Friday, December 25, 2009

Waterworks Steam Engine - predating Steampunk by over a century

Unlike  an interior shot of the engine room of Captain Nemo's Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this seemingly Jules Verne inspired four story high, triple expansion Levitt Steam engine is absolutely real.

The story is that my friends Jim and Jamie knew the engineer, Bruce, who was in charge of this out-of-commission pumping station that still is located in Chestnut Hill, MA, very close to Boston College.

We made several visits to this amazing time capsule of gages and valves, and an incredible array of German silver fittings, and huge flywheels that went through the floor to the decks below, with cast iron spiral staircases leading to service decks covered with more gages and oilers.

At that time I was the proud owner of a Nikon F with a 50mm F2 lens (the F1.4 was much desired, but costly) and a small supply of Kodak Ektachrome T transparency film with an ASA of 100, process E4.  Film and processing were expensive and I had other things to do with the $10 it would have cost to process this cassette, so I put it aside,  in 1972, only to find again in 2005.

So I sent it to a lab called Rocky Mountain Film Services or something, and they promised to process it properly, and if I was lucky, there would be some image remaining.  After a long wait, I was surprised to see a pile of underexposed prints show up at my door - disappointed and angry I was - because they had processed the E4 film as a color negative!  Aghast I put the film away. What a loss.

Then, last month, I bought an Epson 750 pro film scanner.  This is the same scanner that produced the good scan of Hemlock Gorge that is shown elsewhere on this blog.  So last week I finally pulled out "The Waterworks Negatives" and got to work, using the Epson scan utility, some patience, and a dose of Photoshop, and here is the result.

Click on the image for a larger view.  I think I will do this again, and at even higher resolution.

The Boston or Metropolitan Water Works fell under the Metropolitan District Commission which was eventually folded into the State Police.  A few years ago, the roof of this building had holes in it from neglect, and the brass, steel and wood were badly corroded. Now it is a partially restored museum, and some of the space has been converted into extremely expensive condominiums.


Anonymous said...

Lööks quite beautiful!


Bob Crowley said...

Hope you are having a nice time! Thanks for looking in. This is really a lucky cross processed image I think. Imagine it was in the can as a latent image all that time.

Anonymous said...


Where are you going with this, Bob?

You Know Who

Anonymous said...

I got an Epson v500 photo scanner for Xmas and I haven't hooked it up as I have been busy with other things. Wondering why you bought the 750 pro over other scanners? It certainly works. It is a wonderful photo. I will pass it along to some steam fiends that I know. N1IPP

Bob Crowley said...

I got that one because it works with Silverfast SW, and does a great transparency and negative scan, as well as wet scanning. I have a number of chromes that will get scanned in that way at the highest resolution - amazing how large the files get - one image can fill a DVD.

Larry Killip said...

That is a wonderful picture Bob.

I use a Canoscan 9950 (Canon) to scan my Rolleiflex b/w negs... nice to not need a darkroom cos I do the negs in a development tank using a black bag to load them. Best of both technologies makes doing film easy and rekindled my old hobby. Epson 750 looks interesting.

Bob Crowley said...


Exactly! I use the changing bag and the tank too. The smell of developer and fixer, and the magic of processing, but without all that bother of enlargers and wasted variable contrast photo paper (which we don't need anyway since we manipulate and share images electronically). It's the best of both worlds I think!


Bob Crowley said...

A 35 year old latent image! Who has older?

Bob Crowley said...

Yes I am a little hazy on the exact date, but it had to be 1972 when it was shot. I think I found it when I had my mother's basement cleaned out - that didn't happen until a guy from Ashland helped me - and that was after this blog started. So it could be 2007.

35 years is about right.