The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

1949 Ford F-6 Steam Conversion

Location: Mordo, South Dakota

I found this via Kinetic Steamworks. It's a 1949 Ford converted to steam. What's interesting about it is the elegance with which it's done- basically replacing the pistons in the V8 with steam pistons, but preserving the crankshaft so you can still use the original gearbox. The Neverwas Haul guys were working on converting an old Mercedes to steam for the Escape From Berkeley alternative-fuels race, and may just buy this one. It's up for auction on ebay as of the time of this posting, however, I've reposted the pictures here because they'll be gone once the auction's over!

Here's the text from the auction:

This 1949 Ford F-6 2 ton truck that has been converted to steam power by some as of now unknown steam enthusiast many years ago.

As a mechanical engineer, I was quite surprised and fascinated with this conversion the first time I saw it several years ago. This truck is basically a complete and original Ford F-6 with an original type of Ford flat head V8 engine that someone removed the hood and radiator from. They also removed the V8 engine cylinder heads, pistons, connecting rods, camshaft, valve lifters and valves and left the original Ford crankshaft in place. They then bolted an adapter plate to the top of each cylinder bank. To each adapter plate is bolted a medium sized vertical single cylinder double acting steam engine. These engines appear to be identical and were made by the E. H. Wachs Company of Chicago, Illinois most likely about eighty to a hundred years ago. Each steam engine has a large roller chain sprocket on the crankshaft with a chain running down to a corresponding sprocket on the front of the Ford V8 engine.

The original Ford V8 engine basically acts as a mount for the 2 steam engines and a means of adapting the power from the 2 steam engines to the stock Ford clutch, 4 speed transmission and the rest of the drive train of the truck. The man who did this conversion evidently realized that a fire tube boiler anywhere large enough to supply both engines would be quite heavy and bulky and I suspect that is likely why he started with a truck that was large enough to haul the pair of engines, the boiler, the boiler feed water pump, the water tanks, the fuel tank and all of the rest of the plumbing, hardware and controls necessary to make this beast run and move. I saw a Model T Ford that someone made a very feeble attempt to convert to steam power several years ago and this truck is light years ahead of that Model T in terms of engineering and design.

The vertical fire tube boiler mounted near the center of the truck bed was built by the Eclipse Fuel Engineering Company wherever they were located about 80 to 100 years ago. I am not an expert when it comes to steam power so I don't have much more to say about this boiler. I have no idea as to what condition it is in and when it was last inspected by any state boiler inspector. It appears that the original grates have been removed and replaced with a steel plate with a pair of burners installed in the plate. There is a removable smoke stack about 10" in diameter by about 4' long laying on the back of the truck to the right of the boiler.

I am not sure what this truck used for fuel but am guessing that it may have been propane judging from the look of the pair of burners. There is no obviously visible propane tank that I noticed. Perhaps one is hidden inside one of the three 55 gallon barrels that is located near the front of the bed. There is no conventional truck bed on this truck. It is more like a frame work made of steel I-beams to hold the boiler, feed water pump and three 55 gallon barrels.

There is a pair of steel tube coils mounted between the pair of burners at the bottom of the boiler that may have been used as feed water heaters but I am not sure. Perhaps two of the three 55 gallon barrels hold water to supply the boiler. A relatively huge (for this application) steam powered boiler feed water pump is mounted to the left side of the bed. The inside of the cab appears to be quite stock with the exception of a steam pressure gauge and what appears to be some kind of hand operated pump on the right side of the floor of the cab. If this is not a feed water pump of some kind, perhaps it is for injecting steam cylinder oil into the steam going to the engines.

My friend that owns this truck has never had it running or ever seen it run. The pair of double acting engines are geared about 1 to 1 with the Ford V8 crankshaft and would produce 4 power pulses per revolution of the Ford V8 crankshaft. This would be the same number of power pulses per revolution of the typical gasoline powered V8 engine so I suspect this truck would run very smoothly. I don't know what it would weight but am guessing it's dry weight might be around 12,000 pounds or so.

This vehicle is in the South Dakota Auto Museum- visit it!

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Here's a link to the auction.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Great Handcar Regatta

Location: Santa Rosa, CA


I have to say, what a lovely way to spend a summer Sunday. That day was exactly what folks would do if I ran the world.

Dr. Kitty seems to have gotten in good with the city, who would be fools to do anything but roll out the red carpet for this highly successful, low-risk event. It's in a little antique district called Railroad Square, there are vintage railcars parked there, and for one afternoon you could get away from the McDonalds and the Payday Loan joints and pretend the world was as it should be.

Racing rail-velocipedes is a fine, hearty pasttime for the young and the insane elderly, as it is approachable as a task (get something to run on train rails) and yet endlessly varied in its possibilities. Personally I was cheering on the team of teenagers. Most teenagers do nothing but mope.

Meanwhile there was plenty to do in the side-show and the overall spirit was one of doing and living steampunk (steampunks usually seem so dressed up with no place to go). Everyone was in their finest (even the toddlers), the muggles took the effort to toss on a top hat and goggles (all it takes to make you a steampunk, dontcha know)... even the yahoos looked nice! The police on the scene looked bemused... compared to a foot-ball game it must have been a cake-walk. While there are many of us who would defend ourselves quite fiercely from a mugger, steampunks do not fight each other, it's just so rude. Take it to the rails I say!

And take it to the rails they did. I did not notice or care who won. In fact, speed is the last thing I want from a railbike, seeing as they can be quite leisurely to ride. I was more interested in the bizarre modes of locomotion, and the artfully crafted vehicles. The guy with the rail-skis: Now here's a fellow who stuck to an awful idea all the way to its cumbersome conclusion. Three cheers!

Here's a lil' tip from uncle Payphone for the young fellows out there dressing steampunk: You can't give 98%. Just doesn't work. You've got your top hat, goggles, vest, white shirt, slacks, interesting pin or accessory... you can't wear Crocs. Or Tevas. No matter how hot it is. In fact, my sweetie asked, "Aren't all these people hot?" and I had to explain (being from the Antebellum myself) "Sweltering is a sign of good breeding."

See endless pictures at the flickr photo search.

Visit it!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Allpower Labs

Location: Berkeley, CA

I've begun to build gasifiers for a company called Allpower Labs. More on gasification later- this is a cool place to work in. They used to be off the grid, running on solar, until the city of Berkeley shut them down (go figure?) The Neverwas Haul lives here, so I can take tea in it every day if I want.

Coming from a family of machinists I have a love of beautiful old shop tools. Allpower Labs has a wonderful collection of machines from the San Francisco Navy Shipyard. No milling or lathing is necessary for you to assemble your own GEK (in order to keep it more accessible to the DIY builder), however, we sometimes use these tools when prototyping or altering GEK parts.

A 1968 Cincinnati dial mill, Cincinnati Ohio. Look at the beautiful badge!

A Burgmaster turret tap and bore, Gardenia California. This one has a Navy and an Air Force badge. The turrets allow you to run bulk jobs, making multiple cuts using up to six different bits, without having to change each time.

A 1955 Monarch lathe, Sidney Ohio. I love the tachometer:

This "Do-All" bandsaw (Des Plaines, IL) has a setting for cutting meteorites!

Finally, the big boy, a 1967 Jones & Lamson turret lathe:

I feel that machines like these are part of America's manufacturing heritage, and it's our duty to keep them loved and in use.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

A Steampunk Summer in Oakland

I've moved to Oakland, CA, for the summer and the place is a-bustle with steampunk activity! I think San Francisco is the one place where the steampunks are just thick enough that we can have events that are well attended and get on with the real point of being a steampunk- living life in the setting we imagine to be ideal.


Neverwas is up to something! There are several steam-related projects going on at the Shipyard. One appears to be a steam generator. Another is some three-wheeled contraption with wheels from a 1920s Model T. Recently they hosted a High Tea on the Haul, a lovely afternoon affair that was attended by many folks in splendid regalia. I looked pretty greasy in my coveralls and dirty googles, but hey, I was working. Pewtersmithhas taken lovelier photos than I ever could so I'll let them do the justice:

Raygun Gothic Rocketship

The folks who built the Steampunk Treehouse are tinkering away again, this time on the Raygun Gothic Rocketship

They really are building a big giant rocket. Just like we all did when we were kids, except less duct tape.

Kinetic Steamworks

I wish I had more time to get over to this shop. Pappy was running and newly painted for Maker Faire (which was dominated by steampunks this year); then they suspended the sternwheeler from a crane for the Sand by the Ton party:

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Homebuilt Traction engine

Location: Cullman, AL

It's pretty clear what's happened here: An enterprising farmer, sometime around 1930-1950, has gotten ahold of a working boiler from a stationary or portable engine, and built his own chassis and cab for it. Unfortunately the drivetrain was removed so I couldn't document how it was motivated. The steering linkage was intact enough that I believe this was a functioning tractor. However the small rear wheels lead me to believe that the drivetrain was underbuilt (possibly using truck parts and not steam engine parts) and thus it was only used to pull small loads or to move the flatbelt power to where it was needed.

Visit it!

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

snoqualmie falls


I suppose this doesn't count as a "graveyard" because the Snoqualmie Railway Museum is actively restoring and running steam equipment.  But the long line of rusty locomotives is quite an impressive sight.  Go around back and talk to the old dude with the wacky house before you sneak in, otherwise he will chase you out.

Even from this distance you should be able to tell that this is a Shay.

Oooh... a delightful arrangement.

Now this is an interesting fellow... his locomotive boiler runs, well, a giant snowblower.  It's pushed through the snow by a few other locomotives.

This thing runs at 60 RPM!

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Here are pictures of a pedal-powered crane I made, at use in Redmoon's "Looptopia". Most of the parts came from Northern Tool's ATV supplies:  The wheels & stub axles, with the front axle being their go-kart axle with differential.  This vehicle is front-wheel-drive, rear-steer.

My friend Pickles made the armature.  I don't know who added the sound system for this particular show.

I geared it way down because the original designs called for it to carry about 800 lbs.  Theoretically you could add another set of pedals for the passenger.  See also the steering chain.

I had to fabricate my own stub axle brackets.

The whole event was kinda steampunk:

See more pictures here:

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Elgin Watchworks and the Fox River Trolley Museum

Location: Elgin, Illinois

Elgin watches began as railroad watches, right after the Civil War.  At the time precision was becoming increasingly important to prevent train collisions.  Eventually Elgin took over the middle-range pocketwatch market.

Recently I took a pennyfakething ride along the Fox River Trail, which connects Aurora (home of Wayne's World), Elgin, and Geneva.  It runs along the river and connects the third leg of the old CA&E electric interurban:

Batavia was the home of a giant windmill factory:

Geneva was a mill town with the Danford Reaper and Mower factory, later drummed out of business by McCormick (which became International, whose strikes were the cause of the Haymarket Riots... interestingly enough the deputy sheriff of Geneva during the Danford era was a young Allan Pinkerton, who would later found the company that McCormick used against the strikers.  Pinkertons were also suspected of being agent provocateurs who threw the bomb that killed the cops that got the martyrs hung... a rich story in and of itself.  But you begin to see these mill towns' role in the beginning of the labor movement).

Aurora's biggest employer was the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (later Burlington Northern) which was headquartered in Aurora. The CB&Q Roundhouse is still standing, and is now the popular restaurant Walter Paytonís Roundhouse.

Elgin, of course, had the watchworks,dominated by a clocktower bigger than Big Ben:

So you see there was a need for an interurban electric railroad to connect these towns to Chicago.  You can still ride the electric trolleys at the Fox River Trolley Museum, which is what I was there to do:

Riding down this river trail, you get a strong sense of the importance of the river to the industries of these towns;  they were once independent villages though Chicago has swallowed them whole.  Batavia and Aurora have embraced their industrial heritage, but unfortunately Elgin did not, and the watchworks fell into disrepair and were demolished in 1966:

What I wouldn't give to have dug around that place when it was abandoned!

Fortunately, though, they preserved the observatory that Elgin used to provide accurate time before the advent of national standards:

Take a close look at this ad.  In the first picture:  Women modestly dressed, horse and carriage, small buildings, big pocketwatch.  In the second:  Ankles exposed, automobile, skyscrapers, tiny wristwatch.  This is the future promised by the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

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Location: Illinois, USA

The most striking steampunk features of Chicago are its Elevated trains, museums, boulevards, and moving bridges.  All four come to us directly from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.  The Columbian Exposition may well have been the beginning of the end for the Victorian age- electricity was becoming common, inventions were transforming common lives, people were traveling at 80 mph in Pullman coaches to see a glorious White City displaying all the glory that the hope and innovation of the previous century had promised.  The future had arrived.

Chicago was rebuilt for the Fair.  The boulevards and Elevated were modeled on Paris and decorated with newfangled "con-crete" sculptures and glorious riveted wrought iron.  The Science and Industry museum is the remains of the White City- a plaster paradise encompassing Washington and Jackson parks.  Over a quarter of the U.S. population attended to be introduced to zippers, the ferris wheel, Cream of Wheat, Aunt Jemima, Juicy Fruit, picture postcards, carbonated soda, and a little local brew named Pabst that won the Blue Ribbon.  This was the birth of consumerism and the end of simplicity.

Let's take a look at what remains of that amazing event.

The Elevated

The El's construction began around 1870, with rail-based mass transit peaking in the 50s until GM bought up the red car (I bet you thought Roger Rabbit was fiction, didn't you?).  Some of the loop stations still have gorgeous wrought iron and vintage ads.  How can you not think steampunk with this thing roaring overhead all the time?

For more on the history of the Elevated, see:

The Museum

Little obsessed with the Greeks weren't they?

The Boulevards

They aren't much to look at, but they're wonderful to hang out on.  Apple trees were widely used as decoration.  And they're infested with parrots.

Why are there wild parrots in Chicago?  See:

The Bridges

Chicago has more moving bridges than any other city in the world.  At one time they numbered in the 60s, now they're in the 40s and dropping.  As a transportation hub Chicago not only sits on the Great Lakes but reversed the flow of its river and dug a canal across the continental divide, connecting the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of them are Trunion-Bascule bridges:

A mere 100hp motor lifts these giant, counterweighted bridges.

Some have the gearing up on top- that ridged, toothed semicircle is the "big" gear to the motor's "small" gear:

(This Cortland bridge was the first trunnion-bascule bridge ever built, and it's still there... for now)

R.I.P. North Avenue bridge, demolished last fall because no buyer could be found.

I was on my way to take some pictures of the insides of these bridges when my buddy fell into the bascule pit, breaking his leg.  I had to pull him out of there and postpone my picture-taking.  But I'll get photos- and movies- of the guts of these things when they lift.

This one is a vertical lift bridge, one of very few operational ones.  The bridgetender sits in the house and rides up and down.  This one goes up maybe five times a day in the summer.

side view:

I took this picture today, of Chicago as seen from the Amtrak locomotive barn next to a pair of very large truss-bascule bridges (one is up, one is down with a train going across it).

For more on Chicago's awesome bridges, see:

For a wonderful website about the Columbian Exposition, see:

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