All Steamed Up

Adolph Schmidt sat in an inn in Badenburg the evening of his father’s wedding to Ramona Higgins, caught between wishing the Ring of Fire hadn’t happened and thankful it had. Up-timers, he thought as he sipped his beer, are rude, self-centered jerks . . . who are the making of my family. Adolph was bit ambivalent about up-timers. About the fact that while others were being promoted around him, he was being held down by his father, Karl. Who doted on David Bartley. I’ll commit a war crime . . . well, maybe just murder, if one more stupid up-timer asshole says “sieg heil“to me.At the same time there is the knowledge they bring . . . the family is already much richer than it ever would have been in the old history.And there are the other things that up-timers brought, like knowledge of electricity. Which brought him full circle. Adolph had been trying to get some interest in the notion of small-scale electric plants in the weeks leading up to the wedding. He hadn’t been getting that far, but was making slow progress.

Now the Partow twins, Brent and Trent, just mentioned that it’s one of the projects that they are interested in and people are falling all over themselves to invest. It just isn’t fair. And it seemed that his father, who was at best neutral to the idea when Adolph brought it to him, was already involved in the planning to set up this new mutual fund to finance the twin up-timer mechanical geniuses in doing it. It just isn’t fair. Adolph had another swig of beer.


The next morning Adolph had a horrible headache and his father was off on his wedding trip, what the up-timers called a honeymoon. Adolph was left to run things but not really in charge. Responsibility without authority. Adolph was expected to manage things without making any decisions more than the most minor. Success was expected and would be ignored, failure would be more proof that he wasn’t ready for a real leadership position.

The Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation, the Badenburg Sewing Machine factory, the Badenburg electroplating shop, and the other companies owned in whole or in part by HSMC chugged along smoothly under Adolph’s management. He made three trips to Grantville to arrange for the production of devices that certain of the businesses would need. One of them took him to the Grantville high school where the concrete program was just getting started. Yes, they could make him concrete but the cost would be high and the quality not great. After some discussion he decided to go with stone and mortar. He noticed in passing several of the up-timer girls in the hall and was noticed in turn. Adolph had apprenticed to a blacksmith; he was a young, healthy man who had worked at skilled but hard labor since he was twelve. He was a physically powerful young man and looked it.

He was also the eldest son of the Schmidt family of Badenburg, which meant he was a wealthy young man. He looked that, too.

Since everything was working well there was nothing for Papa to notice when he and Ramona got home. Adolph didn’t even get a “good job.”


Unknown to Adolph, while he had noticed the high school girls, they had noticed him. Questions were asked, a name was discovered. Adolph Schmidt, the son of Karl Schmidt, yes, the one who married Ramona Higgins and bought the HSMC. Rich and going to be richer, considered something of a catch in Badenburg, at least since the Ring of Fire. One of those asking was Heidi Partow. She had had no idea that the twins knew anyone that cute.

Heidi mentioned seeing Adolph Schmidt at school, Brent shrugged.

Heidi mentioned that it would be nice to invite Adolph over to dinner. Brent looked at her. “What’s up?”

“Nothing! I just thought it would be polite.”

Trent looked at Heidi, then at Brent, then back at Heidi. “Oh great! She’s got the hots for Adolph Schmidt.”

“I do not!” was out of Heidi’s mouth long before her brain was engaged. It was like something she would have said when she was twelve, or maybe eight when boys still had cooties. And it made her wonder if maybe she did, a little bit. She had made the suggestion because she had seen the guy and was curious. Granted he wasn’t a member of the nobility, not even the lower nobility, and since the Ring of Fire the possibility of marrying a real prince had become a lot more than a fairytale for up-timer girls. On the other hand, the Schmidt family were the up-and-comers in Badenburg. And, well, he was good looking in a Conan the Barbarian sort of way and he dressed well. But she was really just curious, wasn’t she? It didn’t matter. Trent was going to have to be taught a lesson. Certain youthful acts of indiscretion were brought up. Things the twins really wouldn’t want Mom and Dad to know about.

Adolph Schmidt was invited to the Partow house for dinner.


Adolph had no real clue why he had been invited. Maybe it was to talk about the generator factory they were trying to find the time to set up, he wondered as he rang the doorbell. Adolph was still impressed by doorbells even if he knew better.

Dinner was friendly and fun. The Partow twins were hard not to like; Heidi was pretty bordering on gorgeous and Mr. Partow knew all about engines. They talked horsepower, internal combustion versus steam. Mr. Partow was for internal combustion. It just stood to reason that with the fire inside the engine you got more bang for your buck.

Trent, just being Trent, argued for steam. You got more bang, sure, then had to throw most of it away with a cooling system that added complexity. You needed an electrical system to provide a spark, still more unnecessary complexity.

Adolph joined the fray in defense of Mr. Partow and internal combustion. “Don’t underestimate the craftsmen of our age.”

“Oh, I’m not.” Trent said. “I’ve seen your work, Adolph, and the work of other down-time craftsmen. I know how good you guys are. I don’t doubt for a second that you guys could build an internal combustion engine by hand, given the time. It’s the time that’s the killer. Your time, Adolph, is simply worth too much to waste on handcrafting a radiator.”

“How is it any more wasted on a radiator than it is on a boiler?” Brent piled in on the side of internal combustion.

Now Trent was all alone, trapped, cornered, but not giving up by any means. “Granted it’s too valuable to waste on handcrafting anything that can be machine made, but why pretend that the boiler of a steam engine costs efficiency and ignore the loss of the cooling system in internal combustion? And what about the electrical system? A steam engine uses a constant flame; you don’t need to be worrying about sparking a new explosion fifty times a second. All these extra complexities are extra costs as well.”

“And yet you and Brent are setting up to make generators?” Adolph asked.

“That’s more Brent’s thing than mine,” Trent said. “I was pushing the pedal-powered washing machine.”

“Which is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” Heidi broke in.

“Much as it breaks my heart to disagree with such a beautiful young woman,” Adolph said without feeling or displaying the least bit of heartbreak. In fact, he grinned at her as he continued, “You’re looking at it from the point of view of a woman who has an electric washing machine and the power to run it. Look at it from the point of view of, say, my sisters who have spent time with a wash board and a tub of soapy water. From their point of view, the pedal-powered washing machine that offers the possibility of clean clothing without the red, rough hands and the aching back that comes with the use of washboards is quite the dream come true.”

“Sure, I understand that but if you’re going to build home power plants anyway . . . which Brent is, why bother with the pedal-power washing machine?”

“A couple of reasons,” Adolf said more seriously, “the pedal washing machine is faster to put into production and less expensive. Especially when you add in not only the cost of the electric washing machine, but the power plant as well. Granted the power plant will be useful for many things, but it’s simply too expensive for many a poor family no matter how useful. It will be decades, I fear, before our notion of middle class comes to equal you up-timer’s notion of poor.”

“Which is where saving the lives of husbands that can’t afford to buy power plants comes in,” said Mrs. Partow. “Because you’d better believe that any man who expects me to use a washboard is headed to an early grave,” she added, giving Mr. Partow a hard look.

Mr. Partow cringed which brought general laughter.

“We’re working on the home and small business power plants,” Brent said. “Well, Henry, uh, Hieronymus—what a name—Steiger is working on them and consulting us whenever he runs into a bug. But there are enough bugs still in the system that they’re still essentially hand making them. Which we shouldn’t be doing anyway.”

“They’ll get faster I’m sure.” Mr. Partow said.

“Yep,” Brent agreed. “If Henry can ever get back to building a production facility rather than hand making generators.”

“You could always say no!” Heidi said.

“If only!” Trent said.

“Why can’t you?” Adolph asked.

“Politics!” Brent said it like it was a dirty word. “The mayor of Weimar has to have a generator and has to have it now. Not after we get into production.”

“Oh.” Adolph said. The mayor of Weimar had visited his family a week before and Adolph had mentioned electroplating as a useful business. Adolph hadn’t had any intent to cause the twins grief but the mayor had been going on about needing jobs for the people that were flooding into Weimar now that it was considered halfway safe and he really needed businesses. Well, Adolph had set up the electroplating subsidiary for HSMC and it wasn’t like it was something they were keeping secret. Adolph knew of several other operations near Grantville. All using power generated from inside the Ring of Fire but Adolph hadn’t really thought about that. Adolph didn’t ‘fess up but he did feel he had to say something in the mayor’s defense. “They really do need the industry,” he started.

But Trent was already waving. “I know they do. So do the other people that are screaming about needing them now. That’s the problem! If it was just some smuck wanting to show off we’d tell ‘um to go fly a kite with a key tied to it if they wanted juice.

Adolph’s confusion must have shown.

“Never mind. A reference to Ben Franklin,” Trent said. “The point is we do know they need the things which is why we can’t just say no. Even though in the long run it would get more out faster.”

Adolph nodded. He knew about the pressure that up-timers were under to get something out the door now. Heck, HSMC was under the same pressure. He’d also gotten chapter and verse about what a bad idea it was to yield to that pressure if you could possibly avoid it. Always a bad option, if occasionally the best of a bad set of options.

All in all, Adolph found it a quite enjoyable evening and he learned a great deal. As he thought about it over the next several days he began to seriously consider steam as something that would make sense in somewhat the same way that the pedal-powered washing machines did. It was workable. Adolph decided to try to discover just how workable. There had to be something wrong with it. There had to be, else why weren’t they arlredy doing it?


Herr Frystack was reasonably willing to talk about steam engines with Adolph, though his primary interest was trains and the re-creation of the glory days of steam trains. They had several talks and Adolph learned quite a bit. He began to get a feel for how the engines, both steam and internal combustion, worked. Even after a year and more and much of the magic having rubbed off, the how of their working had been abstract, theoretical. Now, talking with Herr Frystack and playing with the working model steam engines with their cylinders and pistons, pushing and pulling against the pressure contained in a cylinder, and then seeing that pressure move the piston and turn the flywheel, it became real for him—as real as his hammer and the fire in his forge. There were more talks over the next weeks with several of the steam heads and a few of the recruits to the cause, both up-timer and down-timer, who had joined since the Ring of Fire. There were books on steam power and the many types of steam engines and on model engines. That is, engines that could be used in models.

Adolph learned what was wrong with steam engines. They were loved. Each steam engine was a thing of beauty, handcrafted by a hobbyist. They weren’t working engines, though they worked quite well. They weren’t factory made by people who made their money by getting them out the door and into the hands of paying customers. They were the products of artists and artisans doing it for the love of the doing. Great stuff; marvelous stuff; glorious stuff; and utterly impractical. It was one of the things that had been hardest to take about what came out of the Ring of Fire and not just for the down-timers, but for the up-timers as well.

It was more the way of going about it than the machines themselves. A power drill is incredibly more efficient than a hand drill, but it is still just a tool. As a tool it spends most of its time sitting on a stool or a table somewhere waiting to be used. Take it and put it in a frame so that a chair leg will fit in the frame just one way and so that pulling the lever will turn on the drill and drill a hole just the right depth and suddenly you have a device that, in combination with others, will turn out a chair leg in a few seconds or a few minutes. What the up-timer historians called the early modern period was the end of the age of the craftsman and the start of the age of the industrial worker. As long as steam engines were produced as works of art, even if they were made using the most modern tools available, they would be too expensive for general use. The trick of it, the horrible degrading trick of it, was taking out craftsmanship and replacing it with standardization and simplification. That was what they did to turn out the quantity of sewing machines they turned out and that was how Adolph would have to do it if he were to produce an affordable steam engine.

One of the example engines had, in the world up-time, run on compressed carbon dioxide. It became the basis on which Adolph designed what he hoped would be his primary engine. The model had only four moving parts, excluding bearings. The modified version would have a couple of extras, to save on wear by replacing the ball with a cap. He would have a cylinder made of four parts bolted together, both because it would be easier to make that way and because it would allow changes to the engine by changing one of the parts. Adolph knew that this would make the engine less robust and heavier at the same time. But it was a matter of needing to replace parts in five years rather than ten and the parts would be easier to replace.

The piston and piston rod go to a crankshaft, which was designed in such a way that more than one piston could be attached, so that the same parts used to make a one-cylinder four-horsepower engine would make a two-cylinder engine and so on. The idea being to have the smallest number of parts make the largest number of engines. That idea might seem to be in conflict with the cylinder being made in four parts bolted together. And, in fact, it was in conflict with it. But while the cylinders could be poured in one piece, the machine tools needed to finish a one-piece cylinder were much more complicated and expensive than the machine tools needed to finish four separate pieces. There are compromises in any design and Adolph had consulted with the twins as well as Herr Frystack several times before he had a proposal that he thought was good enough. All this took a great deal of time, what with Adolph’s day job.


“What’s this?” Karl Schmidt asked as his son handed him the folder.

“It’s a proposal for a new business, Papa.”

“I don’t have time to add another business,” Karl said. Adolph should know that without Karl having to tell him.

“I’ll run it, Papa,” Adolph said. “It’s production steam engines. They are actually easier to build than sewing machines.”

Karl didn’t believe that for a minute and he didn’t have time to go over a pie-in-the-sky proposal from a son who was supposed to be managing much of the day-to-day operations of the Higgins Sewing Machine Corporation. And shouldn’t have time to come up with said pie-in-the-sky proposal in the first place. Who knew what was going wrong at the plant while Adolph screwed around trying to be an up-timer. It didn’t occur to Karl that Adolph was still being paid as a journeyman smith, in fact rather less than a journeyman smith might be hired for in Badenburg today. Adolph hadn’t gotten a raise since the Ring of Fire. Which, if anyone had pointed it out, Karl would have felt that it was perfectly just. After all, Adolph was working for the family business and he wore the best clothing at the family’s expense, ate at the family table . . . the journeyman pay might well be seen as a rather generous allowance. It didn’t occur to Karl—as it doesn’t occur to many parents—that an adult full-time employee who happens to be your son is still an employee. All Karl could see was his son goofing off again when he should have been working. He might have seen more if he had actually looked at the proposal. But he didn’t. Instead he blew up and spent fifteen minutes telling Adolph to stop wasting his time and get back to work.

Adolph took it, as was his habit. Granted, he had sadly unfilial thoughts about hammers and tongs but he took it. He also decided that he had to get away from his father, or at some point those thoughts about hammers and tongs might take on all too real a meaning.


Adolph Schmidt didn’t know what to do, so he talked to his sisters. Who were worried but generally supportive; they knew their father. Unfortunately, there wasn’t all that much they could do. Also, while trying to be modern, Karl was actually more supportive of his daughters’ projects than his son’s. They recommended that he go see David Bartley. Which wasn’t something that Adolph wanted to do. He couldn’t help thinking of his young stepbrother as an interloper in the family. To go to David to get him to intercede with his papa was more than Adolph could bring himself to do.

“No, not that,” His eldest sister Gertrude said. “I doubt David could change Papa’s mind either. You should see if that fund that David runs will fund the new project.”

“David doesn’t run it,” Adolph said, unable to keep the resentment out of his voice. “Frantz Kunze and a board of directors . . . ”

Seeing his sister’s expression he ran down and Gertrude spoke. “That’s just the sort of talk that makes Papa think of you as a child.” She smiled, then, “And it’s also just how Papa sounds when he doesn’t get his way.”

Adolph had to smile at his sister. “How did you grow so wise, little goose?” Giving her the nickname she had hated as a child.

She shook a fist at him, laughing. “I’ll goose you, you. Jerk!” she used an up-timer word. “Seriously though, talk to David. He’s not so bad really, and he’s not trying to displace you in Papa’s heart.”

Adolph grimaced. “I know and that just makes it worse. He’s not trying but he’s still all I hear from Papa.”


Adolph couldn’t bring himself to go to David Bartley, not yet. Instead he went looking for other investors. He was always welcomed in politely; he was always shown the greatest respect. Then he was always asked how much his father was investing. He learned quickly to say he hadn’t asked his father to invest in this, he wanted to do it on his own. Which was in a sense true, he had offered the project to HSMC, not his papa. But it didn’t help. He was a down-timer not an up-timer, he was not yet twenty-five and if Herr Schultz wasn’t involved, no, so sorry, we can’t help you.

Worse, word of his quest for investors got back to his father almost immediately, as Adolph had known it would. That led to a screaming match between him and his father, who still didn’t look at the project.

“The project isn’t the issue,” Karl Schmidt bellowed. “It’s the betrayal.”

“What betrayal?” Adolph bellowed back for once. “I brought it to you for HSMC and you weren’t interested.”

Things went downhill from there. Adolph wasn’t ordered out of the house, not quite. And he wasn’t fired because Karl had no one to replace him with, but Karl was now looking for someone. He told Adolph so that night.


“Yes, we heard about it,” Heidi said. “Why didn’t you take it to your dad first?”

“I did,” Adolph said. “He wasn’t interested.”

“Then what’s he complaining about?” Heidi asked.

Adolph tried to explain but it didn’t seem fair to him either. He’d come to the Partow’s home to try to get the twins endorsement. Brent and Trent were convinced that it was doable—profitable was another question.

“It’s just not what we do,” Brent said. “We figure out how to build stuff and even how to build it without wasting money and so far as I can tell this is a good project as far as these things go. You’re using specialized machines rather than powered handcrafting and that’s good. It’ll increase production and save a fortune in the long run. But will there be a market at the sales price? Talk to David and Sarah.”

Adolph was pretty darn sure there would be a market at the sales price, even if it cost twice what he thought it would to build the engines. What most up-timers didn’t realize was just how expensive even the worst paid labor was at doing physical work that a machine could do. And it wasn’t just adding power Adolph had gotten chapter and verse on Thomas Blanchard and Henry Ford. A backhoe is an incredibly expensive piece of equipment. One had come through the Ring of Fire and two more little ones had been built since. Yes, a backhoe was horribly expensive, especially hand-built in the here and now, but not as expensive as a hundred guys with shovels. Not even if wages paid those hundred guys were so little as to leave them starving to death. He nodded to Brent. “I’m sure it’s viable.”

“I think so too,” Trent said, “but we’ve been wrong before.”


David almost wished it was a crappy idea. Instead he took one look and knew it was a money maker. Adolph, as much as any down-timer, understood how up-timer tech could be integrated with down-timer tech to make stuff with the best compromise between initial investment and long-term costs and it showed. In fact Adolph understood it better than most up-timers. He had seen that the major bottleneck would be skilled labor and maneuvered his business proposal away from that danger. He knew what the down-time foundries could do; he knew just what machines a specialized foundry would need to make the parts for steam engines without depending on skilled labor that didn’t exist. David turned a page. Sales of the first model would pay for the development of later models. Steam had the advantage that it could use anything that burned. Gas, coal, wood, cow chips—if it would burn and boil water, it would power a steam engine, which made it less dependent on any particular fuel supply. With the still heavy restrictions and high cost of gasoline, that was an important consideration. He could see the twins’ fine hands all over the proposal, which said important and encouraging things about Adolph’s ability to accept advice and consult with others on what he didn’t understand himself. In fact, if this was anyone else, David would already have the contracts out.

He told Adolph as much. “Unfortunately, your dad’s been talking to people since you had your fight. I’ve been told that if you brought a project to me I was not to authorize it on my own but bring it to the board.” David shook his head. “Your father has gotten to be an important man and while there are some who resent that, there are a lot more who don’t want to piss him off.”

“So it’s no again?”

“Not necessarily. Frantz Kunze isn’t going to roll over for anyone, not even Karl, and they didn’t say to turn you down, just that they wanted to look at it,” David said. “It’ll take a few days.”

As it turned out it took more than a few days. The Croat raid happened while they were still talking about it. Kaspar Heesters got back from Amsterdam while they were still talking about it, with a shit load of money. But that didn’t help. The problem had never been the money. Finally, on a close vote, the board said no. They said no, though Adolph didn’t know it, out of fear that Karl would be pissed enough to expose the way OPM had been started. Which would still embarrass some very important people, in spite of what it had done since.

Meanwhile, David had decided that aside from being a good investment, what Adolph wanted to do was needed. He wasn’t willing to screw Adolph over, so he talked privately to Frantz Kunze, Sarah Wendell, the Partow twins, and his Grandmother Delia. Then, using HSMC and OPM stock as collateral, they borrowed the money. Sarah, who was handling Jeff and Gretchen’s wedding present by doing exactly what she was doing with her own stock, included them in the deal.

So Schmidt Steam was a lot better funded than HMSC had been and rather better planned as well. The prototype engines, three of them, were built in Twinlo Park, the twin’s research shop. They were, so to speak, handcrafted with machine tools. Because they were being made to test the design. So were the prototype flash boilers, both versions. The engines needed slight tweaking and led to a tweaking of the specialized machine tools that would be used to finish the parts. If the escape valve was shifted a quarter inch to the right, the attachment of the radiator would be easier. So the fitting to the machine that drilled out the escape valve was adjusted so that the cylinder body would rest turned a quarter inch to left. The designs were tweaked, then sent off to Grantville machine shops to have the parts fabricated. All while Adolph was still working for HSMC.

This is the first few thousand words for the rest. You will need to visit the Grantville Gazette where you will find many more fine stories of the 1632 universe. by Paula and I as well as a host of others.



Leave a Reply