Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gratifications and Steam's Limitations Part 2: Gimme Fuel Gimme Fire

First off, I want to thank everyone who commented on the sample pages I posted Friday. Your thoughtful criticisms (and emails) have been read/considered/responded to. I'm gratified that you all loved the concept and the execution in the short amount of text I offered up.

Because of said commentary, I've made several changes to those first few pages that may or may not mean I have to change some other stuff in the novel thus far. That revamping is going to wait until the draft is done though (33,467 words as of this writing -- a third of my projected word count). And now, onto Part 2 of Steam's Limitations! Part 1 is here.

Gimme Fuel Gimme Fire

As I stated before, fuel storage is one of the major concerns with steam-powered equipment. In the movie Khartoum (1966), there's a scene where Col. Stewart takes the Europeans from the titular city up the Nile in a steamboat. This steamboat dragged two rowboats big enough for two dozen men -- and filled with wood for the boiler -- behind it. If either of these two ships was eliminated by enemies of the British soldiers manning the steamboat, the vessel wouldn't be able to keep up any sort of speedy pace.

The same is true of any steam-powered vessel. It's all well and good to have enough fuel to start your steam car, but if you don't carry/scrounge for enough fuel to keep it moving ... well then you have a problem. Potential solutions vary with the size of the vessel and how far it has to go. A large naval/aerial steam vessel, like in the previous post, would require their fuel to be easily accessible from the engine room. This means placing access to the coal/wood storage room (or a pile of said fuel) next to the boilers themselves so the person feeding the engine can keep doing so.

If you want to get fancy, you can have a lever that automatically feeds the boiler set next to the driver/helmsman. I actually suggest this for something like a steam car or any other wheeled vehicle that's only meant to carry one or two people. That way you don't have to stop the action to refuel. And as we all know, stopping the action is one of the things a good writer doesn't want to do.

Part 3 will be on supplying the water needed to create the steam that makes the engine run.


Susan R. Mills said...

This is all fascinating. Great thought about the automatic lever. No, we wouldn't want to have to stop the action to refuel. I can't wait to read Part 3.

Natalie said...

So interesting. I'm curious, were there actually any aerial steam vessels (like a steam balloon or blimp or something)?

L. T. Host said...

Oh! Hey! Completely off topic but I totally meant to share this with you, in case you haven't already seen it:


Great post, I can't wait for part 3 :)

Anita Saxena said...

Very intriguing. Thanks for sharing.

Matthew Delman said...

Natalie --

Henri Giffard built a steam-powered dirigible in the 1850s that he flew from Paris to Trappes. It was, in fact, quite serviceable for passenger use.

Joshua McCune said...

This is giving me bad flashbacks to Thermodynamics classes from college... :)

Matthew Delman said...

Oh there'll be a post on Thermodynamics, Bane. Don't you worry about that. ;)