B.G. Hilton – Writer

Steam and Steel – the Powerhouse Museum

I don’t think it would surprise anyone who has read Champagne Charlie and the Amazing Gladys to learn that I love Steampunk. And a big part of that is my love of steam technology. There’s just something about a steam engine — the size, the noise, the heat. But more than that, unlike anything built today you can see how it works.

I mean, to a point obviously. I’m no engineer, and if you asked me why is this tube exactly this diameter or why is this piston exactly this length, I couldn’t begin to tell you. But you can at least get the gist of it — where the power comes from and how that makes it move.

This is part of why I’ve always loved the Powerhouse Museum in my hometown of Sydney. It has an excellent collection of steam engines, including two steam locomotives, a collection of engines that actually run during the day and the (sadly currently inoperative) bad boy in the above picture, an actual Boulton and Watt engine from the late 18th Century. There’s a YouTube clip of it in operation here. The most fascinating thing is the sun-and-planet gears at the centre. Watt made some wonderful advances to steam technology, but he didn’t quite catch onto the idea of turning piston motion into rotary motion with a simple crank.

The Museum was closed a few months due to Covid, and I’ve just recently got to go back and see it, and I find I’d missed the place. I won’t say it’s the most Steampunk museum I’ve been too. That would probably be the Teylers Museum in the Netherlands (and more on that another time), but it’s a lovely bunch of steam-tech within a short distance of my house, and it’s making me a very happy fellow now that it’s reopened.

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