The Crossroads of the Aether
The first weekend in May I was at the “East Coast Military Vehicle Rally” which is an annual event held at Ripken stadium in Aberdeen Maryland. It starts on Wednesday and runs to about noon Saturday. Now some of you may be wondering what is a Military Vehicle Rally(MV show)? Truth is it is just like any other hobbies conventions. Every one brings their stuff to show off and to sell and then they sit around and complain about everything. The restoration of and display of military vehicles by the private sector has gone on at least since WWI as far as I know. However it didn’t really pick up in America until after WWII when the military started selling off much of its surplus equipment, jeeps, half-tracks, APC’s and tanks included. Yes it is perfectly legal to own a tank in the U.S.A., main-gun has to be deactivated tho. (It’s also legal in the U.K ironically you CAN have an active main-gun there, but god forbid you have a 9mm handgun.)
So what’s all this have to do with Steampunk? As I mentioned these events have similarities with other hobbies. People get their military vehicles and deck them out with all the cool stuff. So the flea markets at these events are filled with all kinds of stuff a steampunk adventure, solider, or airship captain would love to have for their outfit. Because it is a flea market, price, is always negotiable; provided you possess the necessary powers of persuasion. I could write an entire post about how to haggle at these events (and I may yet) but first let me illustrate my point about the availability of quality costume items.
When I went to Aberdeen this year I had a definite plan on what I was looking for, parts for my costume in particular…
Leggings of some kind due to the fact that the boots I wanted were more than $300 I thought I would get some leggings to cover-up some modern boots.
Parts for a steam backpack. I knew I wanted some kind of steam power plant looking thing on my back for my tesla cannon so I was looking for anything that I could use.
Parts for my Tesla cannon. I want to make some kind of Tesla cannon to go with my outfit so I was thinking I would pick up an old gun stock and any other parts that I thought I could use.
That’s all I was planning on buying… So here is what I DID buy…
Day one Wensday (Woden’s day.)
Hose - $8 (I already had one from last year that I never did anything with. I now have a pare, and I’m going to use them in the backpack.
Leggings - $5
I quickly discovered that the modern boots I was wearing were padded and that the WWII leggings I was looking at were made for WWII boots which were just one layer of leather… What I needed was a 5R (their sized 1-5 R = regular I think there is also a W = Wide) of coarse 4’s and 5’s are the rarest ones to find. I bought these 3R’s to use as a pattern to make my own with and they were $5! I had already been around comparing prices and found people wanted everything from $10-50 (for the WWII dated ones) So I bought them and if I end up not using them I’ll resell them to someone that can.
Packbord. - $30
Again, it pays to survey the landscape before taking a leap. Prices ranged from $30-75 on these but I needed it for my backpack. (The next day I found two for $15 doh!) What these are used for is to carry jerry cans. Normally there is a shelf and the can is tied to the pack. I was also looking at some of the ALICE pack frames but I thought that the wood one would give me more freedom in the design of my steam generator.
I got this just so I could take the lens out and use it to make a scope. It’s an Argus probably from the 50’s. Never fear camera fans it was already broken. (main shutter was importable)
Goggles - $25
Found this nice set of Wilson goggles mixed in with a bunch of other stuff And they looked to be intact and in rather good shape I tried to get them for $20 but the seller wouldn’t budge. I was about to pass them up when I recalled how much I had seen similar pares of goggles on Esty ($45 and up). I figured that seeing as how they had the case and were in nice shape it was worth it. It was something of an impulse buy ( a VERY BAD habit of mine) but I’m happy with my decision still. The elastic band needs to be replaced (hmmm with leather perhaps). The Wilson logo can still be seen on the case, albeit faintly.
Leggings - $35
I found these nice brown leather leggings and I just couldn’t believe my luck. At the time I didn’t know what nation they were from or even if they were military or not. I didn’t care they almost fit around my modern boots, and being leather I knew I could make them work. The guy wanted $55 I ended up paying $35. Once I got home I did a bit of research and found out that the style originates from WWI and were worn by British Warrant officers. However given this pairs excellent condition I would say that they are most likely from WWII, but I need to do some more research. They were the second best thing I bought at the show.
Flare gun -$160
The best thing I got at the show. This is a WWI Imperial German Hebel M.1894 Flaregun. I drooled over the thought of buying this thing for 3 days running around making sure there was nothing else as cool as it. I couldn’t find a darn thing I wanted more than this. In the end my dad gave my some monetary assistance and I bought it. The guy that was selling it wanted $175 for it I ended up paying $160, worth every penny in my opinion. It is difficult to express how BIG this gun is. Like the desert eagle you can’t really understand its size until you see it in the flesh. It fires a 26.5mm flare, and weighs about 4lbs for some comparison. From a steampunk perspective you could almost use it as is, no moding needed. However I intend to mod it anyway, and in a way that is harmless to it. Respect of the past is a big part of steampunk and I am not going to hurt this beautiful example of fine German engineering. It is rather simple on the mechanical side but you just never see this kind of workmanship in our modern age. It’s not in perfect condition the metal has some pitting, the end of the barrel is bent and the bluing is fading. But that just gives it some character!
Fire extinguishers -$15 ($10 for the small one)
I got these two fire extinguishers to be the main parts of my backpack The photo doesn’t really show it but the big one has all sorts of stuff on top. I’m not sure why either it’s got more stuff on it than is necessary for the simple air + water mix most extinguishers use. I think it may have been for putting out chemical or metal fires or possibly it was for Purple K. I did some research but all I found was that it was made by some company called Phister(or Pfister). I noticed it on Wednesday the guy had $20 on it, I told myself that if it was still there on Saturday I’d buy it. I did payed $15 for it too. The small brass one was another impulse buy $10 for an all brass extinguisher? It didn’t even have one of those silly pumps. Yoink!
My point with all of this is that a lot of this military stuff can be used in steampunk for all kinds of things. You are limited only by how creative you can be with what you have. The above is just a few examples. There were also Gas masks, Pith helmets, Brody helmets, uniforms, great coats, Officer caps, leather boots/belts/gloves/pouches. Not to mention all the knives, bayonets, guns, hand grenades, and other equipment.
Those Brodie helmets? Dated 1918 original unissued NOS $65 and they looked NICE. If I didn’t already have a helmet I would have bought one. I mean come on an unissued WWI dated helmet? Where else are you going to find this stuff? You have to put in the leg work to find the good stuff tho. It’s not like you’re going to be tripping over the stuff you want at the price you want. Part of the work is finding out if there are any MV shows near you. If there are try and contact the local MV club, ask them what the event is like and if there is a market portion to the event. Sometimes it’s just the vehicles . If there are people selling stuff treat it like any other flee market try haggle over everything. The worst they can do is say no. (Most of the time, sometimes people will raise the price on you if you make too low of an offer.) Most of this advice can also apply to Gun shows; however they tend to be more hit or miss on the range of surplus gear available.