Steam at Sea

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 0 comments


The adoption of steam power in shipping during the 19th century marks one of the greatest changes in global transportation that the World has ever see.  Prior to the adoption of steam power, shipping was always at the mercy of the wind and tides. Human powered vessels, like galleys and the Norse long boat, while swift were unsuitable for carrying bulk cargoes. Steam power made possible regular trans-oceanic shipping of bulk cargoes and enabled the rapid industrialization of many countries around the World.

This book "Steam at Sea", by Dennis Griffiths,  is a history of the 200 years of steam propulsion in sea going vessels. It is not a history of steamships but a history of the steam plants themselves. Filled with illustrations and diagrams this book is a masterful technical treatise and an entertaining historical analysis of the development and use of steam power for shipping. 

There are sections on the early use of steam power, the development of river vessels and then seagoing ones. Improvements in engines and propulsion systems including the triple expansion engine and the development of  turbines and even nuclear power plants. 

A highly recommended addition to any technical bookshelf!

Steam at Sea
Two Centuries of Steam-powered Ships

Denis Griffiths
B Eng.M Sc.PhD.CEng FIMarE

Conway Maritime Press



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


Gangnam Steampunk Style

Monday, March 25, 2013 0 comments


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

Fun with "Unintended Consequences"

Thursday, March 21, 2013 0 comments

Steampunk is all about what ifs!

These "what ifs" occur when a technological development happens at a different time than what history tells us it actually did. In the Steampunk Worlds we play with, this is the divergence that gives us the reason to play with alternate histories.

I was reading some online articles about technological developments during the 19th Century, the developments that lead to our current worlds in fact, trying to find points in time to do some "What If" brainstorming on, just for fun.  I came across this one at Civil War Trust which discusses the effect that the development of Whitney's Cotton Gin in 1794 had on the subsequent history of the American South.

 This machine revolutionized the process of separating cotton from its seed, making it dramatically faster and less expensive to turn picked cotton into usable cotton for textiles. Eli Whitney invented the gin in 1794, and by 1850 the tool had changed the face of Southern agriculture. Before Whitney’s gin entered into widespread use, the United States produced roughly 750,000 bales of cotton, in 1830. By 1850 that amount had exploded to 2.85 million bales. This production was concentrated almost exclusively in the South, because of the weather conditions needed for the plant to grow. Faster processing of cotton with the gin meant it was profitable for landowners to establish previously-unthinkably large cotton plantations across the south. But harvesting cotton remained a very labor-intensive undertaking. Thus, bigger cotton farms meant the need for more slaves. The slave population in the United States increased nearly five-fold in the first half of the 19th Century, and by 1860, the South provided about two-thirds of the world’s cotton supply. Southern wealth had become reliant on this one crop and thus was completely dependent on slave-labor.

This is a classic "unintended consequence" of technological development that was unlikely to have been foreseen by anyone at the time.

So if we look at some major technological darlings of Steampunk, like the Babbage Engine or Airships for example, one can see that the probable unintended consequences of actual utilization of these technologies would have dwarfed that of potentially the entire Industrial Revolution to that point. Both of these two, as just one example, are disruptive technologies, they influence many aspects of society and make possible much more rapid development of other technologies. Like the snowball effect that the microchip had in the 20th Century.

Many of Tesla's inventions, should they have been fully developed, would likely have done the same.

I think that is what makes Steampunk such an interesting genre to play with. We can keep the world mostly as it was for atmosphere, then change one development, the "What Ifs", and then let the unintended consequences run their course.

That my friends is Magick!

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

Heavy Metal

Monday, March 18, 2013 0 comments

I love old industrial spaces!

This is a fantastic and moody shot.
What is this facility, what does, or did, it do?
The way it fades into the darkness beneath is awesomely mysterious too.

Found it online at Apostrophe9

Keep your sight glass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Women of the Future 1902

Friday, March 15, 2013 0 comments

Predicting the future is always a dangerous business!

Like the images of the future in one of my previous posts trying to show what the future would be like is always tricky.  The images below were created by postcard artist Albert Bergeret in 1902 for a set of playing cards entitled "Women of the Future".

As is typical of the male oriented business world there are some that are simply designed to attract "attention", like this lovely Lady General and her coy Lieutenant for example.

The Doctor
 However many of the other images are striking in their business-like but elegant way, for example these images of professional women as envisioned by M. Bergeret. 
The Reporter
The Lawyer
The Sailor

There are more images collected at Rocking Fundas
Many of these are good models to use for the basis of some interesting Steampunk outfits I should think.

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

Epic Rap Battle Tesla vs Edison

Thursday, March 14, 2013 0 comments

This is fun!

Thanks to my buddy Andrew for the link.


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

Royal Navy in Victorian Times

Thursday, March 7, 2013 0 comments

A fantastic collection of old photographs.

This slim volume "The Royal Navy in Old Photographs" by Wilfred Pym Trotter, is a treasure trove of Victorian and Edwardian naval ships.
The 190 photos cover vessels from the 1850s to the outbreak of WWI. The photos are reproduced with care and each has a date, ship name and location when possible. The locations come from all across the vast Empire, from Esquimalt in British Columbia to Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, from South Africa to Scapa Flow.

There are also great pictures of the crews themselves.  These are particularly fascinating because they chronicle the transition from the old Jack Tar to the professional Matelot. Their lives were hard, discipline was harsh, but as the century turned things rapidly improved.

Highly recommended, if you can find it anywhere.

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

The Royal Navy in Old Photographs

Wilfrid Pym Trotter

J.M.Dent and Sons



Steam Runabout "Kristies Flyer"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 0 comments

I so want one of these!

Created in 2006 to be the runabout for the Neverwas Haul, this little tri-wheeler would be just the thing for heading off to the chemists wot!

Double acting slide valve steam engine, powered by a Lamont style boiler made from a steam cleaner, running at about 100psi. Boiler is propane fired.

This film was taken at the 2008 Maker Faire in San Mateo California.

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

Practical Airship Design Part 6

Sunday, March 3, 2013 0 comments

Domestic Tranquility Systems

This is the first post in the "Crew Stream" series I mentioned in Part 5b.

A globe trotting airship like ours is more than just an engine hanging from a balloon! The officers, crew and passengers need to be able to live aboard for extended periods of time. What's more some of the crew members are Ladies so we must include many creature comforts for them.

As a reminder here is the general layout of the crew spaces:

  • As is typical of the big rigid airships, heavier loads are placed along the bottom of the hull either inside it along the keel or in extensions that extend beneath. 
  • From forward we have the crew accommodations (officers and passengers) and the flight deck, from which the airship is controlled. Proceeding aft of this is the forward cargo hold (and armory when on military service), above this is the  remaining crew accommodations, next aft is the engine room, the reactor/steam generator with its large water tank, the aft cargo hold, and finally an emergency steering and control position inside the lower fin.
  • These spaces are connected by a narrow triangular "keel walk" similar to that found in the Hindenburg.
 Now our airship is a military vessel not a commercial one so there are no paying passengers to cater to. The space that in the Hindenburg was taken up by complex, and heavy, passenger accommodations is used for our cargo holds placed fore and aft of the engine room and the core with its tank. That said we do need accommodations for the crew. Many of the missions our airship is expected to do will be many days or weeks in length so the crew and any supernumerary passengers need to be accommodated somehow. 

My buddy Grant has created a layout for the forward accommodations which I present here slightly modified:

This layout is based on the control car of the Graf Zeppelin and I think it works quite well for us.

In the airship which we are role playing aboard, the space marked "secure cargo hold" is in fact a fancy bath room with a large tub and elegant furnishings for the use of the ladies. It is known by popular consent as the "Bubble Bath Room" smile and since we have no shortage of hot water it is a popular place for the ladies especially in the winter.

The triangular keel walk runs above the accommodations along the line of the central passage shown. This keel walk can be reached by ladders from the passage way. Here is a picture of the keel walk of the Hindenburg to give you an idea of what it would look like.

At the forward end of the keel walk, right above the Flight Deck is the Captain's cabin. There is a private ladder that leads down to the Flight Deck for his personal use.

These accommodations are for the use of the officers and those guests which are traveling aboard. The crew have their accommodations along either side of the keel walk where it passes over the forward cargo hold. Their space is nowhere near as fancy as the officers quarters forward, although it is likely much better than what their brothers at sea wold have put up with.

As was typical for surface naval ships of the Victorian period the engine room personnel had separate accommodations to that of the rest of the crew.  We follow that same pattern with the "black gang" having their berths also along either side of the keel walk but over the after cargo hold.

The Officers cabins, the Wardroom, the passengers cabins all are decorated with elegant dark wood furniture, bright wallpapers and heavy looking bunks. It may seem odd that there would be fancy and heavy looking furniture and decorations in the cabins of an airship, but one must remember that in Victorian times such things existed in some very surprising places. I have been into some preserved Victorian farmhouses out on the Canadian prairies that had elegant wallpaper, heavy oak tables and chairs. All of which had been shipped first by train then by wagon to these remote farmsteads. They were sources of great pride for their owners.

Likewise on our experimental airship such things are the pride of the crew.  While they look like they are as heavy as their land and sea based compatriots these are very light. They are constructed of very light materials like pine and balsa wood, with a veneer of the dark oak and rosewood that was so popular. Even the books in the library are made of the thin bible paper called onion skin.

Join me next time as I continue the discussion of the creature comforts of our airship.

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

The next article is here.

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

The Corset Question 1893

Friday, March 1, 2013 1 comments

From a New Zealand paper.

The Thames Advertiser June 19, 1893

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your corset laced (but not too tight!)

About Gears, Goggles, and Steam oh My!

Here I collect interesting bits of information related to the world of Steampunk.

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