Steam Geek

Maunsell Towers

From the Steam Geek archives-

The Maunsell Towers were set up to provide anti aircraft defence in the Thames Estuary during World War Two. Each “fort” comprised of one Bofors tower, a control tower, four gun towers and a searchlight tower. Three forts were built Nore Army Fort, the Red Sands Army Fort and the Shivering Sands Army Fort, of which the latter two still stand, more or less.

Wikipedia on Maunsell Forts.

Project Red Sands.

Sealand, most famous of the offshore forts, with plans

via BoingBoing

I think I want a flying hydrofoil

The X-Planes tumbleblog has been doing a special feature on the Schneider trophy. The race was for flying boats and the floats they needed slowed the planes down. In 1929 the Italians came up with a typically gorgeous but mad design that tried to get around this. The Piaggio-Pegna PC.7 had a fuselage that doubled as a hull, two little hydrofoils instead of floats and a screw and rudder that would power and control the aircraft whilst the propeller was submerged. When it reached a sufficient speed the hydrofoils would lift the body, and propeller, clear of the water and the drive could be switched over. The one seated plane had too many controls that neede attention at once for one man to be able to operate it.

It’s completely mad, and it looks like the sort of thing you’d see in an anime or propellerpunk alternate history. It never flew.

Bizarre Ships- Monitors

Monitor1 Monitor2

The Monitor and its offspring were probably the first modern battleships. Having guns in a rotating armoured turret and presenting very little structure above water, the Monitor was effective against the tall fixed gun ships of the day. It’s first battle was, famously, against the Merrimac- a sort of floating fort captured and modified by the South.

More at The Monitor Centre and the US Navy’s own site.

Bizarre Ships- American River Steamers

From the Steam Geek archives-

I’m not sure what etiquette, if any, covers the scanning of pages from out of print books to post on the internet for the edification of others. So for this chapter I’m just going to sample a few pages. Admittedly, they are the ones with pictures on them.

We all know what an American river steamer looks like from Westerns and musicals. What I never knew was that they were incredibly shallow draught craft, to navigate up the rivers. Because Iron was at a premium at the time, they utilised wood for as much as possible, including the drive shaft.

bzsteamer1 bzsteamer2

bzsteamer3 bzsteamer4

There were two distinct styles of river boat, the Easter and Western. Eastern boats ran up the Hudson and in the Long Island Sound, Western boats in the Mississippi- Missouri- Arkansas- Ohio- Red River basin. Various quirks of design made them unstable and the Western boats were intentionally built for a short life because they were likely to rip their hulls apart on concealed tree trunks or be otherwise disabled within five years. (A “Sawyer” was a floating tree entangled by its roots and alternately raised and depressed by the force of the current; it usually gave warning of its presence. Presumably where Mark Twain got the name for his character as well.)

More information about modern steamboats at

La Resistance

From the Steam Geek archives-

Not about technology, but interesting. The Covert Side of Reconstructing History.

This work will allow the novice re-enactor of Resistance and Special Operations Executive agents to select clothing and accoutrements appropriately — with historical accuracy. The portrayal of civilians — whether clandestine operatives or real civilians — in World War II reenactment circles has been the topic of hot debate, as some reenactors in the past have been, shall we say, less than exemplary in their chosen impression. We intend to change that. The organisation which sponsors this work reveres historical accuracy. The best way to achieve accuracy is through thorough and often cumbersome research, from which conclusions are drawn and standards adopted. Since this method has been followed, therefore, all the following conclusions may be considered accurate. By no means does this imply that the following are dogma, never to be gainsaid. If new information and research is brought to our attention, we shall at once join the queue to peruse it. If we, after the normal course of debate, find our earlier conclusions to be faulty, we will change them. We (especially Bob, who can barely read) do not pretend to be PhD-level experts on WWII-era fashion, textiles, and such; we just follow the pictures.

In a similar vein- the Churnet Valley Railway 1940s weekend.

Bizarre Ships of the Nineteenth Century

From the Steam Geek archives-

Round3 Cigar6

A terrible thing happened to me late last year. Whilst walking through the Central Library I passed a shelf with a sign on it saying “All books 50p”.

I bought a lot of them.

Most of the books have subject matter suitable for Steam Geek, so I’m going to start scanning some of the images from them and posting them here.

First up is Bizarre Ships of the Nineteenth Century by John Guthrie. Published by Hutchinson Scientific and Technical in 1970. From the Editor’s Note-

This series of books is primarily intended to be of interest to those professionally concerned with the design, construction and operation of ships and other marine vehicles. Many remarkable changes are now taking place in the size, shape, speed and capability of conventional ships of all types, while hovercraft, hydrofoil ships and other unusual vessels are beginning to have a striking effect on the maritime scene. Technical staff and management increasingly need up-to-date design data and specialist information on a wide range of topics, and it is hoped that most books in the series will be of direct value to them, and to many students at universities and technical colleges.

In addition to specialist monographs and student textbooks, the series also includes books having a broad appeal to all those who want to know more about the fascinating variety of craft which can be seen in ports, on rivers and at sea: this book is one of that group. Its principal purpose is to remind us of some of the odd and highly unorthodox vessels which have played a minor but not inglorious role in the development of the modern ship. This chapter of nautical history is easily overlooked and often decried, but many of the freak ships built a century ago taught a technical lesson which had to be learnt the hard way and which is not always fully understood even to-day. Quite apart from its professional value, this story of the mostly unsuccessful, but always brave, attempts of bold inventors and enthusiastic cranks has a personal appeal which is difficult to resist. It is written simply and directly by a ship surveyor with a lifelong experience of all types of craft and an enduring passion for the telling details which are essential to a real understanding of the way in which ships, large or small, successes or failure, matter to the men who design and build them and then risk their lives to test their belief in something different.

Daddy Long Legs

From the Steam Geek archives-

It’s a good day for steampunk at BoingBoing. As well as the pneumatic underground they also point to the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Elecric Railway, which operated between 1896 and 1901. The carriage was mounted on legs so that it stood 24 feet above the submerged rails. At high tide it could manage no more than 2 miles per hour and required a qualified sea captain, life boats and other rescue equipment at all times because it was travelling in the sea.

The Beach Pneumatic Subway System

From the Steam Geek archives-

The Beach Pneumatic Subway System was an early rapid transit plan for New York. For various reasons it failed and only a few hidden mementoes and original documentation remain to remember it by.

Joseph Brennan, the sort of steam geek I want to be when I grow up, has researched the history of the Beach Pneumatic and produced a book about it.

via BoingBoing

Fairey Rotodyne

Steam Geek was a companion to Scale, where I posted about cool old technology, particularly of the “What if?” variety. As it’s been dormant for a while I think it’s time to bring its archives across to Spinneyhead. Some of these links may no longer work.

I won an Airfix model of a Fairey Rotodyne through EBay, so the helicopter/plane hybrid made a good subject for a first post. I was a little lazy and just rounded up data from the Internet-


The Fairey Rotodyne was a compound helicopter of unprecedented size at the time of it’s first flight on 6 Nov. 1957, having originally been ordered by the then British Ministry of Supply, later the ministry of Aviation, in August of 1953.

First Flight : November 6, 1957

Engines: 2 * 2.800 hp Napier Eland NEL7
Cruise Speed: 300 km/h
Range: 700 km
Weight: Max: 14.900 Kgs
Rotor Span: 27.43 m
Length: 17.88 m
Height: 6.76 m
Disc Area: 591 m2


The Rotodyne was extremely large, with a cabin volume of 93m3 cubic feet. The logistical attributes of the machine were considerable with rear clam-shell doors allowing the loading of large motor vehicles. A forward-located door permitted simultaneous entry and exit of passengers, which would have allowed a quick turn-around in a commercial airline operation.

It was estimated that a passenger load of as many as 48 could have been carried by the Rotodyne. That passenger compartment was 14m long, 2.4m wide, and 1.8m in height.

Scale Model Aircraft Kit Reviews has two build articles on the Airfix kit, one in original livery and one in imaginary Qantas colours

Groen Brothers excerpts an article about the role the Rotodyne would have played in cutting intercity congestion

The Fairey Rotodyne originated from an idea for a large compound helicopter by Dr. J. A. J. Bennett and Capt. A. G. Forsyth of Fairey Aviation, whose original study dates back to 1947. Their concept evolved into the “Eland” Rotodyne prototype, which sucessfully completed its maiden flight in November, 1957. Its four-bladed rotor was powered in helicopter mode by tip jets, driven by compressed air. This compressed air was lit with fuel at tip jet combustion chambers to drive the rotor, removing the necessity for an anti-torque tail rotor. The tip jets were extinguished at about 60 mph after a normal helicopter takeoff, converting the aircraft to an autogiro. In autogiro mode the collective pitch of the rotor blades, and hence rotor lift, was reduced with up to about half the weight taken by the wings, allowing much higher speeds than conventional. When approaching to land the tips were relit, converting the aircraft back to helicopter mode for a normal helicopter hover and landing.

And that’s just the first few results from a Google search. I’ll be mining the results for further info as the build approaches.