Steam punk without the steam

by Andrea Elizabeth

I think Roy Underhill from The Woodwright’s Shop is my closest person to a kindred spirit as far as technology goes. I like engineering that makes work easier so that you can do harder things, but without fuel driven engines. Wind up clocks, levers, and bicycle chains are genius to me. But can a blacksmith make these machines using only a fire? Apparently not. (Addendum: What about the ancient Antikythera mechanism?

“The gear teeth were in the form of equilateral triangles with an average circular pitch of 1.6 mm, an average wheel thickness of 1.4 mm and an average air gap between gears of 1.2 mm. The teeth probably were created from a blank bronze round using hand tools; this is evident because not all of them are even.[6] Due to advances in imaging and X-ray technology it is now possible to know the precise number of teeth and size of the gears within the located fragments. Thus the basic operation of the device is no longer a mystery and has been replicated accurately. The major unknown remains, the question of the presence and nature of any planet indicators.[31]:8″)

Water and wind mills are ok, but big, loud, polluting engines and machines are not. I suppose if I go back to before the industrial revolution I’d have to develop more muscles to be able to canoe the Brazos the 20 mile stretch Rachel and I kayaked with high tech, fast propelling human-power pedals in one day Tuesday. It’s a trip I researched for a couple of months before conditions were perfect to actually do it. I wrote about our epic adventures yesterday in installments on my I’d Rather Be Hiking blog. Here’s the first post, second, third, fourth, and fifth.

Our trip was also dependent on gps navigation, speed tracking, texting in the two spots with coverage, and machine made waterproof cellphone, beverage and food containers.

It’s one thing to have designated locations to pollutedly produce tools that don’t themselves pollute, but another to produce things like gas engines that each individual will use in all locations.

Since I do like my cell phone and Mirage Drives, I suppose I want them produced in more environmentally friendly ways with more efficient ways of producing power like ugly solar panels and bird and fish killing wind and tide driven propellers. But if people used high tech human powered tools then there would be less need for these power sources which would be smaller and there would be less of them. Such as if my pedal power could generate my phone. Exercise bike driven household appliances is a bit boring for me, but if you could generate a battery by biking on a trail that would then be charged enough to power your home, then nature trails would be seen less as a luxury for the leisure class and more like productive work so that restoring and making land available for nature trails would be seen as valuable to conservatives as well as liberals, the poor and the rich. We would all become more power-conscious too and not use it so extravagantly, and everyone would be healthier so there would be less medical bills for obese people with clogged arteries and thus cheaper insurance for everyone.

I suppose that I’m a techno evolutionist who believes we can progress out of the awkward, ugly stage of technology.

I’m going to give primitivity another shot though by reading John Grave’s book that’s been on my shelf all of my life called, Goodbye to a River. Here’s the Amazon review:

“In the 1950s, a series of dams was proposed along the Brazos River in north-central Texas. For John Graves, this project meant that if the stream’s regimen was thus changed, the beautiful and sometimes brutal surrounding countryside would also change, as would the lives of the people whose rugged ancestors had eked out an existence there. Graves therefore decided to visit that stretch of the river, which he had known intimately as a youth.

Goodbye to a River is his account of that farewell canoe voyage. As he braves rapids and fatigue and the fickle autumn weather, he muses upon old blood feuds of the region and violent skirmishes with native tribes, and retells wild stories of courage and cowardice and deceit that shaped both the river’s people and the land during frontier times and later. Nearly half a century after its initial publication, Goodbye to a River is a true American classic, a vivid narrative about an exciting journey and a powerful tribute to a vanishing way of life and its ever-changing natural environment.”

Wikipedia adds, “The book is acclaimed as a work of both conservationism and history and has been compared to Walden by Henry David Thoreau.”