Gadgets, Machinery & Hobnobs

Workers Hand Brain intro

At first they dug with picks, and then the great
steam drills were made. The navvies, who had carved
their way through living rock, sickened or starved
or died of bends. The bubbles percolate

to heart or brain; you die. Not soon enough,
The engineers and stokers died as well.
They might as well have tunnelled into Hell.
The bubbles came for them. Not only rough

workers by hand die at those depths; the brains
of scientists who tried to work out why
exploded too. They came back, saw the sky
and felt the pangs of death. These days the trains

are pressurized. Unharmed we make our way
from London to New York in just one day.

Roz Kaveney, Steampunk Sonnets

It has been some time since last I posted about Steampunk, my fond alternative dimension of life. I have neglected the neo-vintage, quirky, dashing artforms, imaginative gadgets, and ingenious bits-n-bobs far too long. For this I present to you today more marvels in Steampunk pageantry.

On this occasion we will read Steam-sonnets by Madame Kaveney, gaze in wonderment over a menagerie of Steampunk instruments, engines, and craftsmanship—in particular a certain renown submarine with a twist. And I’d be amiss should this tour proceed without tunes of revolutionary movements and social reforms upholding neo-Bohemian melodies and harmonies performed by Abney Park and the now retired Doctor Phineas Waldolf Steel. Should you still be unsatisfied a stop at an extraordinary cafè in Cape Town, South Africa that serves-up dreamy crumpets, tea, and java for any who enter craving. With a smile they serve travelers of modern-mediocrity or flamboyant Steampunkers alike. All the same, let’s begin first with the wacky gadgets and mechanized mobilities. The following slideshow are actual, real-life functional Steampunk items and machines:

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Should you be a wine connoisseur extraordinaire, the lover and aficionado of make-the-machines-do-it as gentry Victorians would’ve done, then this contraption is a must in your saloon. Have a look at this thingamajig that does everything except select your wine of choice.


Lost your corkscrew? Can’t seem to summon your Sommelier? No worries, here’s how to impress your evening guests with flair, or reveal just how much you cannot be bothered by mundane tasks of bottle-opening and filling glasses. Pfffttt, such behavior is for peasants and servants:

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The Engine intro

They started him on messages; he’d go
on roller-skates down the long corridor
with windows to the engine. It was more
than he could take in, but he came to know

it first by all its parts—the cogs and gears,
the pistons and the loom that read each card.
It was the computation he found hard
but learned its pounding rhythms down the years.

He’d moved from skates to oil-can, then to run
the simpler programmes, then to write his own,
and then to oversee. He’d sometimes moan
in sleep, as if he felt a throbbing ton

of metal in his brain. He lost his sight
and hearing, as the numbers grew more bright.

Roz Kaveney, Steampunk Sonnets

‘He envisions a world where the only obligation of the people is to have fun… It all comes down to having fun. We spend our lives trapped,’ voices zany Dr. Steel, ‘when all we really want to do is play. So, let the people play! Let us build a Utopian Playland.’

Rudyard Kipling in 1915 wrote “The Fringes of the Fleet” and a year later composer Edward Elgar penned musical songs about the Tin Fish, or submarines. It goes:

They bear, in place of classic names,
Letters and numbers on their skin.
They play their grisly blindfold games
In little boxes made of tin.

However, engineers at Five Ton Crane Arts along with Christopher Bently and Sean Orlando had a different vessel in mind:  The Nautilus Terra-firma Submarine Car. She weighs in at 11,000 lbs. dry and has a top-speed of 13 mph. From bow to stern she’s 25-feet and 100-inches from port to starboard, and stands a proud 11-feet 6-inches without canopy (see below slideshow). Aboard ship she’s fully equipped with:

  • Harpoon gun water cannon (13 gallons per minute)
  • Hydraulic drive controls
  • GPS navigation and Pro-audio sound
  • LED RGB programmable lighting system
  • Library
  • Specimen lab
  • Navigation room
  • Night vision periscope
  • Poop deck with custom shade canopy… and yes,
  • Air conditioning

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Though some may carry doubts that the Age of Steampunk has seen its last days and appeal, yet there are far many who yell Nah! Surviving musicians of the HMS Ophelia, a clockwork guitarist, two belly dancers, a flintlock bassist, a Middle-Eastern percussionist, a contorting violent violinist, and a Tesla-powered keyboardist sing and perform:

Your subculture shops at the mall
We build ours with blowtorch, needle, thread, and leather awl
With our antique clock parts we’ve taken all arts, fine art to fashion
And now we’re spreading worldwide to circle the globe with a furious passion

Out with the new
In with the old
Out with the new
In with the old
Steampunk Revolution by Abney Park

Should your zeppelin or land-craft malfunction, snap a cog, or run aground in the southern most portion of the African continent, make haste to Cape Town, South Africa. There you will detect friends, dazzling decor, smells and nourishment that comes only from the realm, the timeless culture of exquisite Steampunkery at Truth Cafè. If you care to peruse their daytime Brasserie Menu or curious of their After Dark menu, click-on said links.

Truth - Coffee Contraptions - Cape Town_SA

Truth Coffee & Cafe – Cape Town, SA

One online media agency reported on Cape Town’s most radically themed shop and cafè writing:

Every inch of the coffee shop is packed with visual candy from large saw-blade tabletops to beautiful overstuffed booths and an ornate array of coffee making equipment that looks absurdly complex, almost like interior of a World War 2 submarine. If that wasn’t enough, Martin also crammed the space with vintage typewriters, Singer sewing machines, and old candlestick telephones. The design even extends to the restrooms which have exposed copper pipes, old extending mirrors and Victorian tap levers.
“Step Inside ‘Truth,’ a Steampunk Coffee Shop,” accessed Dec. 10, 2019

Being a romantic of retro-futuristic steam-powered gadgets and aesthetics myself, feast your eyes and appetite upon Truth Cafè’s surreal interior in Steampunk design. See if you agree—Haldane-Martin Designs, photos – Micky Hoyle.

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∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Happiness intro

The stokeress had washed her sooty face
And wore her best bandana round a neck
Scrubbed almost white. She took a turn on deck,
Chatted to a lieutenant. Knew her place

But flirted anyway. He took her to
The magic lantern show and kissed her hand
On parting. And she dreamed how he would stand
Outside her cabin door, and bring the shoe

She had not left behind. Awoke to spend
Her days in shovelling, and dust, and grime,
Her nights exhausted. Found her life sublime
To serve the great machine, and sometimes mend

Rips in the fabric of its bag, look down
At Delhi, Boston, Prague and London Town.

Roz Kaveney, Steampunk Sonnets

If you have not yet journeyed to my other Steampunk blog-posts, below is a quick list of links. There’s also a dedicated Menu up top along my green-barred header. You can’t miss it.


Steampunkery Marvels The park of magical zoological encounters from the imaginations of Jules Verne intertwined with the mechanized creations of Leonardo da Vinci is the Les Machines de L’ile.

The A-C of Steampunk A look forward and backward at the contraptions of today’s Steampunk sub-culture.

Living Steampunk Modern urban living meets Jules Verne and Captain Nemo — see the Chelsea apartment in NYC.

Through the Monocles A photomontage to satisfy the most curious with music by KK and The Steampunk Orchestra.

Pure Steampunk Art Donovan and his lighting company have given the Steampunk movement another electric jolt of popularity!


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Steampunkery Marvels




jfringmaster-it-intro has been described as a park of magical zoological encounters from the imaginations of Jules Verne mixed with the mechanized creations of Leonardo da Vinci animated on the grounds and shipyards of Nantes’ 19th century maritime industry. I have to agree. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes, in western France are marvels to behold and will certainly be part of my next European visit.

The theme park has six separate sites and spectacles born from creators François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. Stepping into the park returns you to a capsule of time where dreams and fantasies abound and “impossible” meant only Vernesque opportunity. As we begin our tour of Les Machines de l’île, enjoy the musical accompaniment below of Balayeurs Du Désert. Simply click the play button. They frequently provide the music for La Machine Productions, Delarozière’s theatrical company.


The Grand Éléphant

victorian-t-introhis four-story mechanical mammoth ushers visitors to and from the craftsmen’s warehouse and the park’s Carousel. Getting onto the great Elephant’s decked back under the ivory-colored elliptic umbrella, it is impossible to overlook the ornate hand-carved woodwork which make its skin. Descend into the Elephant’s torso and belly and you are surrounded by pneumatic switches clattering to-and-fro across a network of cables and tubes (the heart) setting the beast in motion. During every journey the trunk blows water over entranced spectators and laughing children followed by trumpets calling and warning — with the help of dials, pipes, horns, and clever hands of its operator — who and what is coming.

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The Galerie des Machines

victorian-u-intronderneath the large hangers lies a tropical garden called La Galerie des Machines. Here with a handtouch or move of levers various large reptiles, sea creatures, and insects come alive. There is a giant ant, sea turtle, caterpillar, crab, a ferocious anglerfish, enormous spider, serpent, and up above a wall-to-wall giant heron flying visitors in wicker-baskets from one end of the hanger to the other. Pay close attention to all the botanical plants because little distinguishes the organic from the mechanical until they catch you by surprise!

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The Arbre aux Hérons

victorian-p-introrojected to be complete in 2021 is the budding Arbre aux Hérons, or Heron Tree. This magnificent tree will extend a full 35-meters in height, 50-meters in diameter, with branches 20-meters long providing a canopy over the Gift Shop and Café below. When complete, visitors will be able to take circular flights underneath the two heron’s wings above the tree branches. Already the tree carries a variety of real plants on each finished limbs and visitors can walk atop branches reaching the bar and shop in multiple ways that would make even the Swiss Family Robinson green with envy.

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Carrousel des Mondes Marins

victorian-f-introurther outside on the grounds is the three-leveled carnival-like carousel for children under 12-years of age. The Carrousel des mondes Marins (Marine Worlds Carousel) exhibits an enchanting fauna of every oceanic creature imaginable. Rather than the traditional da-vinci-quotehorses, carriages, or teacups, children may choose rides inside or atop a mechanical aquarium of bizarre crabs, shrimp, an octopus, fish such as a puffer fish, strange serpents and sea turtles. All the moving parts are enough to entrance and captivate your kids for minutes on end. On the very top of the Carousel are ornate pediments and 16 fishermen guarding the world’s precious oceans. The seabed, the abyss, and the ocean surface makeup the three-tiered marine life. A giant crab, reverse propulsion squid, a Nautilus-like diving Machine exploring the depths, the Bathyscaphe which climbs up and down the central mast, and the newest arrival the Boxy Fish comprise part of The Seabed’s 14 moving elements. Along The Abyss (middle level) one will discover the Manta Ray, Pirate-fish, and Deep-sea Lanternfish among three other creatures. Up on the Ocean Surface are the swaying boats, harnessed Flying fish, a storm boat, Nutshells and Jellyfish all swimming within a whirlpool of 24 mechanical waves.

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Workshop of the Company La Machine

victorian-c-introlimbing to the top floor of the varied hangers, visitors can gaze down upon the work areas and laboratories of Company La Machine, glimpsing the park’s future spectacles. Watching these fantastic craftsmen ply their trade you see the unbelievable care and detail that goes into every new and upcoming creature. From François Delarozière’s mind, to these worker’s hands and tools, come the mechanical inventions of Da Vinci and Verne reincarnated. New wacky unusual machines and rides are designed and fabricated every year keeping the theme park virtually newfangled.

“At the heart of the artistic process of the company La Machine, motion is interpreted as a language, as a source of emotion. Through each of its living architectures, it is about dreaming tomorrow’s cities and transforming the look we take at our cities.”
— François Delarozière

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The Café de la Branche

victorian-o-introne of the delights of the park is the total freedom to explore every site and nook at your own pace. The Café de la Branche offers different beverages, snacks, sandwiches, and tasty pastries to enjoy underneath The Heron Tree’s foliage. Your appetite can be appeased with the chef’s Back From the Market menu which includes a choice of fish, a traditional dish or grilled meat, as well as homemade pies. Over weekends, depending on the season, patrons can enjoy: homemade quiche, fresh vegetable soup, meal-sized salads, as well as homemade sandwiches. Hot dogs and panini sandwiches are available in the summer. For a four o’clock coffee break, muffins, brownies, shortbread, or donuts are on the menu. Regional and locally crafted specialities of beer, wines, and ciders can be purchased too.

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The Gift-shop is as thoughtfully laid out for visitors as the park. There are various specialized spaces for the passionate reader to get lost in their pages. In the bookshop, a variety of book themes covering oceanic and nature conservation, animal-life, architecture and development ideas for sustainable protective energy, the art of gardening orchids and flowers, historical machines used in theatre and film, and choices of travel adventures and novels. There is also a children’s section inspiring their taste for art, drawing books, many of them exclusively original Les Machines de l’ile creations. You and or your family could easily lose 2-3 hours in this magnificent theme park. If traveling western France, do not miss this Steampunk gem.

For further information about event dates, times, hours of operation, prices, group-rates and contact info, visit the Les Machines de l’ile website.


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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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The A-C of Steampunk

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Tesla's 1893 Worlds Fair

1893 World’s Fair Chicago

The time was spring 1893 and the civilized western world was eagerly awaiting the start of the Chicago World’s Fair.  For months everyone had heard of a new technology that could light up entire cities without a drop of kerosene, the flicker of flame, or choking smoke.  No, it was not Thomas Edison’s light-bulbs, but Nikola Tesla’s waves of alternating currents that would illuminate the Fair’s entire neo-classical city, as if to bring back the great minds of Greece into the Victorian-era of technology.  President Grover Cleveland pushed a button and thousands of incandescent lamps lit-up the fairgrounds like little full moons.  The world would never be the same again.  Imagine yourself in that place, at that time, and all you had known at night was the bleak shimmering glow of yellow-orange hue around you.  Now you see everything under bright white beams that evaporate darkness.

What that night must have felt like — hearing all the on-looking gasps — I can only dream and sigh.

The Victorian-era was a thriving age of science, history, literature, exquisite fashion and art.  And although it had its inhumanity in such things as child labor and women’s suffrage, to name two, it is the origins of remarkable discoveries in medical vaccines, anatomy, chemistry, and physics (including the first ceramic toilet) that soon made the world a little easier to bear.  Today’s Steampunk is a tribute to those virtues.

The slide show below is for your modern-historical enlightenment of a few Neo-Victorian contraptions you might find at Steampunk shoppes or conventions.

Due to caption limitations of the slide viewer, I will expand a bit more here on some of the images.  The Time Travel Marker is worn like a wrist watch and tracks your present locale in the time-space continuum.  The Storytelling Machine is quite fascinating.  You choose a marble, roll it down a shoot, and when it hits the bottom a story plays out the gramophone.  It is also capable of detecting trolls.  The Zoopraxiscope is an early version of blending a sewing machine, lantern, and images to produce the first prototype film projector.  The Gravity Reduction Instrument reduces an object’s gravity field rendering it weightless.  Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron sculpture stands 50-ft high and 120-ft wide, and transports you into any timeframe your heart desires.  The Edison Bi-polar Electric Fan will convert your present neurological condition into its reciprocal by 3-minutes of inhalation…or perspiration!  And the Steampunk Smartphone is the ancestor to the iPhones and Smartphones of today.

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I hope this brief post conveys to you the allure of Steampunk.  I am in love with it because of my passion for history, ingenuity, science, and the brilliance of an applied mind for the greater social good.  I’m an addict for its zaniness; oh what I would give to go back for a day!  Every year the fashion of Steampunk blows my mind – the women’s side is pure romance – a hypnotic side for me I did not delve into this time to my heart’s disappointment.  Ah, but I will soon!

Think where we might be (or not be) today had the telegraph, telephone, or AC electricity not been discovered, utilized, and perfected.  You wouldn’t be reading this now.  Think what we might not be listening to or dancing to had the gramophone or record player not been dabbled with and perfected.  Modern America and Europe owe much of their better, healthier, educated lifestyles to the genius of Victorian doctors and scientists.  Imagine if Bohr, Newton, Tesla, Einstein or Edison had not asked why over and over, or dreamt what could be and not asked why not.  Imagine that we still lived in an age where we are told what to think rather than taught how to think.  Steampunk is an artistic expression of that unrestraint with homage to its ancestors.

Imagination is everything.  It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” – Albert Einstein

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Living Steampunk

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If you have about $1.6 million lying around and a hankering for the classically quirky innovation of the Victorian era,  then this New York City apartment situated in Chelsea is your chrono-plasmatic cup of tea.  The flat is 1,800+ square feet of zany Steampunk delight.  The large kitchen rests under a LED glowing Zeppelin, a hidden bathroom behind cogs and pulleys, a bedroom underneath a silk greenhouse-frame, and a spacious 500 square foot terrace surrounded by green bamboo.  The front door is an oxidized submarine hatch with a locking porthole from the inside as if it came right off Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.  Feast your eyes on a literal living museum of a wondrous age gone by.

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Pure Steampunk

Art Donovan’s book available Aug. 1, 2011

Art Donovan is an innovative designer of Steampunk lighting.  He also happened to be the Curator of the “Steampunk + Contraptions Extraordinaire” exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University, UK. that was on exhibition October 13, 2009 through February 21, 2010.  Though the exhibition is long gone, Steampunk has only gained more popular momentum thanks to Donovan.  Art’s new book The Art of Steampunk is already the most popular book on in its category.  Before showing some of Donovan’s remarkably mind-blowing illuminating pieces, let us first take a peek back into the museum’s show.

The exhibition brought accomplished artisans and their contraptions from four continents:  Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe.  These designers were chosen by Donovan and Museum Director Dr. Jim Bennett as the creme-de-la-creme of the Steampunk aesthetic.  If you are new to the art form, you might ask what is Steampunk?  That is a question Donovan is asked all the time.  On my own Steampunk page here I take a photon-shot at describing Steampunk, but being the expert Donovan’s definition, Notes From A Steampunk Curator is more precise and true:

Regardless if an artwork is actually called “steampunk” the work in question must be transcendent.   The artwork must be evocative and unique even if it does not fit in to a formal category.   True Steampunk Art would be an artifact of grace and artistic ingenuity.   It would at first pay homage to the antique arts and sciences but ultimately point to a ideal or concept  greater than itself.    As an aside  most of the artists in my Bridgehampton exhibition in 2008 and in Oxford 2010 were not actual Steampunk artists but rather artists who are embraced by the enthusiasts of Steampunk.  Their artwork then becomes “steampunk” by default and represents the genre in the best of ways.

From the museum’s exhibition weblog, here are some sample photos of the many magnificent displays and their creators.  To visit each of their own sites go to The Steampunk Art & Design website.

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A total of eighteen inventors were present at the MHS exhibition.  It all came about when Donovan talked at length with museum director Jim Bennett and both agreed that Steampunk finds most of its technical and aesthetic roots in 19th century Victorian sciences; it was a natural fit for the museum.  Bennett told Donovan that he was also the one who should curate the exhibition.  It was a happy successful marriage.  The museum’s attendance and the public’s interest in the science-genre reached record numbers for Bennett.

Art Donovan of Donovan Design

Since discovering Steampunk in 2007, Art Donovan has jumped in the steampunk lighting-design market with exquisite creativity.  When asked how the Steampunk style fits into the repertoire of his other work, he states “It doesn’t fit in at all — totally from left-field.”  Because it is so kooky and original, Donovan has developed a deep fondness for the style.  “It’s like starting from the beginning,” he explains, “only this time I’m no longer concerned about what’s in and out of style.  Artistically, it’s just so liberating to work like that!

Donovan’s and Bennett’s show received world-wide attention.  Writers, journalists, reporters, and photographers from China to Australia, from Spain to Indonesia to Canada generated articles of the zany devices displayed for four months at Oxford University.  Even Time Magazine took note of the science-subgenre in December 2009:  Steampunk: Reclaiming Tech for the Masses.  And the public attraction shows no signs of subsiding.

Donovan Design, Art’s and his wife Leslie’s company, began as he started specializing in handcrafted custom light fixtures and illuminated sculptures.  Much of Art’s fine work can be seen at the Hamptons Antiques Gallery in Stamford, Connecticut.  If Stamford is a bit out-of-the-way, do not worry.  Here is a short slide show of some of his most popular creations on display at the gallery.

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