Steaming Hot Steampunk

December 26, 2019 Clive Maxfield

Bruce Rosenbaum astride the Hendrick's Gin Grand Garnisher (Image source: ModVic.com)

There is an ever-increasing interest in steampunk these days, and a lot of people dabble in various flavors of this genre, but it's rare that you run across someone who makes a living creating steampunk artifacts.

Before we proceed, perhaps we should take a step back and remind ourselves that steampunk started out as a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

As we read on the Wikipedia: "Steampunk most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retrofuturistic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art."

The Wikipedia entry goes on to say that, "Steampunk also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures that have developed from the aesthetics of steampunk fiction, Victorian-era fiction, art nouveau design, and films from the mid-20th century. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical 'steampunk' style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk."

In fact, steampunk pops up in the most unlikely places. For example, there's the noble art of Steampunk Tea Dueling whose purpose is, "to allow ladies and gentlemen to resolve their petty differences in a genteel manner." Seriously, Tea Dueling is a thing, as seen in this instructional video, which is intended to, "inform steampunks both young and old, on the ancient and highly respected art of the Tea Duel."

 

The official sanctioned body for Tea Dueling in the United States is the American Tea Dueling Society (ATDS), which is an affiliate of Tea Dueling's governing body, The Honourable Association of Tea Duellists. The ATDS introduced this sport at AnachroCon 2012, but it's been going on in England and Australia for tens of thousands of years (well, it seems that way). As an aside, I just visited the AnachroCon site to discover the exciting news that "Teapot Racing" is returning to the 2020 conference, but we digress... 

If you are interested in learning more about Tea Dueling etiquette, you can't do much better than perusing the rules and regulations on the Unlacing the Victorians website. If you wish to take part yourself, you can purchase special equipment for the task, such as this vegan-friendly faux suede Steampunk Tea Dueling Holster that includes a genuine Royal Albert tea set in the form of a cup, saucer, and cake plate (I've seen some in real leather, and some that include a teaspoon also).

I personally love the steampunk aesthetic -- especially the combination of brass and wood. In fact, I've created several projects in this style myself, such as my Victorian Audio Spectrum analyzer, my Awesome Audio-Reactive Artifact, my Cunning Countdown Timer (whose task it will be to count the years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds remaining to the commencement of my 100th Birthday celebrations -- May 2059, mark the date), and my Inamorata Prognostication Engine (don’t ask).

The Inamorata Prognostication Engine
The Inamorata Prognostication Engine (Image source: Max Maxfield)

As I noted earlier, it's rare that you run across someone who makes a living creating steampunk artifacts -- they are few and far between -- but when you do find a person of this ilk, it's always a treat. One of my personal heroes is Bruce Rosenbaum, who has been dubbed "Steampunk Guru" by The Wall Street Journal and "Steampunk Evangelist" by WIRED magazine.


Steampunk evangelist and guru, Bruce Rosenbaum (Image source: ModVic.com)

In 2007, Bruce and his wife Melanie formed the steampunk art and design company, ModVic, whose goal is to repurpose and infuse modern technology, gadgets, and everything cool into period pieces, relevant antiques, and salvage objects.

Not so long ago, Bruce and Melanie purchased an 1876 Victorian Church in Palmer, Massachusetts. They converted this building into their home, gallery, and workshop space. The Rosenbaum’s church conversion project is featured in the Netflix original docuseries Amazing Interiors (Episode 8: Steampunk Wonderland).

If you take the time to visit the ModVic website, you will discover a treasure trove of projects, but be careful because it's not uncommon for visitors to catch the steampunk bug and become enamored with thoughts of constructing their own steampunk creations.

I love all of Bruce and Melanie's constructions, from their 'Pneuman' Pneumatic Tube Escape Room Truthsayer (a pneumatic vacuum system that delivers coded "truth telling" messages to escape room participants before their adventure), to their Beer Dispensing Aquarium Tank (which fuses steampunk, history, sculpture, and beer tap technology to create an iconic beer dispensing ‘fermentation’ aquarium tank), to their Time Traveling Victorian Photo Phone Booth (I so want one of these at my house).

Everyone has their own favorite. For myself, I have to opt for the Hendrick's Gin Grand Garnisher, which is an enormous  rolling, cucumber slicing device that -- as seen in this video -- is garnishing cocktails across America.

 

 

This has to be the world’s largest and most complicated cucumber slicing, drink garnishing machine. In addition to an 1800's steam engine, this masterpiece relies on an elaborate system of pneumatic tubing, interlocking gears, and rotating blades to slice up to 18 cucumbers per hour. It can also achieve road speeds of 25 mph thanks to a hybrid powertrain that combines a large diesel motor with a well-dressed gentleman pedaling a large wheeled bicycle.

Although I would love a Time Travelling Victorian Photo Phone Booth, if push came to shove, I would gladly accept a recreation of the Hendrick's Gin Grand Garnisher. How about you? Are you tempted to try your hand at creating a steampunk artifact? If so, would you care to share your thoughts and ideas with the rest of us?

About the Author

Clive Maxfield


Clive "Max" Maxfield received his BSc in Control Engineering in 1980 from Sheffield Hallam University, England and began his career as a designer of central processing units (CPUs) for mainframe computers. Over the years, Max has designed everything from silicon chips to circuit boards and from brainwave amplifiers to steampunk Prognostication Engines (don't ask). He has also been at the forefront of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) for more than 30 years.

Well-known throughout the embedded, electronics, semiconductor, and EDA industries, Max has presented papers at numerous technical conferences around the world, including North and South America, Europe, India, China, Korea, and Taiwan. He has given keynote presentations at the PCB West conference in the USA and the FPGA Forum in Norway. He's also been invited to give guest lectures at several universities in the US and at Oslo University in Norway. In 2001, Max "shared the stage" at a conference in Hawaii with former Speaker of the House, "Newt" Gingrich.

Max is the author of a number of books, including Designus Maximus Unleashed (banned in Alabama), Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics), EDA: Where Electronics Begins, FPGAs: Instant Access, and How Computers Do Math.

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