Stream Punk

I have a son and daughter-in-law into steam punk.  I never understood.  Coal driven steam blackened the white stone buildings of London, helped create pea soup fog, and began the trend for the earth to warm.  Kevin tells me it isn’t the coal but the intricate linkages of the technology and the decorative style of the steam machines that appeals, plus, of course, the costumes. To me the costumes represent the worst of Victorian class society but I have to admit a certain nostalgia for coal myself.

The Isle of Man is steeped in Victorian and Edwardian history and technology, and I can see the appeal of steam punk here, especially since the Island has more hydro resources than coal so most of the Victorian was driven by water before it becomes steam.  Hence my term “Stream Punk.”

The Great Laxey Water Wheel (properly the “Lady Isabella Wheel”) is 72 feet 6 inches high and 6 feet wide, the largest water wheel in the world.  It uses an intricate set of linkages to pump 1,100 liters water a minute from a mine that produces zinc, copper and lead 1500 feet below the surface. Such pumping is done by steam pumps in other parts of the UK.  The not so big, but still pretty big, Lady Evelyn Water Wheel crushed the rock.  Midway between the two was a smaller, but still large corn water wheel at the grain mill.

In the late Victorian period water produced electricity, and that allowed the creation of the Manx Electric Railway, an interurban tramway that started service in 1893 and is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year.  It ultimately linked Douglas, the capital, with Laxey, the mining center, and Ramsey in the North.  Victoria did not live to travel the whole route, but King Edward the VII did.  At Laxey the railway connects with the Snaefell Mountain Railway, also Electric, that runs up the mountains toward the mines. We rode the tram to Laxey.

In Douglas the Electric Railway links with the Douglas horse drawn tram line.  We rode that too.  One of the horses, Bobby, was not at all interested in pulling the tram and when they tried to switch him in to replace a horse whose shift was done, he put on a display of passive resistance.  It took several guys to get Bobby hooked to the tram while he either stood fast or tried to walk away.  “Common Bobby, you can do this.”  I am not sure if Bobby was new at the job or old and knew better.

At the South end of Douglas there is real Victorian Steam. Steam locomotives still pull the coaches of the Isle of Man Railway.  It’s a narrow gauge that runs from Douglas south to Port Erin.  This year it celebrates 150 years. While I was disparaging coal and steam at the beginning of this essay, in fact I love steam engines and MUST ride them when I find them. I also like the sweet smell of coal.  It brings me back to my earliest days at my Grandfather McClear’s house, heated with coal because he delivered the stuff, along with ice in the winter.  That was soon replaced by oil as my Grandfather updated his business but that smell is nostalgic for me, of both his house and my Great Grandfather’s store in Jersey City, heated by coal in a pot belly stove on which he threw orange peel to sweeten the smell.

There was one more Victorian touch.  The red Royal Mail post drop boxes were very old.  They did not have the familiar E II R monogram but rather VR.  These drop boxes were over a century old, still in use from the time of Queen Victoria’s reign.  In a modern touch, I noticed that the red telephone call boxes that used to be ubiquitous in Great Britain have been repurposed as public defibrillator stations.

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