Friday, July 31, 2015

The Orukter Amphibolos Story - with Pictures!

Once upon a time, two men in Delaware decided to open a restaurant called Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen
To celebrate their Delawarean heritage, they wanted to honor the state's own Oliver Evans, an early 19th century inventor credited with creating the first automobile called the Orukter Amphibolos ("Amphibious Digger”). So they asked an artist to create a Steampunk reproduction of the vehicle.  
Evans' Orukter Amphibolos

As that artist, I began thinking . . . and looking at antique stores . . . and thinking. Since my work centers around transforming vintage (or secondhand) objects into seemingly workable versions of real things, I knew I didn't have to find the exact parts, but I felt daunted. I had to find existing vintage items that could fit into the general idea of the Orukter. I wasn't sure it was going to happen until I found these iron wheels at a local flea market. 

It had begun.

Before long, I also came across this rusty, worn garden cultivator--which became the paddle wheel--and while it didn't have the big wood paddles, it was definitely reminiscent of that idea in an unexpected form. 

On that same shopping trip, a well-worn iron and wood horse yoke became the main cross bar (at least to me). I continued to gather vintage items for everything I could (like a handmade wooden toolbox that became the engine block and driver's seat, leather reins that became strapping, and pieces of weathered barn wood throughout).

Meanwhile, I sketched and calculated and finally commissioned a fellow Etsy artist Rustiek to create the main body of the vehicle. 

Then it was time to take the actual plunge and begin assembly. I'd never made anything this big before and rarely worked with wood, so I wisely enlisted some help: my dad. (He knows a lot.)

When I couldn't find vintage items, I tried to keep the Steampunk theme intact--like using copper plumbing pipes for the axles and bronze bolts whenever possible. Some elements were challenging, but we always found a creative solution. For example, I ended up scuffing and painting a pcv pipe as the smokestack, attaching it with a shower drain flange. But my favorite improvisation was using a vintage cookie press as a piston.
It took a while to get things figured out, and we made quite a mess (in my new house--yes, I moved in the middle of all this!).


One of the last things to be made was a robot driver. I mean, it's a Remnants by RJ piece, it needed a robot, right? I used the lid from the engine block tool box for the driver's seat; the hinges became the driver's legs; the stain can I'd used for touch ups became his body; and his head was a measuring cup with a vintage tea strainer hat. The best part? His monocle.

And then, at long last, the Orukter Amphibolos was finished. 


Almost 5 feet in length and 3 feet high.

Weighing in at 60 pounds.

There's so many little details that probably no one will notice, but that I love. The paddle wheel has extra gears mounted on the side from an actual grandfather clock. Also, the paddle wheel is mounted at a level appropriate to the water line of the boat, and it rotates the correct way for "scooping" the water back to propel the vehicle forward. The main post, which came from a banister, has little clock works mounted inside it. There's a bronze metal tag with 1805 DE (Delaware) mounted on the engine block. The "piston" can actually move up and down. All the wheels--even the flywheel--are free moving (you don't know how tempted I was to roll it down a hill). It is easily the most satisfying thing I've ever made, and I'm so proud of it.

And, by the way, the Orukter Amphibolos is now installed at Grain

They had a sneak peek of their restaurant last weekend, and their Grand Opening is tomorrow. So if you happen to be in Newark, Delaware, you might want to stop in. I hear the place is amazing--oh, and there's a pretty cool art piece hanging above the front bar.


  1. What a terrific article. I hope Grain publishes it too. We are so proud of you!

  2. Well done - congratulations!!

  3. Kathryn St. Peter, An RJ robot fan and collectorAugust 20, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Oh Rebecca, what an amazing job you did on this!

    You rightfully have a reason to be proud!

    I loved reading about all the working parts incorporated in this piece, including your Dad, lol! He definitely was a working part of this project too! So fun to see the pictures of this in progress!

    This piece is reminisce of the original work by Oliver Evans! It captures all the elements...imagination, looks, and feeling! I bet he would have loved your work and concept too, Rebecca.

    Job well done!