Time – Running like Clockwork

Up in the dizzy heights of Steampunk-Shrunk Towers, things were getting somewhat overcrowded.  We pride ourselves of being able to upcycle and repurpose just about anything that comes our way, but there are limits.

“We’ve repainted and upholstered all these odd dining chairs,” explained Jeremiah, but to be honest, nobody is going to want to buy them.  Everyone wants chairs in sets of four, preferably with a table.”
“I know just what you mean,” replied Charles. “My problem is all these not-quite-working clockwork mechanisms. Take this one, for example. It purrs along beautifully, but the rubber bellows has perished, so there’s no sound. We can’t make a silent songbird automaton, but it’s too good to throw out.”

Young Jasper, Jeremiah’s son, was listening intently.  He started to stroll round the clockwork machine.
“Excuse me, Mister Charles, Sir, but don’t you and Mister Henry make time machines?”
“Yes, Jasper, indeed we do,” Charles smiled.
“And what do they need to make them work?”

Charles laughed. “Perhaps a bit technical for a young nipper like yourself, but basically a valve and piston to build up a huge amount of pressure and a temporal modulator to control the time travel.”

“So if you took out the bird whistle and used its piston in a cylinder to build up the pressure, could you maybe use the arm that should move the bird to do the time modulation?” the boy enquired.

Charles’ jaw dropped open and he stared in amazement at the child.

“‘Cos I’m thinking Mrs S has those working watch faces kicking around somewhere – the ones that wouldn’t fit in our grandfather clocks, and we could let you have one of our spare chairs.  Oh, and I’ve been working on a camera that’s controlled by a foot pedal. I was going to use it to take what I call ‘selfies’, but I’m sure it could be adapted to fit a time machine, so that the time traveller could provide proof of the places visited…  Um…have I said something wrong?”
The boy blushed crimson, as he noticed that quite a crowd had gathered and all were staring at him with the most curious expression.

Charles took a deep breath. “No, Jasper, you have done nothing wrong.  Indeed, you have just had the most stupendous idea.  What a remarkable boy you are!  Would you care to help Henry and I to build the prototype, if your father can spare you, of course?”

Now it was Jeremiah’s turn to blush, as his heart swelled with pride.  “I’d be happy to release my son from his work with me for a while, Charles.  He’s a remarkable lad and I’m sure he’ll learn a great deal from you.”
“And vice versa,” muttered Henry, Charles’ brother and co-inventor.

And so the work began.  Henry tinkered, Charles created the elegant canopy and young Jasper buzzed around making wise suggestions and helping to attach the parts.  Even Henry just stood and scratched his head when the boy suggested installing a plasma screen above the motor, so that the traveller could see the view from the back-facing camera.
“Where do you get your ideas from, young Jasper?” he asked. “Are you sure you haven’t been time-travelling yourself and visiting the future?”
“Don’t know, Sir,” the boy shrugged. “They just sort of pop into my head somehow. Shall I fetch you the plasma screen I was working on last week?  It should fit nicely inside Mister Charles’ canopy there.”

Eventually the machine was finished.  Henry took his place on the velvet-upholstered chair and turned the brass key.  The piston began to pump, while the clock swung around on its steel arm.  Cams and cogs whirred cheerfully.

“There’s room for a little ‘un by my feet, if you can spare him, Coggleford,” Henry called to Jeremiah.

Jasper looked longingly at his father, but the man shook his head.  “Not today, my friend.  There are some things even Jasper is too young for yet awhile.  One day, though.”

“Soon,” muttered Jasper, hopefully.  Then, “Safe journey Mister Henry, Sir.  And please take lots of photographs for me.”

“Certainly will, young man,” grinned Henry, as he reached across and started the clock.

The Clockwork Time Machine, with working clockwork motor and quartz clock is for sale at http://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse.  Click here or on one of the photos to go to the listing.

A Flock of Clockwork Songbirds

This is a true story:

Many decades ago, a gentleman in England took the opportunity of purchasing the entire remaining stock of sets of clockwork parts for making automatons.  They had been manufactured back in the 1950s or 60s by a company in West Germany, for hobbyists to install into novelty cigar boxes.  As you opened the drawer to offer your guest a cigar, the bird on top would begin to trill merrily and to twist and twirl around.

One of the many boxes of clockwork parts

Such hobbycraft (and indeed cigar boxes generally) had lost their popularity by the time our gentleman procured the parts, in the early 1980s.  He had grand plans to sell them on for other purposes, such as creating novelty Easter eggs, Christmas decorations and the like.

Alas, his grand plans came to nothing.  The boxes of shiny brass and steel mechanisms, with their complicated cams, tiny brass swanee whistles and miniscule rubber bellows were relegated to his attic, where they lay forgotten for many more years until, after his demise, his widow decided she wanted a clear-out.

for bird automatonsBy now rust and verdigris coated the machines, many of the fragile plastic birds were chipped and the cardboard boxes they were kept in had been nibbled by many generations of mice.  It fell to the departed gentleman’s son to dispose of them, which he did by placing a small advert on a local noticeboard, where it was spotted by the eagle-eyed Mrs S.

Many were beyond repair, but others had stood the test of time.  Much cleaning and polishing ensued, along with long hours of experimentation to find ways of fitting the components together and allowing the birds to move and sing again.

Finally, some of the vintage automatons are working once more.  The birds (previously with rather grubby and unappealing red, white and blue painted plumage) have been given a steampunk makeover and fixed to some little boxes which rather neatly enclose the clockwork motors.  for sale on Etsy at SteampunkDollsHousein steampunk plumageThere are still pieces of rust and  the contraptions need to be handled with care, but a precious few have been tested and are for sale in the Steampunk Dolls House, on Etsy, while others will be available on the Steampunk-Shrunk stalls this coming spring and summer, such as the Shrewsbury Steampunk Spectacular. (See home page for dates and details).

Do come and buy one of these fascinating little automatons and you will own a small piece of history.

 

 

The Alarming Clock

I, Ebenezer Crackington, am by trade a clockmaker.  I have worked at this trade since I completed my apprenticeship in the beautiful city of Paris, France, many years ago, at the age of twenty-two.

For eighteen years I made a reasonable living producing table and mantle clocks of the finest quality, encased in glass domes so that the mechanism could be viewed by the owners.

One memorable day, however, my shop was visited by none other than Lord Horatio Backgammon.

Imagine my amazement as this great gentleman entered the door and removed his hat, just as any lesser person might do.

I bowed to his lordship and offered him a chair, wishing that I had some upholstered seating, rather than the plain wooden variety.

Nevertheless, his lordship deigned to sit upon this humble piece of furniture with no complaint and addressed me in the following manner: 
“Crackington,” he said, “You have been recommended to 
me by certain gentlemen at my club as being a first rate craftsman.  Would you say they are correct?”

No doubt my face reddened rather at this most unexpected compliment, but I kept my head and replied, “Why I certainly believe it to be the case, Your Lordship, judging by the testimonials I have received from satisfied customers.”

“Good show,” Lord Backgammon responded.  “In that case, I have a most particular commission for you.”

I promptly availed myself of a pen and my order book, hoping that my exterior appearance remained calm, despite my inner excitement.

Lord Horatio Backgammon informed me that, for reasons he was unable to disclose, he needed to wake and rise at a various times during the night in order to attend meetings of an extremely significant nature.  His prompt arrival at these rendezvous was of the utmost importance. 

Unfortunately, his lordship was a very heavy sleeper and was having great difficulty waking on time.

He asked whether I had any experience in constructing adjustable mechanical alarm clocks.  I assured him that I had served as apprentice under M. Antoine Redier, the inventor and patent holder of such devices.

“Well they are useless!” his lordship informed me.  “I require a device at least ten times louder than such paltry machines and one which involves a further element of surprise.  Can you do it?”

I assured him that I could, and would start work on it that very day.

Lord Backgammon left his card and a generous down payment and departed.

I commenced by using a double bell for the alarm mechanism, with a strong beater which alternated between the two.  I then constructed a large claxon, which I fashioned from a trombone horn, which moved about in a haphazard and suitably alarming fashion when activated.

Since I was concerned that the ensuing noise might perforate his lordship’s eardrums, I installed a decibel gauge, which would shut down the alarm if dangerous sound levels were reached. 

Lord Backgammon was delighted with his device and pronounced it satisfactory in every respect.

 

Thus I find myself the inventor of the Ebenezer Crackington Alarming Clock.

A miniature DIY book containing this text can be purchased as a downloadable file from our Etsy shop here.  The file contains mini pages, an illustrated cover and full instructions for putting the book together.  All this for just £2.64.

A Visit to Brasston

It was, not surprisingly, young Molly who found the book first.  She’d read her way through everything in the Steampunk-Shrunk library  – even the Suffragette newspapers – and had been on the lookout for something new.

the group are becoming excited

“Excuse me, Lady Cholmondeley,” she said, dropping a pretty curtsy to Josephine, “But do you think your husband, seeing as how he’s the Lord Admiral of the High Fleet, could take me on one of his sky ship machines to Brasston?  They’ve got a perfectly splendid aerodrome and I’m sure they’d allow him to dock there.  Let me show you the pictures.  They’re in colour!”
“Why I’ve never heard of the place, my dear. Are you sure you’ve got the name correct?” smiled Josephine.
“Oh yes, Your Ladyship, Ma’am. I think it must be very famous. It won the ‘Most Cosmopolitan City Award’ in 1850.”

Josephine started to look through the book – a most difficult process since, unlike the inhabitants of Shrunk Towers, this book had not been shrunk to one twelfth of its original size.  She had to obtain assistance from several other members of the community and they in turn became mesmerised by the splendours of Brasston.

“Good lord!” Barnaby Balsover exclaimed, “There’s a chap there having his shoes polished by a clockwork automaton!  Quite remarkable!”
“Certainly,” agreed Ava Brassfeather, “And it says they do tours of the clock factory and provide cake and tea.”
“I believe it says you have to pay extra for cups and saucers, though, Ma’am,” Molly whispered, jumping in alarm when Ava made a loud tutting sound.
Molly wasn’t sure whether this was aimed at herself or the facilities available at the works, but she didn’t venture to speak again.

A touching moment for the valiant couple

When Algernon returned from a successful raid on a troublesome bunch of sky pirates who had been terrorising the airways above Penge, he was met by a mass of pleading faces.
His wife took his arm, gazed alluringly into his eyes and purred, “My dearest…”

“Hmm,” he said finally, once he’d had a strong cup of gunpowder tea and an opportunity to peruse the book.  “I strongly suspect that this is a work of fiction, created by this rather splendid gentleman on the back cover, Mr Ashley G.K. Miller.  I’m not convinced that the city exists.”

“Well if anyone can find it, it’s you, Old Boy,”  announced Lord Horatio Backgammon, and the others joined in a chorus of agreement with his Lordship’s sentiment.

And so, as I write, the entire group is busy packing and preparing for an epic journey in one of the fleet’s most capacious dirigibles, while Algy is earnestly poring over his charts, in search of the city of Brasston.

 

Should you wish to discover this remarkable location for yourself, dear reader, I suggest visiting Mr Miller’s Facebook page, where you will find all the details you need.

 

 

The Magical Mechanical Bird

a young showmanMy pa made the bird.  He’s Mister William Forsey and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like him – a tinker as well as a showman.  My name is Rufus, by the way.  I’m ten years old and I have a very important job.  I run the Magical Mechanical Bird Show in the little fairground booth my pa built.

only Rufus can fit insideThe ticket office is too small for Ma or Pa to get inside, but I fit just fine.  When I grow too big, one of my brothers or sisters will have to take over and I’ll get on with learning my pa’s craft.  Pa’s proud of me.  He wrote ‘Wm. Forsey & Son’ on the poster, so I’d be part of the company.  Some day we’ll have a whole load of automatons and people will come from all over the world to watch and wonder at them.

preparing the mechanical birdFirst thing I have to do is wind up the machine and check that it’s all working smoothly.  Pa says I’m a natural when it comes to knowing where a lick of oil should go or what bolts to tighten.  You see?  I’ve got tinker’s blood in me veins.  I’ll make wonderful contraptions when I’m older.

hiding the bird from viewNext I pull the curtain across, so the bird’s hidden and go out the front to tout for business.  All the ladies love me and they beg their beaus to buy a ticket.  Ma says it’s on account of my fair hair and big eyes.  I think it’s more likely my witty patter that draws ’em in.
Once a lady said, “Is the poor bird trapped in a cage?”
She thought it was a real bird, even though the sign clearly says ‘Mechanical’.
“Oh no, Ma’am,” I told her. “That bird is as free as I am.”
She was so pleased, she asked her gentleman to give me a farthing, and to show off to her, he gave me three ha’pence!
When I told Pa later what had happened, he said it was a good reply I’d given.  I told him it was true, because both me and the bird are as free as each other – stuck in that booth all day.  That got me a clip round the ear, though, so I need to learn when to keep me mouth shut, I reckon.

selling ticketsAnyhow, once I’ve got a good crowd, I go into the ticket office and sell them all tickets to watch the show.  I have to keep the office locked all day, so no one will steal our takings.  Ma took the chain from Grandpa’s old watch and fixed the office key to it, so I can wear it on me waistcoat, just like a toff!  Real silk, that waistcoat is, and me trousers are pa’s old moleskins cut down.  They’re a bit on the roomy side, but I’ll grow into them.

Next is my favourite part.  I come out of the office, draw back the curtain and you should hear the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Aaahs’ when they see the machine.  The gilded bird sits on a gold tablecloth and Pa has left all the mechanical parts showing, so people can see how amazing an automaton is.  There’s gleaming brass and steel cogs and cams and levers, a little set of bellows that work a Swanee whistle, so the bird can sing, and the cam is fixed up so that as the bird twists and turns, the notes of its warbling change.

I call out, very loud, “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the Magical Mechanical Bird will come to life before your very eyes and ears.”
That’s Pa’s cue to pull the knob at the back of the booth to release the crank wheel, and the bird begins to sing and twirl.

All the punters gasp and cheer and clap and I feel so proud of Pa and Ma and meself, for entertaining folks so royally.

 

The Case of the Magical Mechanical Bird will be on display at All Things Miniature in Haddenham, Bucks on Saturday September 23rd. 

A video of the mechanical bird in action can be seen here, on the Steampunk – Shrunk Facebook page.