Admiral J. Wilhelm talks about Austin’s various Steampunk groups

The Admi­ral of Texas Steam­punks, por­trait by Sam Marx, Third Space Pho­to

Austin is home to sev­er­al active Steam­punk groups. There is the Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety, Texas Steam­punks, Texas Steam­punk, and Air­ship Isabel­la. Each group have their own unique activ­i­ties, but also crossover with each oth­er to par­tic­i­pate in big­ger events. In fact, to an out­sider, fig­ur­ing out who is who, and where, can be con­fus­ing, so S. J. sat down (for an e-mail chat) with Texas Steam­punks founder Admi­ral J. Wil­helm, a. k. a. Johannes Wil­helm Dunn, to shed fur­ther light on Steam­punk in The Lone Star state. S. J. want­ed me to dis­close that she first became acquaint­ed with the Admi­ral dur­ing the SPB’s ini­tial call for sub­mis­sions, and was thrilled when he and his fel­low com­pa­tri­ot, Arvis, shared their won­der­ful inven­tions and expe­ri­ences at the Steam­punk Bible Book Release Par­ty at the U. S. Arts Author­i­ty.

SJC: How did you get into Steam­punk?

JW: In real life, I’m an unem­ployed Mas­ters in Aero­space Engi­neer­ing (grad­u­ate Univ. Texas at Austin). I’m using Steam­punk to keep my san­i­ty so to speak (by employ­ing a type of con­trolled insan­i­ty) in this very harsh time for me (bank­rupt­cy and clos­ing two busi­ness­es in 2009). I entered the Steam­punk world around Sept 2009, and actu­al­ly start­ed by build­ing “Cal­cu­la­tion Engines” (com­put­ers) in Steam­punk style. Most­ly I start­ed with elec­tron­ics like PC’s and watch­es but now I have moved to include “wear­ables” such as bracelets and jew­el­ry.

As a back­ground to all my devices, I made up a lit­tle sto­ry, and I fan­ta­size about writ­ing my own nov­el, or co-writ­ing with some­one. Being an aero­nau­ti­cal engi­neer I had to pick some­thing along the lines, so I chose to be a young air­ship Cap­tain in the Unit­ed States Air­ship Com­mand (like the US Air Force) dur­ing the Civ­il War and Recon­struc­tion eras.

Sam Marx, Third Space Pho­to

SJC: And who is this young air­ship Cap­tain in the US Air­ship Com­mand?

JW: Johannes Wil­helm Dunn was way too young to be a cap­tain dur­ing the Civ­il War, but he made his name by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the impor­tant cap­ture of the Con­fed­er­ate Air­ship CSAA Alamo, over Mex­i­can air­space. At the time (in real life), the Amer­i­can Union forces sup­port­ed the repub­li­can gov­ern­ment of the Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent-in-exile Ben­i­to Juarez, while the Con­fed­er­ate forces sup­port­ed the Impe­r­i­al gov­ern­ment of Max­i­m­il­ian I, an Aus­tri­an prince invit­ed by the Mex­i­can nobil­i­ty to cre­ate a “Sec­ond Empire” in Mex­i­co dur­ing the French occu­pa­tion. (This whole part about Mex­i­can his­to­ry and the Civ­il War is all true and accu­rate by the way! Google it!).

The Fair Ladies of Texas Steam­punks, Sam Marx, Third Space Pho­to

In an alter­nate time­line, the Unit­ed States and the Con­fed­er­ate States com­mon­ly used Air­ships above the Mex­i­can desert to car­ry, pro­vide, and sup­port troops which had spilled into Mex­i­can ter­ri­to­ry, as the Civ­il War was much more intense than in real life. Of course both Amer­i­can sides had “secret weapons.” The CSAA Alamo was an ultra high-tech rigid air­ship in the shape of a whale, with func­tion­al ven­tral and dor­sal fins, and capa­ble of rapid maneu­ver­abil­i­ty, speed, and extreme alti­tudes with a pres­sur­ized cab­in. Hence, to the Union, the Alamo was a “high val­ue tar­get,” (some­what sim­i­lar to the sub­ma­rine in the novel/movie Hunt for Red Octo­ber). After com­man­deer­ing the Alamo, Wil­helm rechris­tened the ves­sel “Unit­ed States Air­ship Orca,” and the ves­sel was retro­fit­ted for sci­en­tif­ic research, as it was no longer of sig­nif­i­cant use dur­ing the Indi­an Wars.

After the war, Wil­helm, still hold­ing the sci­en­tif­ic ves­sel USAS Orca, was pro­gres­sive­ly pro­mot­ed to Admi­ral, and dur­ing the Recon­struc­tion era he “retired” from bel­li­cose efforts (dur­ing the Indi­an War peri­od, 1880’s), but now with con­trol of the Unit­ed States Office of Atmos­pher­ic Research, a sci­en­tif­ic research divi­sion of the US Air­ship Com­mand (equiv­a­lent to the US Air Force). Dur­ing the late 1880’s the entire Office of Atmos­pher­ic Research, essen­tial­ly a fly­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry, was fit­ted into the USAS Orca, and Wil­helm direct­ed dis­cov­ery expe­di­tions and occa­sion­al­ly covert mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance mis­sions over the Arc­tic Ocean and North Pole (same role as 20th cen­tu­ry sub­marines in Arc­tic waters). This is the peri­od when fly­ing, mag­net­i­cal­ly lev­i­tat­ed “Pigmy Krak­en” were dis­cov­ered in the low­er Stratos­phere (above 30,000 ft.). That’s why I make all these cop­per squids you see in my web­site.…

Like I said, Con­trolled Insan­i­ty!

Arvis of Texas Steam­punks, por­trait by Sam Marx, Third Space Pho­to

SJC: Steam­punk is alive and well in Austin, in fact there are three or four active groups. Would you mind clar­i­fy­ing for me, and for our read­ers, who and what those groups are?

JW: There are 3 sep­a­rate groups in Austin with some mem­bers attend­ing more that one group, and in some cas­es all three. I should tell you I have not par­tic­i­pat­ed yet in the Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety meet­ings yet, as this is a sep­a­rate group from mine.

My group falls under the “Texas Steam­punks, a.k.a. Texas Steam­punks at ning.com (for­mer­ly Sea­holm Steam and Diesel at livejournal.com), which is kind of hard to dis­tin­guish from the Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety on Face­book. And to con­fuse mat­ters worse, there is anoth­er Face­book group called “Texas Steam­punk” (notice sin­gu­lar “steam­punk” not “steam­punks”), which now start­ed the brand new texas-steampunk.com self-host­ed web­site.

I’m hop­ing the lat­ter self-host­ed site will take over all groups and elim­i­nate the ning, Face­book, and live­jour­nal forums, but you will see par­tic­i­pa­tion at the new web­site, texas-steampunk.com, has just bare­ly start­ed.

So to sum­ma­rize, the three groups are: a) Texas Steam­punks (our group and old­est group I believe); b) Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety; c) Texas Steam­punk (newest).

A “fourth” group would be “Air­ship Isabel­la,” a local for-hire trav­el­ling troop of actors who play the role of “Air­ship Pirates,” but I don’t know whether to con­sid­er them a sep­a­rate forum (airshipisabella.com). They most­ly attend var­i­ous major and minor events around the coun­try.

I fig­ure the three groups will join togeth­er at some point, (although I’ll try to push for a dif­fer­ent moniker oth­er than Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety, if you con­sid­er the result­ing acronym!).

SJC: And what does each group do in the way of activ­i­ties, and where could inter­est­ed per­sons find you all?

Mem­bers of Texas Steam­punks pose for Sam Marx, Third Space Pho­tos

JW: The activ­i­ties of Texas Steam­punks should be viewed at three lev­els:

At the first lev­el (me and oth­ers at ning.com) essen­tial­ly cov­er infor­mal biweek­ly meet­ings, at a local cafe (Epoch cafe near the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas cam­pus), where we dis­cuss cur­rent issues, share tips and art­work, and gen­er­al­ly plan to take over the world by way of mer­ci­less Steam­punk dom­i­na­tion (ha, ha! Just jok­ing). We have gad­get mak­ers, artists and gen­er­al folk dress­ing up as top­ics of dis­cus­sion.

The sec­ond lev­el is a month­ly par­tic­i­pa­tion in a South Austin event called “First Thurs­day,” essen­tial­ly a stroll for the gen­er­al pub­lic around the trendy/artsy/hippie dis­trict of South Con­gress Ave., or “SoCo” as the locals call it, see. And in that event we dress up in full Vic­to­ri­ana and stroll up and down South Con­gress among the Antique Stores, Arti­san Shops, and open mar­kets. This is the best iden­ti­fi­able and most unique fea­ture of Texas Steam­punks, I think, much like our UK coun­ter­parts who par­tic­i­pate in city-wide events.

In the same sec­ond lev­el, we also have month­ly or so meet­ings at a local tav­ern (Opal Divine’s in South Austin), orga­nized by Sama­ra Tyler, the own­er of “The Mys­teri­um,” a Steam­punk shop in South Austin. The event is usu­al­ly a cos­tum­ing and mechan­i­cal show­case as much as a social gath­er­ing. This event has proved more use­ful to bring all three groups togeth­er, and I’m sur­prised how a trip to the pub can grease the gears and sprock­ets of Steam­punk par­tic­i­pa­tion!!! This is where you see most “cross-pol­li­na­tion” between the groups, with excep­tion of the “Third Lev­el” of activ­i­ties.

The third lev­el of par­tic­i­pa­tion is attend­ing a few year­ly events, like for exam­ple a myr­i­ad of “sub-events” dur­ing Austin’s famous “South by South­west” (SXSW) music fes­ti­val every March, or so.

For exam­ple, “Big Bang Bor­del­lo,” (a live music and *ahem* old-fash­ioned bur­lesque show with a Steam­punk theme) took place as part of SXSW at a venue called Emo’s in the 6th St. Dis­trict of Austin, and I saw steamed and non-steamed peo­ple from around the world (attract­ed by SXSW) flood the venue among them some of our mem­bers. Real­ly, at this event, I saw many Steam­punks or Steam­punk wannabe’s whom I have nev­er seen before.

Also, a year­ly event (this time coin­cid­ing also with SXSW) is the annu­al Steam­punk Ball at a dance/live music venue known as Ely­si­um, also in the 6th Street Dis­trict. The event usu­al­ly has cos­tum­ing con­tests, although I will con­fess that no waltzes were danced at all, regret­tably (and I do mean regret­tably as I seem to be the only one trained in ball­room danc­ing!).

And last but not least is, in the third lev­el, of course, par­tic­i­pa­tion at the local con­ven­tions and large events, like “Green Steam Cir­cus” around May last year, and San Antonio’s Steam­punk con­ven­tion, “Aether­fest,” which just took place simul­ta­ne­ous­ly to The Steam­punk Bible release, thus, unfor­tu­nate­ly rob­bing some atten­dance to the lat­ter.

SJC: Thank you, Admi­ral, it was a plea­sure, and thank you for com­ing out to the release.

For more infor­ma­tion on Austin and Texas Steam­punk, you can peruse the fol­low­ing:

Texas Steam­punks, for­mer­ly Sea­holm Steam & Diesel.

Texas Steam­punk (that’s sans “s”).

Air­ship Iss­abel­la

Austin Steam­punk Soci­ety

Images were tak­en by Sam Marx of Third Space Pho­to in Austin, TX, and are used with his per­mis­sion.

The above ori­gins sto­ry of Admi­ral J. Wil­helm is © 2011, John William Dunn. All rights Reserved.

“Admiral J. Wilhelm talks about Austin’s various Steampunk groups” was published in 2.0 exclusive material, Groups, Interviews.

One Response to Admiral J. Wilhelm talks about Austin’s various Steampunk groups

  1. Penny Neff says:

    Dear Fel­low Steam­Punk Fans,
    I am try­ing to share good news with all Texas Steam­Punk Fans that there is Steam­Punk Tele­vi­sion in the works.
    Exec­u­tive Pro­duc­er, Bruce Boxliet­ner, is cre­at­ing a TV Series called Bruce Boxlietner’s Lantern City where steam­punk fans can help cre­ate the pro­duc­tion.

    Please pass the word in Texas. Go to: Bruce Boxlienter’s Lantern City and get the steam­punk scoop straight from Bruce and his team.

    Thanks so much,
    Pen­ny
    A STEAMPUNKIN TEXAN