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Endeavour’s Fall #29: Eureka

Jul 2, 2017





If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent

-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH



Sam finished his watch and climbed down to his hammock.  With Jack gone, the Endeavour was even more short-handed than ever.  It left little time for sleeping.

Sam loosened his leg, slipped it off and rolled back onto his hammock.  It seemed only a moment passed, and suddenly someone was roughly shaking him awake.  It was Adams.

 “Look!” she said.  “I found them!”

 Sam groggily took in the scene.  Adams was grinning broadly.  She held  two rough metallic stones.  They clung together, until she pulled them apart sharply.  A coil of copper wire dangled on her shoulder.

 “Great!” exclaimed Sam.  Suddenly, sleep was the last thing on his mind.  “Where did you find these?”

 “They were in the ballast box,” said Adams, “under a pail and a packet of chemicals.”

 Sam touched the magnets idly to the copper wire.  As he remembered, they did not interact.  But according to the manuscript, somehow these wires still might conduct the mysterious magnetic fluids.

 Sam shoved the two magnets into Adams hands.  He strapped his leg on and impatiently grabbed them back from her. 

 “Here, I’ll take that wire, too,” he said. 

 He rushed down to the mainspring.  Adams shrugged and watched him hurry off.

 The mainspring was still not fully repaired from the battle with the Iroquois.  In places, gears and springs still hung disconnected from the main shaft.  While the repaired clockwork could not do everything it used to, Sam had repaired it enough that it could spin and work the main winch.  Two of the forward windmills could even turn the main spring if the wind was right.  They creaked a lot more than they used to, but they worked.

 Sam put down the copper wire and magnets and looked through the pieces that he had salvaged during the repairs.  Among them was a long thin worm gear that once connected a fast-turning drive shaft to the mainspring. 

 Sam spun the heavy gear on its end to make sure it was still straight.  Then he carefully wound copper wire around it from end to end.  He stopped to check the diagrams a few times, but eventually he had wound the entire length of copper wire onto the coil in a dense roll.

 The diagram showed magnets bolted neatly to a frame.  Sam decided to drill a hole in each magnet so he could bolt them to the frame of the airship, like the diagram showed.  So, of course, he’d need a drill.  Sam connected a hard steel tip to the end of the broken shaft that used to run down to the airship’s lower windmills. 

 He trimmed the shaft so that the tip floated just above the floor. He slowly wound the mainspring.  The gears clicked and strained, but held.  Sam reconnected the shaft to the drive and placed the first magnet directly under the steel tip.  Then he let the mainspring go and pushed the spinning steel shaft to the magnet.  The magnet just sparked once and flew across the room. 

 Sam wound the mainspring tight again.  Click.  Click.  Click.  He stepped on the two ends of the magnet to hold it steady.  The he released the spring again and lowered the steel tip.

 The magnet jerked sharply and threw Sam to the deck.  With a bang, the steel tip broke loose from the shaft and flew violently across the small space.  It narrowly missed Adams, who had stopped by to watch, and punched a hole in the hull. 

 After that, nobody disturbed Sam in the mainspring.  Sam decided he could just as easily strap the magnets to the frame of the airship with wet leather straps from the gun deck, even if the diagram didn’t show that.

 The next night, when Adams finished her watch, Sam was waiting for her.  He dragged her down to the mainspring.

 “Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked as they entered the cramped space.

 “I think it will be,” said Sam.  He’d bolted the wire-coiled worm gear directly to a drive shaft.  The magnets were strapped as close to the coil as Sam could make them, and were bolted directly to the bulkhead.

 “I tried leather,” explained Sam, “but this tin is much thinner.”

 “Well, that looks awful impressive, Sam.  What’s it going to do?”

 “If I understand these papers, the magnets will squeeze electricity out of the coiled wire.”

  “How quickly will you need to turn the coils: Just a turn or two, or fast like when you reel the line in from the ground?”

 “I’m not sure,” confessed Sam.  He pushed gently on the coil.  “That’s odd.”

 “What’s odd?” Adams retreated to the doorway when Sam started to poke and prod at his machine.

 “I checked this axle when I installed it, and it spun as smooth as butter.  Now it doesn’t want to turn at all.  I don’t see anything different about the shaft.  All I did was strap these magnets here.”

 “Are the magnets holding it in place? Like when the loadstones stick together?”

 “I don’t see how they could be.  The magnets don’t attract copper, of course.”  Sam leaned into the coil and it moved slightly before it froze again.

 “When you are working magic, I suppose you ought to expect some surprises,” said Adams.

 “I’m telling you, it’s not magic!  Now, watch out while I engage these gears.”  Sam used some levers to connect the fully-wound mainspring to the drive shaft with the coil on it.  “Ready?”

 Adams shrugged.  “Go ahead.”

 Sam released the mainspring.  The entire frame groaned, and the gears screamed.  The coil spun around and around until it was just a copper-colored blur.

 Adams yelled from the doorway:  “What now?”

 The two copper wires leading from the coil lay on the floor a few feet apart, twitching slightly from the torque of the spinning driveshaft.  Looking around him, Sam pulled a thin strand of wire from the scrap pile and dropped it so that it would fall right across the exposed ends of the two copper leads.  He hoped the wires would make a small spark, showing that there was some electric current. 

 Instead, the wire immediately exploded with a loud cracking noise and a bright flash that blinded him.  Sam staggered back, covering his eyes.  Adams ran in to the room to disengage the mainspring. 

 “What was that?” Adams yelled.  The mainspring slowed to a stop as Sam rubbed his eyes.  There was a bitter metallic smell in the air and a large black line on the deck where the wire had lain.

 “Where did the wire go?”  Sam asked in a stunned voice.

 “I don’t see it anywhere.  Did it fly out through the wall like that other piece of metal?”

 Sam just stood there, looking around for the wire.  “I don’t believe it…”

 Adams grabbed him by the shoulders.  “What did you do, Sam?”

 “I think we just made electricity.”

© J. O. Evans 2017. All Rights Reserved.