steam organs

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Wed Nov 10 11:37:12 EST 1999

> << Anyway - if indeed there never have been steam organs in our world, that's
> a
> clever little conceit of dwj's. Something that could and should have been
> invented, but wasn't. There's a big famous one in the Dalemark books and one
> on the paddleboat right at the beginning of Charmed Life.
>  >>
> Er, actually I suspect there have. Wasn't it a small steam organ that PDQ
> Bach used to tour with (it's been some 20 years since I saw the show, so I'm
> not sure, but it was a keyboard instrument, and ISTR had a boiler attached.

I never saw that show - wasn't the original PDQ Bach Percy Grainger or someone?
- but I think that many fairground organs were powered by steam before they were
converted to electricity or petrol or whatever runs them now.  In fact, I'm sure
I have seen an installation consisting of steam traction engine, fairground
organ in trailer; engine has steam up and is turning a generator (or possibly
even a compressor) that is running the organ...

I am fairly certain that the organ on the Saucy Nancy was a fairground organ
type installation.  The narrative in charmed life suggests that steam was
actually passing through the organ pipes but I think that this wouldn't work,
organ pipes being notoriously temperature-sensitive, and steam "screaming from
broken pipes" was the supply to the compressor not broken organ pipes.

The organ at Hannart was altogether more impressive, and surprisingly old, but
you have to realise that the very early steam engines (say, in this world, 70
years before James Watt, or in Dalemark, a couple of centuries before Alk) were
generally stationary beam engines - the cylinder is mounted vertically and pulls
down one end of the beam, which works like a see-saw.  The return stroke relies
on the sheer weight of whatever is on the other end of the beam.

This set-up doesn't do rotary motion very well, but is very good for pumps and -
as at Hannart - bellows...  (it is also not very efficient, relying on
condensing the steam to draw a vacuum in the cylinder for _all_ the power, but
this is hardly the place for such a discussion) ... In our world, it was put to
a far more prosaic use :-) and ran forges and blast furnaces and things for much
of the 18th century.


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