a fabulous collection of information!

Her Majesty's Army; a descriptive account of the various regiments now comprising the Queen's forces, from their first establishment to the present time
(The "Present Time" in question being around 1890 biggrin)

I just downloaded this 4 volume masterwork by Walter Richards.
Each volume is a 10MB PDF file. I downloaded the the black and white ones because they load faster on my old laptop, but the originals include colour plates of the various units by the noted military artist G. D. Giles. These are included in the colour PDFs.

Here's an example of the plates:

The Armed forces of Her Imperial Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria were varied and diverse. From the formal archaic splendour of the Horse Guards to the ragged auxiliaries in the highlands of India and Afghanistan, every unit is included with descriptions of their history, famous battles, current dispositions, uniforms, honours and insignia and often legends of their formation.

You can download the PDFs and other ebook formats here:

Her Majesty's Army at The Internet Archive

Highly recommended reading for the Military buffs amongst us.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Treasures of the Royal Photographic Society 1839-1919

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 0 comments

This volume is a wonderful collection of photographs selected from the Royal Photographic Society covering the period of 1839-1919.

The book is selected, edited and arranged by Sir Thomas Hopkinson and includes photographs by pioneers like Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, David Octavious Hill and others less well known. The subjects included are landscapes, architecture, portraiture and 'high art'. Many great shots of famous people like Gostav Dore and Oscar Wilde as well as many ordinary people.

The street scenes, harbour scenes, drawing rooms, country fairs and faerie glens are magnificent.

Of particular interest are the amazing variation in formal wear across this time period, as well as the quaint, pseudo-historicals of the fantasy portraits. I just wish these had been in colour cool

Turning the pages of this remarkable and handsome book one can follow the stages by which photography became recognized as an art in its own right rather than merely a mechanical device or a useful aide to academic printers.

Treasures if the Royal Photographic Society

Sir Thomas Hopkinson

The Royal Photographic Society


Keep your sightglass full and your firebox trimmed.


Want to be a ship's officer? Reed's new(ish) Guide Book

Monday, January 21, 2013 1 comments

I have a soft spot for the "Sea Life" as many of you know, and this volume is one of my treasures.

Reed's New Guide Book to the Local Marine Board Examinations

It is a study and examination guide for the examinations that all Masters and Mates of civilian British ships, trading in and out of British waters, were required to pass. This is the twelfth edition of the guide and published in 1891. The book itself is in marvelous condition for being 120 years old, cloth bound in lovely cerulean blue with a gold embossed ship's wheel and title on the cover.

What I find most interesting is the complexity of the contents, the book is filled with typical examination questions and they are tough! Most are related to navigation and mathematics as well as signals, storm tracking and correcting compasses for deviation. Today there are very few High School grads who would be able to work out the questions here. It is important to remember that very few ship's officers of the day had much formal education.

One passage I found fascinating was in the requirements of an officer, in this case the Second Mate:

"A SECOND MATE must be (at least?) seventeen years of age, and must have been four at sea. He must also prove that he has served at least one year in a square rigged sailing vessel in the last five years."

This implies that men younger than 17 had applied before!?! How many parents would today allow a 13 year old to go off and serve as a sailor at sea? shock

At the end of the book are catalogues of Admiralty charts available from Reed's as well as lists of other Maritime Books, Guides and materials that they supplied.

An interesting glimpse into the work of an officer in the British Merchant Service of the 1890's.

Reed's New Guide Book
To the Local Marine Board Examinations
of Masters and Mates
Certificates of Competency
Twelfth Edition

None listed

Thomas Reed and Co.
184 high Street West


Keep your sightglass full and your firebox trimmed.

The Wonders

Saturday, January 19, 2013 0 comments

Of modern technology...

Sort of. smile

Keep you sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Steam Cars Speed Demons

Friday, January 18, 2013 0 comments

This is a record breaker!

From Wikipedia
In 1906 the Land Speed Record was broken by a Stanley steam car, piloted by Fred Marriott, which achieved 127 mph (204 km/h) at Ormond Beach, Florida.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Steampunk Belly Dancers

Thursday, January 17, 2013 0 comments

I say, wot!

Keep you sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Airships under construction

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 0 comments

Magnificent shots these!

This series of photos at shows some of the great rigid airships under construction.
The intricate structure, strong but lightweight, of these enormous objects can clearly be seen.
Well worth a gander.

Here are some examples.

Inside trusses.
Looking along the axial corridor
The framework of LZ 129 'Hindenburg' under construction

LZ-126 fuel tanks
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Power in Steam and Steel

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 0 comments

Found this photo while looking for costume photos to put on Pinterest.

This photo by Phil Pantano really captures the sense of quiet power embodied in large utility steam engines.

Check out the link for thee full size photo.

This is a shot from an old steam pump water facility dating back to 1905.

The full image can be found here.

I love the lighting, and the elegance of the human scale guages and walkways, next to the enormous engine itself.

That there are two more of these monsters behind this one, and possibly another beside the photographer indicates the vast scale of this facility.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

The Victorian Family in Canada

Monday, January 14, 2013 0 comments

A very interesting paper.
The records of both these families are an excellent look into the world of Victorian Canada.
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
The Victorian Family in Canada in Historical Perspective: The Ross Family of Red River and the Jarvis Family of Prince Edward Island

by J. M. Bumsted and Wendy Owen
University of Manitoba
Manitoba History, Number 13, Spring 1987


While a good deal has been written in recent years about the family in nineteenth-century Britain and the United States, the study of the family as an institution is in its infancy in Canada. How were families organized, what were their preoccupations and ambitions, how did their households function? Unlike Britain and the United States, Canada had precious few self-conscious literary families in the Victorian era, and so one of the most common sources for study of the individual family—private papers assiduously collected by literary scholars—simply has not existed. At the same time, substantial bodies of personal and intimate papers of articulate Canadian families, carrying sufficient detail to enable some sort of reconstruction, do survive. Two such sets of family papers are those of the Jarvis Family of Prince Edward Island and the Ross family of Red River. The Jarvis Papers are in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, N.B., and the Ross Papers are in the Public Archives of Manitoba. A careful reading of these geographically widely-scattered documents suggests the danger of approaching them as merely local records.

Some extraordinary parallels exist between the two sets of papers and the two families, although they were separated by nearly 3,500 kilometers in two relatively isolated colonies in British North America. In terms of the study of the nineteenth-century family, what is most striking about the parallels is how well they fit into the larger patterns of recent secondary literature on the Victorian family. The Jarvises and the Rosses were not simply unique colonial families, but very much part of a transatlantic culture. Given the facts that mama Ross was an Indian and the children “half-breeds,” the similarities between the Ross and the Jarvis families suggest that we must be careful not to make too much either of colonial location or of racial and cultural differences.

There was a middle-class culture in the nineteenth century which transcended many theoretically exceptionalist factors. One hesitates to limit the culture to the label “Victorian,” since it was equally powerful in the United States and much of Europe. Those researching the family in nineteenth-century Canada ought not, we would suggest, assume that their Canadian subjects existed in splendid isolation from general cultural developments in the western world and thus produced localized and unique patterns of behaviour. Colonial societies less often initiated than imitated, and while identifying deviations from larger patterns is crucial, one must begin with the larger patterns.

Before turning to our analysis, it might be well to introduce the two families briefly. Edward Jarvis was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1789, the son of Munson Jarvis, a leading Connecticut Loyalist. Educated at King’s College, Windsor, he was admitted to the New Brunswick bar in 1812 and subsequently to the bar at Inner Temple, London. He served in Malta before his appointment as Chief Justice of Prince Edward Island in 1828. In 1817 Edward married Anna Maria Boyd, the daughter of another influential Saint John family active in mercantile affairs; the Jarvis and Boyd families would intermarry frequently over the succeeding years. The couple had eight children, three of whom died in infancy and one in childhood. Those surviving to adulthood were Mary, Munson, Henry, and Amelia. Their mother—Maria, as she was known—died in 1841, and Jarvis remarried in 1843 to Elizabeth Gray of Charlottetown. This union produced three children, one of whom died in infancy. Elizabeth herself died in childbirth in 1847, and Edward a few years later in 1852. The correspondence to be discussed, mainly between members of a close-knit family writing between the Island and mainland New Brunswick, covers the period from 1828 to 1852.

Alexander Ross was born in Nairnshire, Scotland, in 1783. He emigrated to Canada as a schoolmaster, but became involved in the fur trade, joining John Jacob Astor’s Astoria expedition in 1811. Ross subsequently served in the Pacific coast fur trade until his retirement to Red River in 1825. While in Oregon he had married Sarah, the daughter of an Indian chief (an Indian princess, went the family tradition) according to the “custom of the country,” and formally remarried her in Red River in 1828. The couple had at least thirteen children, of whom the important ones for our purposes are William, Henrietta, James, and Jemima. In Red River Ross became a prominent government official—sheriff, magistrate and member of the council of Assiniboia—as well as titular head of the Scots Presbyterian community. In his later years he authored three books describing his experiences in the fur trade and chronicling the development of Red River, a trio of works woefully neglected by Canadian literary scholars and students of Canadian historiography. The Ross family correspondence upon which we will concentrate in this study covers a shorter period of time than the Jarvis set, since only during the years 1852-1856, when young Jemmy Ross was studying at Knox College in Toronto, did the family correspond intimately and regularly.

Edward Jarvis and Alexander Ross were contemporaries, and both were important political and social figures in their respective communities. Their residential accommodation reflected their positions. Edward began planning his house in 1833, when he bought a farm on the outskirts of Charlottetown for 500 pounds. As he intended the house to be a family seat for “generations yet to come,” his plans called for the use of brick, an uncommon Island building material. Most of the material was imported from England, and the construction was not completed until 1835 at enormous expense—more than “one hundred per cent upon the original estimates and contracts.” Furnishing of “Mount Edward” was finished in 1836, and early in 1836 the Jarvises held a housewarming ball for 81 persons. We know considerably less about “Colony Gardens,” the Ross residence in the Point Douglas area of what is now Winnipeg, but it was a large and substantial frame house, a landmark in its day. On the other hand, the later (1854) construction efforts of William Ross are discussed in the correspondence. William himself enthuses, “without boasting it is the best, the handsomest and most comfortable house on the banks of the Riviere Rouge,” befitting, added his father, a “son who had stepped into the shoes of his father.” The William Ross house still survives in Winnipeg, a museum open to the public as the oldest house yet in the city.

End Excerpt

On "Stripey Socks" and Steampunk Fashion

Friday, January 11, 2013 0 comments

I am a great fan of Steampunk costumes.
Doesn't matter whether the costumes are complex, simple, elegant, racy or straitlaced.
That is why I've been collecting photos of Steampunk costumes from all over the web on my companion Pinterest board, the latest images from which are automatically displayed on the left side panel of this blog.

Several people have mentioned that I tend to concentrate on Ladies costumes and that many of them are pretty sexy looking.  Guilty as charged I'm afraid
Partly that is simply the result of availability of images, photographers seem more likely to post images of ladies in Steampunk fashion than gentlemen. But there is also a much wider range of ladies costumes compared to mens.  Why is that?

Looking over the 1450 photos on my Pinterest board, some common themes appear.  The costumes can be broken down into several broad categories based on contrasting themes.

  1. Elegant and Formal / Whimsical and Exotic
  2. Upper class / Urchin
  3. Straitlaced / Racy
  4. Technical / Organic
  5. Male / Female
  6. Historical / Fantasy. 
  7. Young / Old(er)
The majority seem to fall into the Straitlaced/Racy category.
Now I will be honest and say that I LIKE the racy versions, with a particular fondness for "Stripey Socks" and long legs... (and as my alter ego on the book of  faces would proclaim...)

The odd thing about this is that such things are not really historical at all.  The Victorians are notorious for being, at least in public, exceptionally straitlaced when it came to exposing the body!
Steampunk often looks at the lower and darker side of the society, the dirty, smoggy, oil coated side. Along with that comes the slightly seedier, forbidden side of the "Ladies of Questionable Virtue". Now of course not even these working ladies would have been caught dead in many of the more racy outfits that modern Steampunk Ladies exhibit.

But I certainly am not going to complain!

This post from

Leggy Victorians and the Quandary of Steampunk Fashions  
If one is an astute observer of history, particularly historical costume (which I confess to being), one notices that the key statement made by Victorian fashions is a complete rejection that any part of the body below the neckline exists.  Coverage is key, and although fashions are fitted, they are rarely close fitted.  The legendary Prince Albert piercing, for example, was said to exist solely to keep a man from spoiling the lines of his pants.  Women’s fashions, in particular, seemed to deny the existence of the leg.  To show one’s ankles was scandalous; American merchants on the Santa Fe Trail were shocked to find ankle length skirts on Mexican women, skirts that rose up to the calf while dancing.  The horror, the horror.  With that in mind, I always find it interesting that today’s steampunk fashions so clearly display the women’s legs.  We celebrate both the buttoned up Victorian fashions and a fetish approach to lingerie with seemingly no contradiction- quite a feat.
To which I must heartily say AMEN Brother!

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.


Thursday, January 10, 2013 0 comments

A clock ticks away on my mantle piece.
Clocks, and their associated piles of gears and springs, are quintessential Steampunk artifacts.
Everyone needs to have a pocket watch, or two or three, but what do we do with these intricate machines? Why in Victorian times was it necessary for Gentlemen and Ladies to have watches?
Perhaps this piece is part of the answer.
Carpe Diem.

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping.

You probably can’t.

You know the month, the year, the day of the week.

There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car.

You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie.

Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored.

Birds are not late.

A dog does not check its watch.

Deer do not fret over passing birthdays.

Man alone measures time.

Man alone chimes the hour.

And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures.

A fear of time running out.”

Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Why I'm here...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 1 comments

As our roleplay group has evolved, and our participation in it has changed over time, I thought I would try to put down into words why I'm playing this game.

These are my own reasons and certainly don't apply to anyone else. Perhaps a bit of musing on what I hope to get out of our playing around will at least help you to understand where I am coming from.
(This is necessarily a self absorbed post so if you are not interested feel free to ignore it. smile)

Hopefully some of it is informative and at least a bit entertaining.

I am a technical kind of guy. I love figuring out how things work, and how to keep them working, that is also my day job. I love to delve into the structures of things and how the parts fit together. I enjoy the beauty of mechanisms in action, how a machine or device is suited for its purpose, and how the elements of a design fit together to make the whole thing work. Perhaps that is a bit of a failing in that I would prefer an elegant, interesting, and simple, design over a modern, complex, even totally functional one.

I also love the Sea and ships. Having sailed on a traditional square rigger, on large and small yachts, and on small sail boats, I like to think I have some idea of the world of the old seafarers in their wind driven vessels. To face the harsh environment of the open sea, with none of the modern safety equipment and rescue services of today, is something hard for most people in today's overly safety conscious world to imagine. To actually want to face such an environment is even harder to understand.

As a sailor I see myself not as an officer, but more a common "Foremast Jack" in Napoleonic Royal Navy parlance. Poorly fed, abused by arbitrary authority, treated as a necessary evil by the system, a common sailor was a "cost" that needed to be minimized. Whether in the Navy or Civilian ships, the lot of the common seaman was never an easy one. However, his life was generally better than many men ashore during the whole of the 19th century. With the exception of that scourge of bad diets, known as scurvy, which afflicted people ashore as well as at sea well into the 20th century, the common sailor was healthier than many living in crowded, unsanitary cities and working in dangerous factories for minimal wages. Life at sea is tough and dangerous, and one mechanical failure, accident, or act of bad navigation away from simply disappearing off the face of the planet to become another statistic, a notice at Lloyds in London "Posted Missing Presumed Lost".

I enjoy being in that position for real and I like to imagine myself in such a "one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship" environment.

So to be blunt, I have a bit of a split personality. One side is technical, interested in the details of how things work, mechanically inclined and always ready (I like to think at least) to play with new technologies. The other side is simply happy to be a cog in the working of the primitive, but elegant, machine that is a sailing ship or early steam ship, whether commercial or naval. One side looks to the future the other side looks back to the past.

This is perhaps why I find Steampunk so compelling, there is a forward looking element, the great "what ifs" we play with, and a necessarily conservative and backwards looking element, that finds beauty in the old ways of the Victorian era. The later part of the 19th century, and the early part of the 20th, saw an amazing explosion of new technologies, technologies that also had a profound impact on the society of the day. The impacts were far reaching, contained as they were in one of the largest empires in the history of the world.

How does a society handle having the very basis on which it developed so radically changed in so short a time?

Our modern world has NOT faced such a change, despite our great technological advances, simply because we were already past that hurdle. From our jaded perspective in the first decade of the 21st century, the changes wrought upon the newly industrialized societiess of Europe, while staggering in scale, are considered "quaint", occuring a they were within the apparently straightlaced and conservative Victorian era.

Which brings me to Airships, and OUR Airship in particular.

There were no practical airships in the Victorian era. Until the first few years of the 20th century, engines of sufficient power and lightness simply didn't exist. Balloons were highly developed and many people were experimenting, but really until the work of Santos Dumont in France and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in Germany, nobody had much success. However, the first few years of the 20th century brought airships to the stage of working practical machines. Thirty years later the great rigid airships were, if only briefly, the lords of the sky.

So why are airships such a part of Steampunk, since Victorians could only have dreamt about them?

I think it is simply because they WERE a dream. In hindsight it would have been possible to build them in late Victorian times, had a couple of developments in engine technology been developed earlier. Combined with the vast increase in mathematical capabilities that a working Babbage Analytical Engine might have given engineers and inventors, all kinds of technological developments might have been accelerated. This acceleration would have resulted simply because the analysis of design changes could have been made without the expense and risk of physical prototyping. That is the jumping off point for Steampunk in my opinion.

Graf Zeppelin 1929 Circumnavigation

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 0 comments

Fabulous film this!

This one and a half hour documentary by the BBC chronicles the 1929 circumnavigation of the world by the Graf Zeppelin.

Funded partly by American industrialists and Newspaper Magnates, the journey officially started at Lakehurst New Jersey on August 7, 1929, but actually started the week before when the Graf Zeppelin left Friedrichshafen in Germany. The Graf flew across the Atlantic to pick up all the dignitaries then proceeded to fly East again and continued around the World ending back in Lakehurst.

You can see maps of the route and lots of detailed info of the trip at the Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins website here:

Maps of the route of the Graf Zeppelin’s Round-the-World flight:

The story presented is based on the journals and reports of the sole female reporter aboard, Lady Grace Drummond Hay.  While a bit "soap operish" in parts, there is still a lot of good information here. If the storyline/angst becomes too frustrating turning the sound off gives the film a classic silent film look.

The film has lots of great images of the Graf Zeppelin in flight as well as very rare motion pictures of the interiors.  The opening sequence showing the Graf Zeppelin under construction is fascinating. This is also a great look back at the world as it was on the eve of the Great Depression.

Well worth the time if you are a fan of the great rigid airships.

Keep Your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

P.S. I have given this post a Flight Engineer tag due to the amazing amount of info contained here.

Undercover in London 1894

Monday, January 7, 2013 0 comments

Ever wondered how the "other half" lived?

Found this in the Internet Archives.

"Campaigns of Curiosity"
Journalistic adventures of an American Girl in London
By Elizabeth L. Banks 1894

Banks was an American journalist working in London who decided to find out what life was like for the "serving class" of the Metropolis. To do so she went undercover and got herself hired out.

A very interesting look at life below the stairs in Victorian London.
You can download the PDF file from the Internet Archive at the link below.
Campaigns of Curiosity by Elizabeth L. Banks

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Practical Airship Design Part 5a

Sunday, January 6, 2013 0 comments

More Engines, Tanks and Bulkheads Oh My!

After my last post, I was asked for more details on the high pressure steam system I described. I was also asked if I had an estimate of the power that could be developed and what the power requirements would be for our airship.

I will do the former in this post, but the latter will have to wait until I can do some calculations with my trusty Excel(tm) spreadsheet smile

In my last post I described the high pressure boiler as being more or less conventional, in that a coil of high temperature oil was used to boil water in the boiler. Thinking further about this I think the reverse makes more sense. That is, a "Flash Boiler" type of system in which the steam generator coil is immersed in the high temperature oil coming from the core.

In a conventional flash boiler the steam generator is a long coil of tubing, usually made of iron or fairly thick copper. The hot gases from the firebox impinge directly on this tube, keeping it well above boiling point. Unlike a "water tube" boiler in which the tubes carry a mixture of liquid water and steam, flash boiler steam generator coils are filled with steam only. The water, which is pumped in by the feed pump, quickly evaporates and then is superheated on its way through the coil. (Superheated steam is steam that is hotter than what results from boiling so the steam carries more energy per unit volume.) Boilers of this type were common in steam cars and are still used in systems where high pressure steam is required and where the weight of the boiler needs to be minimized, which describes our requirements pretty well actually. There is a short Wikipedia article on Flash Boilers with links for further reading.

This is the flash boiler from the steam powered moped I posted about recently.

Flash boilers have several advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are that no separate superheater is required, which reduces the weight and complexity somewhat. The rate of steam production can be easily controlled by the feed pump rate. In conventional flash boilers the heat source is combustion, so liquid fuels were often used so that the combustion rate and temperature can also be controlled. Flash boilers can handle much higher pressures and temperatures than conventional boilers. Also there is no need for a tank like section to separate the steam and water which reduces the weight even more. 

There are two major disadvantages to Flash Boilers. The first is that since the tube of the steam generator is not filled with a mixture of water and steam, but only steam, it is prone to hot spots and extreme thermal stresses, which drastically shorten the service life of the boiler. The second results from the lack of reserve steam volume in the system. If there is a sudden increase in demand, say in a steam car when the throttle is opened suddenly, there is no store of water in the boiler tank ready to turn into steam when the boiler pressure is momentarily reduced. Any increase in demand must be matched by increased feed pump rates. This induces a considerable lag in the response and this lag gets worse the larger the flash boiler, as the generator coils are necessarily longer in larger boilers.

Of course in the case of a steam powered car this disadvantage is actually an advantage, if the car is in an accident there is no boiler full of liquid water above boiling point ready to flash, i.e. EXPLODE, into steam if the boiler is ruptured.

So given these fairly significant disadvantages, why did I choose a flash steam boiler for the high pressure system in our airship?

The simple answer is that those two main disadvantages do not really apply!

First, the hot spots and thermal stress.
The flash steam generator coil is immersed in a tank that contains oil at the very high temperatures of the inner core of our power source (possibly higher than 250C). This tank is essentially at constant temperature so there are no hot spots generated as there would be in the presence of the gases from combustion. The lack of thermal stress means the tubes can be thinner which improves their heat transfer capability.

Second, the lack of reserve steam volume for sudden changes in demand.
The high pressure and superheated steam from our flash boiler is being used to drive a steam turbine. This turbine runs most of the time at a pretty constant speed. If the generator that is driven by that turbine is sized appropriately it will be capable of generating the power needed for cruising flight speeds, with a small reserve for maneuvering. Controlling the feed pump rates will be sufficient to control the steam production for most normal operations.

Now in a conventional steam turbine system the exhaust from the turbine is well below atmospheric pressure. This is because of the condenser, as the steam is converted back to water its volume shrinks bringing with it a corresponding drop in pressure. This low pressure exhaust drastically improves the overall efficiency of the conventional turbine by reducing the fuel costs associated with the boiler itself. In our case the main condenser is mostly handling steam already very close to atmospheric pressure because of the excess steam from the low pressure lift steam generator. As a result there will always be some back pressure on the turbine exhaust. However the efficiency/fuel cost issue that would cause does not apply in our case, courtesy of our awesome power source. A separate conventional condenser could be added just for the power plant, but it would be heavy relative to its added efficiency value, so I have decided to eliminate that weight.

As I described last time if we need a sudden boost in power, like in an emergency, we direct the exhaust to the funnels which go directly to the atmosphere. Of course the higher we are when that happens the bigger the boost we will get. smile

Given that we are entirely dependent on this single boiler/turbine/generator for our propulsion, doesn't that add a significant risk of single point of failure?

Yes it does, however we must keep in mind that we are a lighter than air vehicle. Unlike a conventional aircraft which is entirely dependent on its engine to fly, if we loose propulsion power we simply stop moving. We won't crash unless we are blown into something else at our altitude. If we loose containment of the steam lift gas, via rupture or damage to the hull and lift gas bags, we are doomed anyway so having redundant power sources is simply excess weight.

That said, a detailed weight/power calculation might result in there being more than one boiler/turbine/generator needed, however until I get around to that calculation I'm going to stick with one.

Next time as promised I'll deal with the auxiliary equipment in the engine room and start to describe the more human friendly parts of our airship.

Oh and check out this fabulous painting by *Voitv for your Airship dreams.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Check here for the next part in this series.

You can follow the full design thread by clicking on the tag "Flight Engineer".

Russian "Special Gendarmes" of 1890


Found this while searching for images to add to my Pinterest board.

Love the uniforms and that patrol bike is a sweet bit of machinery.
I would love to take a trip through the Rockies on one!

So how does it work?
At first I thought the levers were brakes, but then if you blow up the picture you can see that the slot in the bottom of the lever the rider is holding, covers the whole potential range of the pedal cranks. Also there is what appears to be a pivot on the lever right next to his knee.

I think that the lever is used to add force to the pedals at the top and bottom of the crank turning. In the photo the pedals are level so the cranks are in the middle of the slot. That means, if my conjecture is correct, that the lever is as far back as it will go. As he pedals the lever rocks back and forth so that the driver can add force to the cranks at the positions where his legs cannot, ie the top and bottom of the crank path. The position of the handle and the distance between the pivot and the top of the slot, gives quite a bit of mechanical advantage. So the whole upper half of the crank movement would benefit.

That seems OK but a bit unbalanced being only on one side. If you look closely however, there is a lever on the other side too. The handle is just above the shoulder of the soldier standing beside the officer on the bike. If you line up the handle it points to about the same pivot point on the that side. This lever is at its maximum forward position which makes sense.

The third lever, with the offset handle is indeed a brake I think. The brake shoe is the block in front over the wheel.

I bet you got a pretty complete workout using this machine smile

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Electric Trucks in 1900

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 0 comments

Electric vehicles are certainly not a new idea.

There were electric vehicles in use before gasoline vehicles became popular.

Wood Electric Truck, Ford Transportation Museum

This delivery truck from 1900, built by the Wood automotive company in the states is a good example.
It was used to make stock runs between a warehouse and distribution center for B. Altman & Company in New York City. Altman owned 12 such vehicles. This truck had a 20-30 mile recharge range and could travel at 10 mph, which made it able to compete with horse-drawn wagons.

These vehicles saved the not inconsiderable expense of maintaining teams of horses.
Built to resemble a horse drawn wagon these early electric vehicles used Edison rechargeable batteries.

From History of Electric Vehicles at
The years 1899 and 1900 were the high point of electric cars in America, as they outsold all other types of cars. One example was the 1902 Phaeton built by the Woods Motor Vehicle Company of Chicago, which had a range of 18 miles, a top speed of 14 mph and cost $2,000. Later in 1916, Woods invented a hybrid car that had both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.
Electric vehicles had many advantages over their competitors in the early 1900s. They did not have the vibration, smell, and noise associated with gasoline cars. Changing gears on gasoline cars was the most difficult part of driving, while electric vehicles did not require gear changes. While steam-powered cars also had no gear shifting, they suffered from long start-up times of up to 45 minutes on cold mornings. The steam cars had less range before needing water than an electric's range on a single charge. The only good roads of the period were in town, causing most travel to be local commuting, a perfect situation for electric vehicles, since their range was limited. The electric vehicle was the preferred choice of many because it did not require the manual effort to start, as with the hand crank on gasoline vehicles, and there was no wrestling with a gear shifter.
 Mrs Ford actually drove this electric car designed and built by a Ford competitor, the Detroit Electric Company, precisely because it didn't need to be cranked to start or have gears changed while driving.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

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