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Things to Come

June 30, 2011

Steampunk Sam wants YOU!

I’ve recently become enamored with the possibilities of low technology in the face of peak oil and the unsettled future of climate destabilization. My work with “The Future of the Past” in streetcar technology for my masters thesis is just one example of how low-tech has begun to influence by design thinking. Kris De Decker’s Low-tech Magazine has been a source of infinite inspiration, from the possibilities of actual windMILLS and wind-powered factories to the terrifying energy and pollution footprint of digital technology. There are thousands of low-tech solutions to engineering and design problems which have small or no energy inputs that have been abandoned for no good reason other than they aren’t “the modern thing to do.” One of my favorite articles is this one about hand powered tools, of which I already own a few.

This research into low-tech has intersected with my love of steam locomotives and interest in developments in modern steam technology, like those of L. D. Porta and others. My post on solar steam was the beginning of my research into this topic, and combined with modern steam has motivated me to develop a plan for how these technologies could be implemented close to home.

The Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway, a tourist line in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is home to two steam locomotives that are currently non-operational due to the new Federal Railway Administration (FRA) boiler regulations that went into effect in 2000. Locomotive 201, originally built for the construction of the Panama Canal, was the second steam locomotive I ever encountered, on a trip with my grandparents when I was four or five. Without the star performers, the railway has fallen on hard times and is currently for sale by the family that built it originally in 1985. The railway, in the setting of Victorian-era Eureka Springs, provides the perfect place for the development of a low-tech educational center, including the modern application of things like blacksmithing, woodworking, windmills, bicycles, and, of course, steam locomotives. A variety of biofuels could be tested for steam locomotive use, as well as scientific testing of modern improvements to steam locomotive engineering. The station itself could be turned into a net-zero energy building through the use of low-tech solutions. The embodied energy of the entire operation, as well as the energy it uses, would be tracked in a visible accounting system, with the goal being a near-net-zero railroad. It would be the first completely “green” tourist railroad in North America, and use early 20th century steam locomotives to do it! The idea might all just be dreaming, but it, along with my Springfield Streetcar project, allows me to keep my planning and design skills sharp while I look for work.

Apart from developing a plan for the low-tech center, I will post other applications of low-technology or places where I see low-tech could be easily implemented as the months go on. There will also be some analysis on the emergence of Steampunk culture in the world of art, and how the enthusiasm there could be harnessed for the purposes of sustainability. Stay tuned as I switch into high gear on spreading the word about low-tech, and also continue posting about my model railroad, art, and architecture endeavors. Join the revolution and save the world!

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