Steampunk’d: Rewilding and Steam Technology

Steampunk is a science fiction genre and an aesthetic subculture typified by neo-Victorian design elements including brass, leather, polished wood, clockwork gears and goggles. Popular movies depicting steampunk style include 1999′s Wild Wild West, and Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events.

Does steampunk technology have a place in the rewilder’s vision of the future? Well, sure, some elements might, but I don’t see the return of the sternwheeler or steam locomotive as a step in the right direction. While that melancholy train whistle may sound romantic, these modes of conveyance used shitloads of wood (presumably the most readily available post-apocalyptic source of fuel, although coal and fuel oil were also used) causing massive river bank deforestation and erosion. For example, Flyer, a steamboat built in Portland, Oregon burned 24 cords of wood a day. Most steamboats on the Columbia burned an average or 4 cords of wood an hour, traveling at perhaps 4 miles per hour. For reference a cord of wood is 4 x 4 x 8 feet and the typical amount of wood used to heat a family home is about  3-5 cords per year. The fact is that while they were used for pleasure and travel, as well as commerce, steamboats, and other steam-powered engines would be largely unnecessary in a non-industrialized society.

I did find a fine description of a turkey trap while reading Cutting Wood for the Mississippi Steamboats:

They found a supply of ear corn and they would shell off a few handsful of corn.  They would dig a trench that got a little bit deeper and deeper along.  And then over the end of that trench they would build a house of saplings, just little sticks cut and laid across each other to make a house big enough to hold a turkey or two at the end of this trench that they’d dug.  And as the trench deepened, the turkeys — they would string the corn, one kernel at a time following the other and the turkey would begin eating and would eat his way down to the end.  And when he reached the end where there was no more corn, he’d raise his head up in the air and try to get out.  He didn’t know enough to duck his head down and go out the same way he came in.  And he was trapped inside of the little homemade trap that had been made which was nothing more or less than saplings criss-crossed and made into a little house.

I’m not the first to question the eco-viability of the steampunk movement. Jacob Corvidae waxes philisophical on the romanticization of the steam era while pointing out that perhaps,  “it’s an attempt to reunite our modern technological lives with a crafts-based, hands-on engagement with the materials of our lives”.  Perhaps so, and I have no problem with designs based on the recycling of steel and other non-stone age remnants of civilization, such as the steampunk treehouse below, but have yet to see many practical steam punk inspired items that could be manufactured and used if the entire gas-electric grid were to collapse tomorrow…as it should :)

Designed by Sean Orlando and company, photo by Zachary Wasserman

haha, “donkey puncher”

Traditional NW native canoe building: How’s this for steampunk?