The origination of this expedition is the result of the convergence of three groups of factors. First among these is the body of my formative experiences and influences. Second is the catalog of coping and compensating mechanisms I invented in response to my experience of life in my early days.
I was the kid who couldn’t hit the ball. Last pick on gym day every week, every year. In my town, in the early 1960’s, an elementary school kid who couldn’t hit the ball was worthless, an outcast, rejected.
Accepting that social capital was a currency I would likely never accrue, I went home by myself, and started playing with the scrap metal that was kept in a pile under the heating oil tank. By the time I was tall enough to reach the vise on the workbench, I was cutting pipe and soldering wire into all manner of gizmos and widgets; which is to say little assemblages that usually didn’t do much, but they formed the first steps to using tools, and handling materials; and they satisfied my need to act on my creative impulses and fabricate some little devices for myself.
I could spend many pages describing the litany of dangerous experiments I involved myself in, from gravity powered vehicles to powered bicycles, to things that were supposed to float. Suffice to say, I compensated for a lack of social interaction by withdrawing from society to experiment with science and industry.
Just about as soon as I had my own job and my own roof, I found my own abandoned motorcycle in a basement down the street, and accomplished the monumentally significant achievement of my first complete resurrection from the dead. I brought home the ailing carcass, tore it completely apart, and cleaned everything in sight till it all looked like new. Then came the delightful challenge of getting every single one of those spiffy clean parts to go back together the same way, and to work the same as she had when new – so many years before. Somewhere in the stage after everything gets painted, when the grease and crud are all gone, and pieces are going together in sequence; the transformation becomes apparent, and the joy of creating drives you on to completion.
The day you start your restored motorcycle for the first time, you will find yourself in the shoes of the precoscious young biomedical experimenter, proclaiming; “It’s Alive!, It’s Alive, It’s Alive!” And at that point, whether you realize it at the time or not; you’re infected with something, something you share with the ambitious Doctor Frankenstein. Maybe it’s a need to show something to the world that validates your existence and the work you’re driven to perform. One finding I have firmly established through experimental results is that the completion of a motorcycle restoration definitely solidifies the belief of the experimenter in the value of the outcome. Positive reinforcement in social environments also usually follows.
A year or so ago, a friend of mine came by and was looking at an Ironhead Sportster I was completing the build on. He said it was “Steampunk Style”. Steam what? I had been showing him how I used old wrenches and bolts to make the foot pedals; and how the oil tank was missing, so I made one out of some copper roof flashing I’d had in the shop. My seat was an english riding saddle, stripped down, and my headlight shell was from the spotlight off an old police car.
So here it is; the third factor in the convergence. This is how I’ve been living my whole life – picking up the pieces of all the old metal stuff people cast off, bringing them home and stuffing them away, until the need arises for something about that size, that we could put on this way and make it do what we need for this machine to fly again. Learning all the stuff you need to know to make pieces of metal go together, and stay together, so the airship will stay in the sky – or at least the bike will get me back to work in the morning. My own self-created culture; an ethic of workmanship, scientific knowledge, and creative expression – – has a name. It’s been around for a long time – hidden from my view – even as I needed it so badly. The name is Steampunk. Strange word. Not really sure I like the sound of it, but given the origin story I suppose it’s appropriate enough. Just have to get used to thinking of myself as some kind of a “punk”.
Get out and look around at the way “Steampunks” explore, experiment, and express, and I become increasingly comfortable with the label, because I see the people wearing the label are my kind of people; practical types with ideas and energy. People who wear wild outfits because that’s how they look like themselves. People who catch the excitement of the new century, and it’s incredible inventions. People who do not sit idly by and comment, but who combine, and recombine the latest discoveries to accomplish benefits for mankind. These are not the kind of people who will judge the value of a child by his ability to hit a ball.
I begin this journey with a few objectives in mind. I want this establishment to serve as an ever – growing congregation of resources for people embracing Steampunk culture as a means of expressing themselves. I want to encourage people to learn how to use hand tools, to learn how to work with different kinds of materials, and to learn the methods and procedures for creating, re – creating, and resurrecting the things we surround ourselves with, the things that express the style of our living.
I want to provide instruction, demonstration, and sourcing options for steampunk craftworkers at every level of ability, to assist them in completing their current work, and planning their next undertaking.
In the coming days I will be submitting photographs of some of my works, and inviting comment and offerings of photos of your works to share with the steampunk community. If you have found that this subculture speaks to something deep inside of your character or personality, tell us your story, and tell us about what you’re doing in your steampunk life.