Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Boyproof Watch V


Maskelyne made the rounds of his neighborhood that afternoon, calling at every residence in a three block radius of his house. He knocked on each door and explained, top hat deferentially doffed, that as a gesture of autumnal goodwill he was offering free tickets to his Mechanical Theatre to all his neighbors. Normally this would of course exclude the servants, but they were welcome as well, with their tickets thoughtfully reserved for a night separate from their employers to avoid embarrassment. He simply required the names and ages of each of the home’s residents—information gratefully given, and noted in his little silver notebook.

Despite his thoroughness, the results were unpromising. His neighbor’s gardener’s son, it turned out, was now away at boarding school, thanks to an ambitious father. And as suspected, the family with the two daughters down the street only hosted “dear cousin Jack” during the summer holidays—and besides were preoccupied with the recent death of one of the parents, though he was too polite to ask which one. The rest of his neighbors had no sons or had boys either too young or old to be likely suspects.

It had been an expensive investigation, he mused, looking over his notes. He’d be giving away a lot of tickets in the next month.

When he returned to his home the large wooden crate with the Egyptian Fortune Teller had arrived and stood on the sidewalk, attended by two of his mechanics. He opened the gate and they followed him through to the front door, struggling with their load and eyeing the lawn ornaments whose heads ominously followed them. Maskelyne engaged the porch lift, and as they lowered the crate and its contents to the basement he walked the grounds with tool kit in hand, looking for signs of malfunction in his decorative sentinels. Aside from a delicate faun whose hidden fangs needed oiling, all seemed in working order.

He returned to find the two mechanics still on the porch, petrified, as he hadn’t told them that the ornaments had been switched to “observe.” He would have scolded them for their timidity, but there had been a few incidents involving his employees and his automatons in the past decade that had resulted in injury—but not, he was careful to remind them, death. They nodded in agreement and hurried down the path to the gate as if they feared it might shut them in permanently.

He entered the house, set the sentinels, and realized that it was past six and his entire evening’s routine was off. The ice had melted in his gin and tonic, and there was no time to more than glance at the newspaper’s headlines before dinner. As if affected by their Master’s mood the kitchen staff produced a meal both undercooked and over-spiced, with the low point being a warmed romaine salad draped listlessly over white fish.

Leaving his meal half-eaten, Maskelyne ascended to his aerie workshop more or less on schedule. He turned up the gas lamp over his workbench, revealing several projects in various stages of repair or creation. There were two differential equation centers and an experimental oil regulator, and at the back of the bench was an invention that had sat there for months, the Aetheric Navigator. He had felt certain that the device could increase his nightly yield of ectoplasm by crudely mapping the invisible world for richer currents of the stuff. Yet so far it was sporadic and unreliable and when switched on the colored lights on the console sparked feebly and in no clear pattern.

He walked to the window and surveyed the warm September night. The porch lamp cast a warm glow over the path below but most of the grounds were in darkness. He reached out and pulled the curtains slowly shut, knowing that the light from the room would continue to illuminate them.

Then instead of returning to his seat, he crept silently down the stairs, into the kitchen, and descended into the basement. Moving in the darkness, he took a seat in a wooden chair against one wall, facing the bank of windows through which his visitor had entered the night before.

He felt certain that having visited him once without being caught, the boy would come again. After all, he had been a boy once.

As a child he had been tremendously destructive. When scarcely more than a toddler in the orphanage he had dismantled and destroyed clocks, watches, kitchen appliances, gardener’s tools, the laundry’s mangler, the headmaster’s trouser press, the kitchen’s dumbwaiter and the orphanage’s furnace before the staff wisely shipped him off to an  apprenticeship with an aged watchmaker in Brussels. Compared to his master’s dour demeanor the gray rain-soaked buildings of that city were practically florid.

The man was stern and cruel and a firm believer in corporal punishment, but at least he recognized in his student a great talent. “Any moron can destroy. Rise above your bastard beginnings boy, and learn to create,” he would tell him between beatings. When Maskelyne began to learn his craft, he was sometimes so absorbed that he would work far past dinner. The clockmaker, who at least didn’t starve the child, would leave him a tray of congealing stew.  “Solitude is the inevitable companion of genius,” he would quote, turning the key in the lab’s lock, shutting the boy in for the night.

This night reminded him of those, the intensity, the sense of purpose. For tonight he was sure he would meet his nemesis.

As he continued his vigil he thought on his history of creation, of the long road from obscure apprentice to world-renowned master, from a child driven only by anger and loneliness to a man of power and triumph. Now at the height of his art, some awful boy was smearing his pudgy fingers into the inner workings of his mechanical children. It would not be tolerated.

Suddenly he heard a bell ringing. It was the same bell he’d heard the night before, yet the windows before him remained closed.

Swiftly he was out of his chair and up the stairs. He threw open the doors of the Perimeter Monitor, and saw that the copper wire glowed red at the window of his library.

He rushed into the room and saw the open window, but nothing else was amiss. He pulled out the derringer kept in his right waistcoat lining and began going from room to room, his nerves quietly humming.

Up in his aerie workshop he saw it. The Aetheric Navigator had been pulled forward right to the front of his workbench and his Lensing Station had been set over it. The lights on the console now glowed steadily.

He had been here, and left this, his handiwork. It was an insult. And he knew now there could be no mercy. He would have his revenge.

“I shall catch him,” he said, leaving the workshop. He would of course check the rest of the house, but he felt sure that having completed his taunting vandalism, the boy had left. “I shall catch him,” he repeated, in a low tone. “For I shall create a trap he cannot resist. I shall create a Boyproof Watch.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Boyproof Watch IV


The next morning Maskelyne was in his office pretending to look over the month’s financials while compiling a list of possible suspects. The list was chiefly descriptive, as Maskelyne had no idea of any of his suspects’ names. There was the butcher boy and the son of one of the servants across the street—the gardener’s child? There were the two brothers down the block, though he was fairly sure that one was scarcely out of his pram and the other had recently headed to college. There was the boy who sometimes lived with the two girls three doors down—a cousin perhaps?—though he seemed to be present only during the summer months.

He had much research to do. He’d never bothered to learn the names or relationships of any of his younger neighbors, let alone any of the assorted guttersnipes who roamed the nearby streets.  Frankly he’d never had a reason for noting their individual qualities.

His musings were interrupted by a tepid knocking at his door—the door which was wide open. Maskelyne’s staff knew their master’s temper well, and treaded softly even while trying to get his attention.

The grease-stained yet pallid figure who stood at the doorway of his office was Mirch, his chief automaton craftsman. Mirch was obedient and observant if not particularly bright, and his exalted position meant that more often than not he was charged with bringing bad news. Maskelyne swiveled in his chair to regard him.

“I’m afraid I have some unpleasant information, sir, the nature of which is serious enough to warrant my appearance in this office at this time so as to provide you with full details of said information, despite the fact that seeing as it is unpleasant information it is not information that you will probably want to hear in detail.”

Mirch routinely wrapped bad news in this sort of fulsome speech like a cherry round a pit.  Maskelyne nodded for him to continue.
“It seems sir that the Egyptian Fortune Teller is in serious need of a repair.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Mirch shifted feet uneasily. “Perhaps I could speak as to the probable cause and potential solutions that I have been considering as we proceed from here to the automaton in question, that is if you could spare a few minutes for such an examination.” Maskelyne sighed and rose.

One of Maskelyne’s first masterpieces, The Egyptian Fortune Teller sat in a glass booth that greeted patrons in the lobby. When a coin was fed into the slot, it would not only cast hieroglyphic runes, but its sonorous voice would divine the meaning of the fortune, and dispense a small piece of rolled papyrus with a short prayer taken from the Book of the Dead. It was a popular attraction and there was practically always a queue of eager querents gathered for a fortune.

Though his skill had advanced far beyond its craftsmanship, Maskelyne retained a fondness for the swarthy automaton. The voice of the oracle was his own, recorded over several days on wax cylinders. In some small nearly sentimental corner of his heart he was truly proud of the Fortune Teller, not just the clockwork movements but the ingenuity, the philosophy that he had put into it.  It reminded him of his youthful ambition, which is a very different sort of ambition than the one of a middle-aged master of his craft.

As they reached the lobby Mirch was still explaining. “Was Wiggins saw it first sir, noticed that the queue to see the Egyptian was getting awfully long, at which point a small child came up and tugged at his coat until he asked the urchin what was the matter. Any road, it turns out that some unknown child, not we must assume the child speaking to Wiggins, had stuffed several caramels above, under and through the coin slot of the machine. Frankly sir seeing the resulting sugary muck, and please do excuse my strong language sir, I half-believe that the child must have had access to some sort of crucible and an independent heat source to melt the sweets and create the situation what you are about to see.”

The automaton stood just off the foyer to the street and slightly to the left of the life-sized portrait of Maskelyne himself, painted just three years ago following his triumphant return from his world tour. Ordinarily the Fortuneteller’s eyes glowed with an eerie green light, but now the right eye blazed bright emerald while the left was completely dark, and the mechanical arm that picked up and tossed the hieroglyphic runes was twitching and tapping the glass in a spasmodic fashion.

Maskelyne gave the hatch cover a clever twist and it came open. He looked into the innards of his creation and saw that the melted caramels had left a wet brown river down from the coin box into the gears at three different places, and now a sticky film covered cogs, pins, and gears as deep as he could see. No doubt the entire mechanism would now have to be replaced—a mechanism for which he had no schematic other than his own memory.

Maskelyne rose to his feet. He stared in the face of his crippled creation as its fingers continued to tap erratically at the glass. “Mirch.”


“Shut him down, pack him up, and deliver it to my home workshop this afternoon. I will leave for home now to prepare for it, and so you will chair the meeting of the Theatre Staff at 4:40.”

“Absolutely sir.”

“Make sure to tell the stage manager that I expect a full show report on my desk tomorrow morning.”

“Yes sir.”

Maskelyne began to cross the lobby back to the stairs to his office. “Oh, and Mirch?”


“Tell the Theatre confectioners that their services are no longer required. Prepare them each a final pay packet. We shall have no more sweets of any sort for sale in the lobby, in the theatre, or anywhere near our premises.” And with that he was out of the room, leaving the unfortunate Mirch to his tasks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Boyproof Watch III


Maskelyne did not believe in the spirits of the dead. He was also a man of fearsome aspect, and to tell the truth was as dangerous as he looked. His elegant clothes concealed an assortment of subtle but effective weapons. Under his hat brim was a rounded razor, his shoes produced spikes with a heel click, and his walking stick was armed at both tip and handle. There were no less than three small pistols on him at any time, though only two could be found in a casual search of his person. So when he rose from his worktable he was unhurried and deliberate.

He walked down the side of the stairs to avoid creaks and into the hall next to the study, where a large teak cabinet stood. It was from here that the bell was steadily pealing. He opened the cabinet doors to reveal a detailed map of his house, with all three floors and the basement outlined in copper wire.

This device, the Auto-Electro Domicile Perimeter Monitor, had been a commission for the Premier of Canada, but Maskelyne had installed the prototype in his own home. The copper wire surrounding the outline of the house glowed a dull red in one area, showing a breach of the perimeter down at a bank of basement windows.

Maskelyne stared intently at the map. Whoever it might be, they had exhibited both skill and courage in climbing over the spiked iron fence and passing through the mechanical guards stationed around the grounds. Anything larger than a squirrel or crow that entered his estate was set upon without warning, and anything slower than a cat would almost certainly be killed. (And indeed, he had found shreds of fur and bone scattered about his garden in the past. The neighborhood felines had learned that there was nothing but chase and fear within those dark gates.)

Usually when he descended to the basement workshop it was via the stairs in the kitchen. But his ingenuity and caution had led Maskelyne to include hidden paths throughout his home, so instead he walked down the hallway and took a right to enter the library. On the way he passed several automatons that sat, hung or stood motionless. Several of these could be activated for protective measures, but for the moment, not knowing the identity or attributes of his intruder, he preferred to have nothing moving in his house except for himself and his uninvited visitor.

In the library he crossed to the middle of the six tall bookcases which curved round the spherical room. Well aware of the cliché of bookcases that revolved or slid aside to reveal a hidden door, he had decided, for his amusement as much as for security, on a different construction. He grabbed the middle shelves hard and yanked upward, and the entire bookcase slid with counterbalanced ease into the ceiling, revealing a dark doorway. He struck his stick sharply on the ground and the handle burst into a white-hot flame, an excellent source of illumination and a formidable weapon.

He walked down the steps, and when he reached the blank wall one floor down his fingers deftly found the small hidden catch. With a light groan the doorway slid open (must make sure that’s oiled, he thought to himself) and he was in the dark basement, now lit by his brightly-burning walking stick.

The basement was vast. When Maskelyne had met with his architect, his original instructions had been for a basement and sub-basement, seeing as he was a man with many projects and even more secrets. Instead the architect had persuaded him to invest in a single particularly deep cellar dug past the walls of the building above, so the workmen had excavated under a portion of his back lawn. That half of the basement was doubly supported by sturdy if ugly hardwood posts. Arranged in orderly rows throughout the single large room were tables on which rested automatons in various stages of building and repair, each covered with a thick white sheet to protect them from dust.

 To someone of even moderate imagination it resembled a morgue, but Maskelyne had practically no imagination at all.

He made his way over to the bank of windows that had been indicated on the Auto-electro Domicile Perimeter Monitor, outwardly casual but alert as an owl. He held the stick up, and saw in its brilliant white light an open window above, its latch hanging. The window was low and narrow, made even less accessible by two thick iron bars. It would take a flexible frame indeed to wriggle through such a small opening.

He stepped back and held the light to look across the room. There was no motion, no sound. As he slowly moved the stick the unvarying white flame shuffled the shadows of the sheets on the tables, and he saw that on one of them the sheet was lying unevenly. It was not in his nature to leave anything uneven, so he crossed to it and in one motion grabbed a corner and threw it back.

Underneath was the automaton that he had left there, a mechanical stoop and pavement scrubber that Maskelyne had not yet managed to cure of a tendency to also ferociously scrub any small domestic animals it met. Roughly the size of a barrel hoop and only twice as thick, the scrubber’s differential equation center, a panel on the left side of its hood, had been open for the inventor’s tinkering. He now saw that the panel was closed.

He opened the panel. Inside he saw that his most recent work had been completely undone. Wires, gears and cogs that he’d painstakingly rearranged after the scrubber’s recent encounter with a beloved Pomeranian had been shifted by an unknown hand. He was even fairly certain that several components were missing.

He swung around, stick raised and ready, his face reddening. The contracts that he had potential clients sign always included a lengthy clause regarding penalties for unauthorized tinkering with his creations. Maskelyne guarded his art as an eagle guards its eggs, and once his work was ready to leave his shop the maintenance panels were welded shut. Whoever had been here had been poking his fingers into the proprietary genius of a very dangerous man.

There was no motion, no sound. Maskelyne turned his light on the ground next to the table. A recent incident with a patented Articulated Chimney Serpent had left traces of soot on sections of the floor that had not yet been cleaned. He saw footprints leading from the table to the floor under the window—prints coming and going, suggesting that the intruder had entered from the window, and had already escaped via the same route.

The evidence of those small footprints was conclusive. Maskelyne’s intruder was his natural nemesis: a boy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Boyproof Watch II


Each day at 4:40 Maskelyne would leave his office above the Mechanical Theatre and descend to the lobby to discuss the evening’s program with the ushers, confectioners and box office staff. He would receive final reports from the stagehands about required repairs and anomalies that required observation. And then, reminding the stage manager to have a show report waiting on his desk the next morning, he would straighten his coat, don his top hat, and walk home.

When his key had been inserted into the front gate the gas lamps of his house would ignite, and as he walked the path up to the front door the deer, rabbits and other woodland sculptures would turn to watch him, bowing their heads slightly in deference. They were far less docile to unauthorized visitors.

In the anteroom his doorman, an early unnamed creation, would take his coat with one hand, his hat with the other and present him with a freshly mixed gin and tonic with the other. Then assuming that he didn’t pass an umbrella to its fourth hand, it would revert to the form of a coat rack. As he walked through the door of his study the player pyrophone in the corner would begin its program of Mozart etudes, the bar of orange flame that fronted the fire organ undulating with the music, casting a lively dance of shadows across the room. He would sit and read the newspaper fetched for him by his automatic paper, slipper and ball fetcher, which would lie curled at his feet.

At seven o’clock the dinner chime would ring and he’d put down the paper and his drink and proceed to the dining room, where his clockwork servants would serve the meal that they had prepared for him. There were never less than three and sometimes as many as eight of these automatons, depending on his current research and the menu. Across the table might scuttle a small mechanical intent on keeping his wine glass filled, while draped around the chandelier above, a sinuous segmented artifice would spin its internal spice rack at his request and shake vigorously where he pointed. The other more human-shaped automatons would move to and from the kitchen delivering courses and taking away empty plates and silverware.

Occasionally there would be accidents—food spilled, or poorly prepared, or other irregularities. When these occurred, Maskelyne would pull a small silver notepad from his vest pocket and make a note for future repair and refinement.

After dinner, he would climb the stairs to his workshop in the aerie. While much of the construction of his automatons was done in the basement, it was in the upper workshop that he made the fine adjustments and detailed work that transformed articulated metal into authentic creations. For it was here that he performed the infinitely minute work of clockwork, and the much more mysterious task of imbuing it with spirit.

 The truth was, for all of his wide reading and experience the greatest lesson of clockwork that Maskelyne had learned was as a young apprentice. Then he had learned that the most accomplished Makers always left a small space in their mechanisms right in the midst of the gears, cogs, pillars and pinions. This tiny gap in the machinery was, he was told, to be filled with something immaterial. Traditionally, this was a personal wish that the clocksmith would whisper into the mechanism. But in Maskelyne’s creations, what was stuffed in the space was a gauzy piece of almost-nothing that he kept stored in a small silver flask.

The spiritualists call this substance ectoplasm, a near-transparency that they believe is the materialized essence of the spirits of the dead. Maskelyne, who had seen more ectoplasm and put it to greater use than the most celebrated of mediums, was convinced that they had foolishly misidentified it. He believed that this translucent material, fragile as a spider-web and with even less weight, was astral ephemera, the foam of an invisible sea, and entirely unrelated to the soul or any other human matters. But he also knew that when placed in a mechanism the material provided an indefinable vitality that made his inventions nonpariel.

The method of collecting the ectoplasm was inspired by shipwrecked mariners in sun-scorched seas, who capture precious fresh water by filling a cup with seawater and collecting the drops of condensation that gather on its sides. In a similar fashion, he created an object to collect the condensation of the astral realm. In the center of a glass orb he had placed an artificial icon, an abstract symbolic sculpture of gold, silver and brass. The object was devoid of specific meaning—Maskelyne was rigorously uninterested in religious matters—but the design and material mimicked those of traditional iconography. When charged with electricity, over hours the icon would accrete a layer of fine dust which would gradually begin to grow webs, then a tissue, and finally a gossamer-thin covering of translucent material. This was the ectoplasm, which he cut with a slender silver knife and then captured with a tiny silver net, to be stored in the flask. A small amount of this substance went into the ticking heart of every one of the Professor’s creations.

On this particular September night with which we are concerned, a windy and warm evening filled with flying leaves, Maskelyne was engaged in this very process, bent over his workbench, loupe held in his monocle eye, slicing the misty stuff with the care of a surgeon into an organ or a pauper into his last orange, when he heard the ringing of a tiny bell. It was soft yet very distinct—it had to be, in a house filled with bells and chimes. It was insistent. And it told the Professor that there was an intruder in his house.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Boyproof Watch

(author's note: ever since I started getting into Steampunk I've had this recurring difficulty of explaining what it is, which sends me flailing around for a definition. Finally I've decided that instead of trying to describe it, I'd just write a Steampunk story, and publish it on the blog in serial form. So without further ado, here's the first installment.)


Professor Davenant Maskelyne consorted with spirits and lived with automatons. The public visited his Mechanical Theatre in droves and certain wealthy patrons had seen the inside of his workshop, but no one ever called upon him at home. He was too frightening.

There are men who seek to assume the façade of Mephistopheles, going through canisters of moustache wax and a wardrobe full of red silk shirts to try and personate the devil. Such spiritual braggarts rarely achieve any effect greater than mockery. But Professor Maskelyne looked like Satan all the time. Even in the bathtub, his long oily black hair and trimmed Van Dyke threaded into sharp points. His triangular crafty face had a natural rougish tinge, and on hearing his deep sinister laugh one simultaneously expected to see a sinuous tail with a barbed end dart out from between the tails of his frock coat.

Modern thinkers may suggest that the façade makes the man as much as the man makes the façade. For it is true that a man like the Professor might have begun his life with the soul of a saint, but when you sport the look of a lean Vice from a pageant play, what road is a man’s character supposed to take? When babies stare and sob in your presence, when fathers clutch their adolescent daughters as you pass them on the street, when a merchant hesitates to take your coins, as if fearing them heated—well. It gives a person a certain distant attitude towards humanity.

While they feared him, the Professor was always in social demand. He was a dabbler in obscure areas of knowledge and a master of some rare skills. Chief among these was clockwork. His automatons, many of which were featured in nightly performance in his theatre, were astonishing. Maskelyne understood clockwork not just as a scientist, but as an artist. His creations did everything he had designed them to do, and not just the ones that danced, strutted, declaimed and sang on his specially designed stage. The worker automatons that he built on commission swept floors, cleaned church windows and skittered through plumbing cleaning scum and splooge efficiently and without malfunction. What was more, his mechanizations performed their tasks with unmistakable flair and personality. His patented mechanical rodent-catcher would end each massacre by curling up and cleaning the blood off its needle-sharp fangs and razor-covered limbs with an oiling mechanism located in its “mouth,” raising each limb to lap them exactly like a cat washing itself. His mechanical housemaids would chuckle appreciatively if you slapped their brass bottoms. And his mechanical parrots not only flew around the room and pecked bird seed from your hand, but repeated random phrases overheard from their owners in high tinny voices.

His ingenuity made him rich, and his genius made him alluring. There was really only one aspect of his social personality that bothered people. He hated children.

That’s not to say that he was cruel to them. No one had ever seen him raise a hand to a child, even when it was the infamous Ashdown twins. During their mother’s dinner party they had escaped their German nanny and snuck under the dining room table, only to burst forth screaming during the asparagus soup. Maskelyne had leapt up with a start only to discover that his shoes had been tied, and he had tumbled with a thud at the feet of the Master Butler. Nevertheless, Mrs. Ashdown received a lovely silver bracelet a week later along with a short note of thanks for the invitation, and the matter seemed settled.

But for the next month, the twins complained separately and together of monsters hiding under the bed and behind the curtains, particularly a demonic monkey who squeaked when it walked and watched them with glowing red eyes as they slept. After Eustace had a screaming fit and Clovis had stopped eating, the pair were packed off to a boarding school in Trieste, where they were said to be happy, most probably meaning that they had reestablished their reign of terror.

Weeks later, the upstairs maid noticed that the curtains of the room and low sections of the wainscoting had strange dottings of dark oil. But since she had detested the boys she blamed them for the mess and said nothing to her mistress.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Greetings! It's been a long absence from the blog, but I swear to you all it's not been intentional. The simple truth is that I've been writing and thinking very little about theatre recently, as I'm in the midst of writing my first full-length novel. A novel, unlike a play, is such a huge ravenous creature that it demands to be fed words not by the discreet sentence but by the paragraph, the page, the chapter. It's sucked the vitality away from almost all my other writing. Even my e-mails have grown telegraphic. 

So here's where I tell you what the novel's about: 

Steampunk, Seattle, Used Bookstores and Sherlock Holmes. 

There are crimes and at least one murder.  There is also an airship, and I'm not promising a duel on that airship, but that might happen too. Because one of the real advantages of writing fiction instead of plays is that my budget is limitless.

A lot of you know about Used Bookstores, and everyone knows about Sherlock Holmes. But what exactly is Steampunk?

In a nutshell, Steampunk is a multidisciplinary art and culture movement that draws from the glorious science fiction of the Victorians, particularly H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It embraces fashion, fiction, music and social life. It's a bit Goth, if Goth could ever not take itself seriously. It's a lot geek, but the sort that enjoys technology that you can actually open up and take a shot at repairing or modifying yourself, even if you might get greasy.

And it's a completely gorgeous aesthetic.

I recently went on a tour of the Georgetown Steam Plant, a stunning old building that's an wonderfully no-frills industrial museum, with much of the original machinery. Built in 1907, the Plant supplied electricity to the entire neighborhood using several steam engines, powered first by oil, then by coal, then converted back to oil. 

Our guide had worked at the Plant back in the 1970s, and at the end of the tour took us up to a space between the three engines. "What you see here are 30 years of steam history all in one place," he said. "That one there, that's from the 1890s. That beautiful vertical engine there, that's from about 10 years later, and this third one, that's from 1920." 

 (The picture above is the vertical engine, which as he said was the prettiest.)

He described an experiment that he and a co-worker had tried years ago to see if they could get the vertical engine running using a compressed air pump. "We started it up, and it went AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRK, WWWERRRRRRAACK CREAK, just these godawful screams, but then it eventually got up to a low speed. Then a couple years later, we decide to see if we could get the boiler going, you know, actually get some steam in there. Well that was a whole other process, but we managed it. And you know, when it was running on steam, not cool air? It ran like a dream. The heat just made that machine purr."

I believe that a lot of things in life, including art, work the same way. Apply heat, let the pressure build, and you often find that the process is so much smoother. 

More about Steampunk soon.