My 12-year-old son P and I have finally plunged into the steampunk creation frenzy we’ve been mulling for so long. Steampunk creation is greatly aided by a magpie habit of collecting nifty objects, and I’m lucky to come from a long line of pack rats. Our sources of material were four. 1. I’ve been collecting bits and pieces for years, and we’ve been raiding the attic and basement. 2. My parents have been cleaning out their house of nearly 50 years, and they set aside a box for us full of wonderful tidbits: broken watches, electronics dating back to the bakelite era, random hardware and housewares… 3. P, T, and I went to the local thrift store and picked up a few inspiring treasures there, including some brass candlesticks and an eggbeater. 4. And finally we did invest in a few retail purchases, including spools of copper wire in two gauges, a few assorted jewelry findings, and two pairs of ordinary, inexpensive welding goggles. Thus prepared, we set to work.
P’s primary project is an energy ray gun, (which verges a little more toward atomicpunk, I suppose, but we aren’t picky). Its base is the base of a fishing reel. Its ray generator is a cathode ray tube out of some old television. Other components include a hanger cut up for
wire, the springs out of several defunct ballpoint pens, the top of a former wristwatch, and much glue. At its lower settings, the ray gun can energize things positively, but by the time you set it into the red zone I’m afraid it’s lethal.
I also helped P (aka Professor Nathaniel Tarlington) make a holster so that he can wear the ray gun around. His second project is, of course, goggles. These arrived only yesterday, so he hasn’t gotten very far modding them yet. He’s cut apart the visor so that each eyepiece can be raised or lowered separately, and we devised chains to hold the eyepieces up. He’s also begun painting selected areas copper. He’s got many further plans percolating.
My main project is a steampunk violin. I’ve had this old non-functioning trashpicked violin in my attic for years (possibly decades) because it was way too cool a thing not to keep. And now finally it’s receiving its revival. (It doesn’t make music, unfortunately, because that would just be way more than I can handle, but it looks pretty darn cool, I must say!) I’ve given it a very excellent old pressure gauge, a bit of clockwork interior from a defunct alarm clock, a bridge of gears, and five strings. One of my favorite touches was replacing the knob of one tuning peg with a lightbulb. I’ve substituted for bow hair (which was missing anyway) a coiled wire, and
decorated the rest of the bow with generous lashings of wire and gears. I’m also making a strap for the violin so that I can carry it, and this is being decorated, too. So far I’ve used old watch cases to make a Tuner & Bach’s Psychoacoustic Sonic Frequency Gauge (Pat. Pend.) and some other Clockworky Thing. I plan to make a third item, but haven’t decided what yet.
I’ve also started a pair of the requisite goggles, which will decorate my pith helmet as I go exploring around the alternate-Victorian world with my mechaniola. “Why a pith helmet and a violin?” you ask? Because my steampunk character is a bard. It’s the same philosophy as the bard Svarnil from my high fantasy Otherworld Series - studying history and archaeology, learning the truth, and telling the stories that keep the truth alive and pass it on to each new generation - but this time steampunk style!
The thing about steampunk is that at its roots, it isn’t just about the cool look. It also tries to capture some spirit of the time when technology was still hand crafted with an eye for elaborate beauty as well as function, and when the potential of progress seemed limitless. The steampunk spirit also emphasizes reusing, recycling, making things to last instead of built-in obsolescence and disposability, and mastering our technology instead of letting it master us. But here in our house we’re just having a lot of fun making really cool things mostly out of a lot of old junk.
I’ll post back later when our projects are completed, which will be in time for Hallowe’en.
[Pictures: P’s ray gun;
P’s goggles and my goggles, incomplete;
Mechaniola and detail of strap, photos by AEGN, 2014.]