However, if you live in the modern world and just happen to be enrolled in that esteemed class of proletariat known as the "Knowledge Worker," the only steam that you're apt to encounter is that which fogs up the mirror in the bathroom of the hotel on your last business trip.
It's nice, then, when the modern world gets a glimpse of steam in its classic, 19th-century state. That's what happened this weekend in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, at the New England Wireless and Steam Museum. It's called the Yankee Steam-Up and it's an annual gathering of engineers, hobbyists, historians, know-nothings and steam engines, large and small.
Do I understand steam power any better after attending? Most certainly. It now approaches my grasp of string theory. (Though, not to be too maudlin, there's something beautiful about these old machines and their motions--aided by bucketloads of grease--that I fail to find when I contemplate the supersymmetry between bosons and fermions.) Steam was a force that stormed the world of water and wind in the early 18th century, only to be cut down in its prime by electricity in the early 20th. It's the Jim Croce of power; two centuries was simply not enough. No wonder it's subject to so much romance. (For a photo essay on my last encounter with steam culture, see the 2010 steampunk collection here, and for an introduction to its romance literature, see here.)
All of which is my polite way of saying: Enjoy these pictures of the 2013 event, and forgive my lack of truly enlightened commentary.
|The grounds of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum.|
|This is the "steam up boiler" that runs the engines in the main building.|
It burned wood almost as fast as the attendants could feed it.
|This Fitchburg engine (1905) once ran a textile mill in Peterboro, New Hampshire.|
|This American Ball Engine (1905) was installed in a laundry near Boston to generate electricity.|
|You can see the GE generator it drove behind (above) and below.|
|If you needed a little power for your home or shop, |
you could pick up this beauty from the Sears catalog (1904).
|This monster ran in 1883 at the Hartford Electric Company--the same engine design|
that drove Edison's generators on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, the first
electrical grid. Very cool.
|And just as cool--a Corliss engine.|
|Even the popcorn at the Steam-Up was steam-driven.|
|And there were some great bench models. . .|
|While you and I are watching "Breaking Bad" at night, there are |
really talented people building these beautiful models in their basements.
|This one was used in patent litigation, two words that should never |
be uttered in the same sentence.
|There was also steam for transportation on water. . .|
|and on land. . .|
|And someone makes mini-boilers in their basement, most definitely a niche hobby.|
|Here's a model of a Watt steam engine, the original used at a water pumping |
station in England. It was a work of art.