The Ghost of a Machine

9 Oct


Can you see it? What it is? What it once was?

Look closely. A lump of disparate parts welded together by rust and years of the sea’s patient work. Out of this mass of corroded parts a hint of structure emerges. Tap the knowledge of men who have forged metal into objects that carve and shape our world and you will see. Order and structure will become apparent and the image will change. The work of time and tide will give way to a vision of many years past.

In an engine room of a vessel of unknown origin a brightly painted engine thrums with power and purpose, valves rising and falling in a blur to the cadence of three pistons connected to a stout crank assembly. Shaft line components angle down slightly and a spinning shaft disappears aft through a seal and into the water to turn a three bladed bronze prop. Fuel is atomized and ignited and the confined explosions are harnessed to drive the vessel against wind and waves. A robust framework of timber and iron supports the engine and keeps the sea at bay.

On its last journey this vessel carried cargo and people, hopes, dreams, and most of all, intent.

Can you see it now? What was? And the time in which it existed?

What combination of events conspired to cast ashore the craft whose beating heart was this engine? Weather? Pilot error? Was it a broken fuel line in a fierce southern storm? And what of the passengers and crew? How many survived the tumult and tumbling surf to reach shore safely, gather on the beach and decide what to do? Did they all walk along a dry and waterless coast to the nearest town or did just one or two intrepid souls make the journey and then return with help? What happened here so long ago?

Can you see it?

The engine sits in the break zone and slowly gives up its form to the years.

Do machines have ghosts?


This one does.



8 Responses to “The Ghost of a Machine”

  1. kdmccrite October 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Doug, what an interesting photo, and what a thoughtful post! My husband is a lover of machinery in all its incarnations, and he appreciated what you wrote.

    This is what a writer does: sees any object and creates a story around it. Good job!

    • dmmacilroy October 9, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

      Dearest Kady,

      Thank you for the rain in the desert. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Being a Captain and having had command of vessels and responsibility for the passengers and crew, I can never walk past this mute evidence of calamity at sea without wondering what happened, and why. The story within the story…

      I hope you are well and not suffering from writer’s cramp. Have some sweet tea for me and I’ll talk to you soon.



  2. Deborah the Closet Monster October 10, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    I have nothing to add to this, but wanted to say I found it both beautiful and haunting. (Simply clicking “Like” did not feel appropriate.)

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2011 at 11:09 am #

      Dear Deborah,

      The words ‘thank you’ get said so often in blog responses that they sometimes fade into static.

      Let my words ring clear and true. Your comment means a great deal to me.

      Thank you.



  3. Caely October 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    A good writer inspires when he writes. The best writer, inspires even when his words aren’t there – you’re one of those.


    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

      Ok, Caely,

      That comment just earned you a beach day at Hapuna. Let me know when you can go!



  4. Madison Woods October 11, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    I like how you made a rusty hunk of unidentifiable stuff washed up on shore interesting. Of course, it was only unidentifiable to someone like me, but you made it into something I enjoyed learning about. Yes, I saw it in the end.

    • dmmacilroy October 11, 2011 at 2:37 am #

      Hi Mads,

      Machines are one of our species forms of Magic. You make the unseen in the forest visible for me. It is only right that I return the favor. Old spells wrought by the hand of man….

      Thanks for reading it.



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