The Research Phase

I am totally fascinated by life before advanced technology. In a new writing project, I am working on describing what is was like before even electricity. Yes, we know about gas lamps and candles and machines that operated on a strictly manual basis. I see a story with characters who are miraculously transported into the 21st century and are utterly dumbfounded by what they see. I can have a lot of fun researching how things used to work and make one the focal point of the tale. Since I am sitting here staring at my new ceiling fan, why not insert a belt-driven version into my book?

I got online in an instant and found out all sorts of little known facts about this one ubiquitous item. I had no idea they were even invented before electricity was in wide use. They go back easily to the end of the 19th century when pulleys drove motors. A belt would be used if there was more than one fan. You call this system a “belt drive motor” and it could be attached to a wall or the ceiling, like the ones here: It can’t have looked very good—pretty primitive in conception and appearance.

Amazingly, before this time, fans belts were driven by water wheels that weren’t even in the same building. Man, electricity is so much better! I will have my character built the fan and set up the contraption as a surprise for his pregnant wife who is experiencing night sweats. He is a simple man who works in a factory and copies the arrangement there on a smaller basis. At work, five fans are driven by the same belt and motor. He only needs one at home. This is actually based on fact: belt-driven ceiling fans originated in commercial buildings. My character will thus be a bit of an inventor. Let’s say he likes to tinker in his equivalent of the modern day garage—a barn.

I think it is going to be amusing to go back to days of yore and use a lot of literal detail to make the era come alive. By the way, I am totally fascinated that these old-style marvels still exist in some restaurants and hotels. They are actually still manufactured and cost a fortune—up to several thousand dollars. The belts are very obvious so it must be for show most of the time—a nod to better times perhaps. There seems to be a craze in this country for old things such as vinyl records and antiquated stereo systems. I see that you can build a belt-driven ceiling fan on your own with a kit. It is a kind of antidote to an overly-tuned technological era. Perhaps this will be the ultimate moral of the story. After describing the character in two different worlds, the reader can make his or her own comparison and come to a judgment. I will, of course, insert my particular view.