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Blood Power to Steam Power – Part 2

26 Aug

In my last post, I talked about my visit to the Mayan exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum. This puzzling civilization was controlled by priests that obtained their power by blood sacrifices.For nearly four millennium they stood as one of the most advanced  cultures on earth. The reason for their decline is still a mystery.

The day following my trip to see the Mayan exhibit, I volunteered in a gardening Q&A booth at a small country town festival (threshing show) near my home. One of the key elements of this show was a historical accounting and progress of the steam-powered engines and specifically the farm tractor.

Coal-Fired Steam Tractor

1923 Case No. 11 Coal-Fired Steam Tractor

The festival grounds were covered with booths and exhibits of steam engines dating back into the 19th century. There were steam engines that would fit in the palm of your hand and steam engines that ran full-sized sawmills.

Cutting logs into boards

Cutting logs into boards – Note the blade on the left and the size of the man in the center.

There was even a stem engine that ran a ringer washer.

No more hand cranking the ringer.

No more hand cranking the ringer. Watch your fingers!

In the eighteen hundreds, steam ran everything from Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to the Mississippi Queen-styled river boats. In short, the steam engine powered the industrial revolution. Most steam engines were powered by either wood or coal. The smell of a coal burner is unmistakable. The potential for the fires getting out of control or the boiler explosion from over-pressurization made early models somewhat dangerous to operate. However, the hiss…pop…hiss of a steam engine is very cool. And a hundred or so all running at the same time sounded like a really strange symphony.

So, for those of you writing historical fiction, steam punk, or historical fantasy, don’t forget to include these amazing machines in your story. Realism is what we are all after and there isn’t much that is more grounded and gritty than a good old-fashioned steamer, grinding and puffing in the background. Maybe it’s a turn of the century steam shovel working in a strip mining operation or a high-speed steamer headed for the Yucatan. Whatever you choose. these machines will help you bring your story to life.

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2 responses to “Blood Power to Steam Power – Part 2

  1. Matthew Wright

    August 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Steam is seriously cool as a technology (even if burning coal isn’t). They seemed to be able to find any application for it – I believe the first aircraft to fly under its own power was steam driven – Hiram Maxim built it in 1894. He had no way of controlling the flight, so designed it to run along a track, as a tech demo of the principle. It flew so well it ripped itself out of the track, hurtled into the sky…and crashed – on the back of 360hp worth of steam! http://www.flyingmachines.org/maxm.html

    My grandfather ran a steam engine driving a sawmill very much like the cutting table you’ve photographed, during the 1930s. I had no idea they’d built a steam driven wringer…but it figures. So wonderful to see all these things in action!

     
    • Dennis Langley

      August 28, 2013 at 10:36 am

      If the mind can think it up, steam has been used to power it. This is an annual show and it is always fun to go and wander around for a few hours.

       

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