Seeing Monitor’s Steam Engine

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Last week I took a few minutes to visit the Conservation wet lab to visit Monitor‘s main engine, the first time I had seen it with the tank drained.

Before I say anything about this experience, I ought to say that I love steam engines, have loved them ever since I was a child.  Like so much nineteenth century technology, the steam engine seemed to me  imaginative, almost pre-scientific (though based on sound science).  I don’t know a thing about steam engines, honestly, but I love them because I find them beautiful.  Their movements are graceful, their lines and curves are elegant.  Their great exposed connecting rods, intricate gearing, the eliptical shapes of the eccentrics, have something of the animate about them.  In the extravagence of their movement, they seem improbable as machines, so unlike the completely restrained electrical motor.  One can be devoted to them easily.   Read more

Panama Canal

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The Panama Canal, as sketched by CLinton Havill in July, 1915

Lloyd’s Casualty Week for December 10 just arrived this morning at the library.  Along with the usual information about vessels grounded, stranded, disabled, sunk, captured by pirates, or embroiled in civil unrest or labor disputes, there was an interesting note about the Panama Canal.  Lloyd’s reports that for the first time in 20 years, the Canal has been closed down.  Heavy rains filled up the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes, making the transit through them unsafe and forcing traffic to a halt.  They are expecting a backlog of 60 ships by Friday, and as much as a two-day wait for vessels arriving without a booking. 

This is a bit more than a blip in worldwide sea traffic.  The Canal handles up to 5% of the world’s seaborne commerce, according to Lloyd’s.  The Panama Canal Authority (ACP), through its vice-president Manuel Benitez, says they are “planning to open flood gates to relieve one of the lakes.”   Read more