The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Editor's Note: When Blogger stopped supporting FTP it pretty much threw a big monkey wrench into all of my online publishing. The service seems to be plagued with bugs and I suspect we are seeing the death of another once-relevant web icon. The same thing happened to me when Yahoo bought e-groups, and again when geocities ceased to be. has become my online resume and is updated rarely and by hand. Chicagofreakbike, which was updating only a few times a year even when I was in Chicago, has slowed way down and is being updated by hand. It still remains, as many people tell me, a great place to poke around for ideas and so it shall survive. My blog, which is ten years old this year, has ground to a halt as I attempted to migrate it to but I forgot and updated the old one by hand and I'm just finding the whole blog thing to be less relevant these days as I use the internet less and less. has been giving me a "migration pending" beachball on the blogger dashboard for several months now. I intend to keep the site and update it by hand as I develop my pennyfakething designs. My great-grandfather's diary, The Diary of Fletcher Ames Hatch, is the only one that really works for me on blogspot because I still have the source material in hand and can trust my site's content on the servers of a company that may go the way of geocities. I really only put it there, and at twitter in order to trickle it into the internet cache. Meanwhile for aggregating content that is not my own I find tumblr to be quite easy to use and you may enjoy & Steampunk Vehicles. As I find myself busier and more active in real life I update less and less, and for this I apologize to anybody who may be out there enjoying any of these fine online Johnny Payphone products these last ten years. The world is a drastically different place than it was then, and so is the internet, and so is my life. I always like answer emails about wacky bike design and can still be reached at payphone at primate dot net.

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Lucius Beebe: The Mad Organist of the Comstock

Lucius Beebe is a name that should be dear to every steampunk's heart, yet we do not hear him brought up as much as the Brunels and Lovelaces. Perhaps this is because steampunks fetishize technological invention and Beebe was an inventor of lifestyle. However, his steampunk cred should be self evident as he is the most prominent and prolific writer on the subject of railroading. But that fact is largely inconsequential as it is his insistence on living in the world he wished to live in that makes him admirable to us, even though he was probably unbearable in person (Hilaire Belloc said "like many of the upper class, he loved the sound of smashing glass"). Being disgustingly rich goes a long way towards allowing you to live in the world of your choosing.

When Lucius Beebe went to bed at night he knelt to pray that the twentieth century, which he considered a "street accident," would go away before he waked. He dressed in the finest capes, hats, canes, watches, and furs that money could buy. He loved wine, cigars, fine food, his daily turkish bath, antiques, opera, and railroading. Once when someone claimed that electing Dewey would set the country back fifty years he exclaimed, "And exactly WHAT was wrong with 1898!?!?" He clung with a death grip to the tradition of the drunken journalist and was a master of hijinks while retaining the manners of an Edwardian gentleman. He was "snobbish as a pewter pitcher of martinis and brittle as a frozen Hershey bar".

You can understand why Beebe loathed the future so much- he came from old money, and a time when his like were treated like royalty was giving way to a proletarian culture of democracy. Items that once were available only from master craftsmen started to become available cheaply, made by machines- the crapification of the world had begun. Rail travel, once a luxury reserved for the ultrarich, was now available in cattle-car form for anybody with price of a ticket! Lucius probably felt robbed.

He spent his youth pulling pranks as a "troublemaker of prodigious talent" until he was shuttled off to both Harvard and Yale, where he routinely appeared in class in full evening dress, wearing a monocle and carrying a gold-headed cane. He had a roulette wheel and a full bar in his room. He once tried to T.P. J.P. Morgan's yacht from above in a chartered aircraft, and finally "In recognition and celebration of Beebe's many accomplishments, Harvard and Yale invited him to be expelled, an invitation beyond his control to decline."

Onward to New York, he coined the phrase "Cafe Society" to describe the 500 or so people in the world who he felt were rich enough, famous enough, and lived with enough elan and panache. He was openly gay and cared little what anybody thought about it, and he is credited for coining the term "partner" to describe a gay spouse. For ten years he flitted around New York, taking in the opera, dining at the finest restaurants, buying watches and clothes, and writing columns about other filthy rich people.

Then, in 1940, he went to Virginia City, NV to see the premiere of the Erol Flynn movie of the same name. Virginia City in the 1860s and 70s was the richest place on the planet, a place where a mountain of oyster shells formed in the desert as fortunes were made and spent with astounding speed in a city devoted to the art of conspicuous consumption. The silver from the Comstock Lode funded the North in the Civil War, built San Francisco, laid the Atlantic cable, founded the Hearst newspaper empire, and the lax moral code of the era pioneered legal prostitution, divorce, and acupuncture. By the time Lucius arrived the town had 400 residents and twenty gorgeous Victorian saloons. Beebe exclaimed to his partner, "Why the alcoholic proof here is so high, and the moral tone so low, we can be perfectly inconspicuous!" He purchased the towns oldest and largest mansion; he strode around town in a clawhammer coat and wide-brimmed black hat and nobody gave him a second glance.

But he wasn't finished. He purchased the Territorial Enterprise, Mark Twain's old newspaper, and began to publish "Pro-prostitution, pro-alcohol, pro-private-railroad cars-for-the-few and fearlessly anti-poor folks, anti-progress, anti-religion, anti-union, anti-diet, anti-vivisection and anti-prepared breakfast food" rants against packaged breakfast cereals, digit dialing (that is, using your finger instead of asking the operator to connect you), Billy Graham, zippers on men's pants, womens suffrage, TV dinners, once-a-day mail delivery, the Christian Science Monitor, nuclear fission, Bobby Kennedy, one-ounce martinis, and the jet airplane, that "cartridge of death".

Beebe and his partner Chuck Clegg purchased two Pullman private rail cars, the Virginia City and the Gold Coast and spent a fortune to decorate them resplendently with antiques and decor, including a marble fireplace, turkish bath, a 50-bottle wine cellar, and a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel on the drawing room ceiling. Along with their St. Bernard "Mr. T-Bone" they spent their winters touring the country in a sultan's splendor and writing dozens of books about railroading and the old west.

When Cecil B. DeMille first stepped on board the Virginia City he exclaimed, "Tell the madam I'll have a drink but I'm too old to go upstairs!".

These two railcars are still around, and you can experience them. The Gold Coast is at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento. And the Virginia City, while privately owned, is available for charter! The Virginia City Rail Corporation maintains it in its original state for your private excursion, and runs regular rail cruises such as the upcoming ones on February 17th and March 16th that cross the Sierra Nevadas.

Beebe considered himself a "coinesseur of the preposterous". He refused to accept a world that didn't suit him. He had no regard for what the haters thought and he worked all the time at his art. Most importantly, he refused to give up his dignity when the rest of the world was selling it wholesale. In the sense that he was the first person outside of the Victorian era to idolize it, he may just well be the first steampunk. recommended reading: "The Richest Place On Earth" by Warren Hinckle

Screw Drive Roundup

[update 4/8/11- a few more pics]

I have long been fascinated with screw drive & cannot wait until I am mudbogging in one of my own creation. The conditions and budgets neccessary to make this a sane project have only aligned a few times in the past century. You can read a detailed history at the wikipedia page.

Apparently the Peavy family had two as early as 1907, one steam-powered. The advantage in the agricultural field is that it plows as it goes.

The earliest usage was for agriculture, such as the Fordson Snow Motor:

As you can see they were putting these things on Chevys by the 1920s.

Even Tucker got in on the action:

During WWII the Nazis had a version:

The Russians tried out a few designs. You can find more history here.

My favorite is the ZIL version. Seeing these videos is what changed my vision from a isn't-that-clever art car to a mud-boggin' badass. I wanna take it to the Redneck Yacht Club!

During the 60s Chrysler developed the Marsh Screw Amphibian:

The Marsh Amphibian and its massive, unweildy descendant the Riverine Utility Craft were evaluated by the Army's Mobility and Environmental Administration. There is more weird locomotion at the Army's great website on the subject. ....aaaand of course Chrysler Defence Operations Division, given enough time and enough money, will eventually come up with what I deem "Operation Hatful Of Assholes":

...ever heard the expression "A camel is a horse designed by committee"?

Apparently Samuel Cody (of the Cody Manlifter) submitted a patent for an augur drive tank, but the government didn't bite. From Shusharmor come these pictures of a model of his patent:

source: Shusharmor

Further Reading:

There was a Dutch version called the Amphiroll so named for its high sideways speed. is a great site, especially if you wanna see some bad ideas.

For more bad ideas, see Unusual Locomotion.

Of course, there are many modern augur drive vehicles such as those used for arctic exploration. They aren't as much fun to look at so find 'em yourself. There's also the Tyco Terrain Twister R/C car and Segway's robot platform. Some augur drive tanks have appeared in various video games. There's a Survival Research Laboratories robot that uses the technology.

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Vintage U.S. Augur Drive

From Shusharmor:

In the winter of 1941-42, the Americans began feverishly to increase fleet that can move through the snow - it seemed that at the Alaskan base should not encroach mad samurai, not the Kremlin's man-eater, not a madman Fuhrer, and then all together. Has not spared it the urgent creation of snow machines and party shnekohody. In particular, a farm tractor was equipped with two screws and started testing, but soon he was gone so quickly that not even left behind no evidence of TTX ...

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Galloping Bobiks!

The Galloping Geese were a series of road-rail conversion vehicles run on the Rio Grand Southern Railroad. A bobik is a Russian improvised factory vehicle that is so beloved by the workers that the ZIL factory put theirs on a pedestal outside the factory. has posted these pictures of improvised road-rail construction vehicles used in the maintenance of the Kiev subway. For lack of a better term I'll call them "Galloping Bobiks".

Saturday, April 17, 2010

ZIL augur pic

Found another picture of a ZIL screw-drive in a set of 60's promotional pics at

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Emigrant

I built this pennyfakething in two weeks as soon as I heard about the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition. I envisioned the bike I would build to ride west to Californy during the gold rush. Scavenging an old wagon wheel and an iron caster from a shop cart, I built a fork from railing and used saw handles for grips. Californy here I come!

For the rear tyre, I used the old pennyfarthing technique. I drilled two holes in the rim, then ran a few lengths of baling wire through some old worn gas hose. I ran it around the wheel a few times and then twisted it tight through the holes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Land Yachts

Glenn Curtis, of Curtis-Wright aircraft, developed the "motor bungalow" beginning in 1919 after the failure of his flying car at the 1917 Pan-American Exhibition.


This ultra-streamline Reo tractor was specially built to tow a Curtiss Aerocar, on of the earliest production fifth-wheel trailers. Custom built for Dr. Hubert Eaton of the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks, its innovative cab-forward aluminum and leatherette body was constructed by Standard Carriage Works of Low Angeles, a coachbuilder that specialized in bodies for trucks and other commercial vehicles. It featured a large storage area, sleeping quarters for the driver, and a separate four-cylinder engine for auxilliary power. A Williams air-brake an dual rear-wheels accommodate the permanently attachehed 10,000 pound trailer. First equipped with a flat-12 White truck engine, the Reo tractor was fitted with a 300-horsepower Cummins 6-cylinder diesel in 1953 when the original engine wore out after more than 250,000 miles of use.

The luxurious and expensive Aerocar trailer was built by Curtiss of Coral Gables, Florida, a firm also known for motorcycles and pioneering aircraft. Nicknamed "Vagabond" by Dr. Eaton, it was outfitted for hunting excursions and to transport company executives on trips to inspect various real-estate holdings. Special features include a self-contained restroom and kitchen, comfortable seating for eight, cup holders, and an observation deck equipped with a speedometer, compass, and intercom for communication with the driver. Though currently set up for day travel, the interior can be modified to sleep up to six passengers. The dramatically styled rig was in regular use until retired by Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in 1991 - Peterson Automotive Museum

The aerocar was meant to be ridden in, so that the owner and pals could have a swingin cocktail party on the road while the driver even slept in the cab! Twelve cylinder engine with four-cylinder generator!

Apparently the observatory model was too expensive, because Curtiss dialed it back a bit with the economy model:

This one started life as a LA hotel's Tijuana excursion vehicle and then a rodeo rider toured in it for 30 years. It's now owned by Henry Wallace.

The sedan pictured towing the Aerocar quickly proved too underpowered for the busy traveler. Most owners had a custom 5th-wheel tractor built:

This International is owned by Hindley's Garage.

The African explorer Attilio Gatti built two of these Jungle Yachts to explore the Belgian Congo. You can read more about them here.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Junk of a Steampunk

Location: Berkeley, CA

The Haul's winter berth is strewn with the casting of the mad scientists within. This pile of junk is fractal; examination of any section of it will reveal as much variety as a perusal of the whole.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Steampunk Motorcycles


Friday, January 29, 2010

Tank Boneyard

Location: Murrayville, Victoria

I found these stripped and dismantled tanks on the side of the road in Murrayville, Victoria.  Tank treads and parts lay everywhere as well as old cars, heavy machinery, and even some wooden horse-drawn wagons.  The last picture is of the wooden body of an old bus.

The Russians called this tank "coffin for seven brothers" due to its unfortunate tendency to spall its rivets when hit.

Visit it!

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Backyard Boiler

Location: Berkeley, CA

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There's only one cure-all for your anus... Anusol!