As a craftsman I am struck by the irregularity of the top loops on the Lyon field frame seen in yesterday’s post. (I don’t impute some special design strategy to their mismatched shape and placement.)

loopy 1

The unsymmetrical sizing is not the result of sitting underground for many centuries, it was made that way originally.  This is not what I would call a high order of forge work. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt it worked just fine.  But that is as much a testament to the adjustable nature of a design that uses wedges to lock it all together, as it is to the precision of it’s manufacture.  “Good enough”, I suppose we could call it, and think no more about it. However, to me it suggests that these machines were made ad hoc, by local talent, rather than at a centralized armory with presumably higher standards. If I were running the joint, I wouldn’t let that kind of thing out the door.

(Yeah, but your’e a machinist with a rectilinear little brain, of course you see it that way.)

Not just a machinist.  I’ve spent my time at the forge and know plenty of blacksmiths around here that could do a much better job of it than what I see coming through in the artifact.  Is this the kind of degraded product we might expect as things unravel at the end of Empire? Although, 197 A.D. is not exactly “late” is it?  Those goofball top loops just look like sloppy workmanship. Slave labor?  Lowest bidder syndrome? Hangover? There just doesn’t seem to be any pride in them.

Back in the day when I worked as a modelmaker at Boeing’s wind tunnel, we had a common expression to describe a lot of the work that came through the modelshop,  “quick and dirty” we called it. Management was almost exclusively concerned with how quickly a project could be completed.  So much so that we grunts that undertook their bidding had a saying,  “They never remember how quick, just how dirty.”   I strongly sense something like that is afoot with this field frame from Lyon.   “Bang me  out a dozen of these by the weekend and I’ll double yer grog ration for a month.”   Triple time, in Boeing speak.  You can just sense whoever was doing it wasn’t going to take the time to use some bending blocks and make a neat job of it.  It’s not difficult to do symmetrical work at the forge if you are not being harangued by upper management.  Very intimidating if they are packing swords, I’m sure.  But it’s really no excuse is it?  Sloppy work is sloppy work.  Not at all the thing for impressing the natives, fortifying the troops or keeping the Emp. off your back if he spots all that shoddiness out on parade.

Unless of course, it was just a decoy ballista. Like one of those rubber tanks from WWII.  There is usually a fairly pressing reason for management to go all quick and dirty like.

(No, serious people, I don’t really believe it was a decoy.  We’re just building up a head of steam here for what comes next.    …..Those loops are still some pretty sloppy work though. I remember seeing Roman garden implements with more symmetry)


Update:  According to the rant above, the basic design of iron frame ballistas must have made them the AK-47 of torsion engines. Regular blacksmiths could knock together a rough looking machine that no doubt worked tolerably well.  Loops and tangs and wedges allow some amazingly discordant geometries to come together with great strength and forgiveness.

Update of the update:  Coming back to this a couple of weeks later, I’m not so sure there isn’t something to the “decoy” idea.  There are only 4 holes in the washer’s rim for locking pins.  Also, there are only 4 holes in the end cap of the field frame. Unless we are to suppose the existence of another case of missing vernier plates (not likely in the Lyon case), then the holes in the artifacts don’t appear to have enough locking pin holes to accomplish the rotational tuning.

Update of the update of the update: Yup! Still convinced. There is something amiss here.  What was it Sun Tzu said?  “If you are big, appear small.  If you are small, appear big”.  Perhaps the hordes were better kept at bay by putting on a battlements show that used lots of lower quality, locally made machines, mixed in with real hot-shooting professionally made ballistas (i.e. the Elenovo, by the looks of her pretty field frames) in proportions the commander deemed sufficient to reinforce the bluff. Complicated theatrics have always played a part in warfare. There has to be some rational explanation for the obvious crudity of the Lyon artifacts.

Update of the update of the update of the update:  Unless, of course, they had a way of tuning their machines that did not rely on rotational adjustments.  A pure wedge machine perhaps? That might explain the non-radiused top surface of those crossbars on the Lyon machine.  For that machine, I’m envisioning some  nicely radiused steel spreaders atop those square-edged crossbars, driven by very hard, hardwood wedges to increase and decrease the spring tension. Must remember: there is more than one way to skin a ballista.  A fella would probably need several lifetimes to explore them all.

Update of the update of the update of the update of the update:  Amateur hour is over.

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