The historic powerhouses of the Sierras have been powering much of
Californias growth for the past hundred years or so. Located in
canyons where water can be dropped thousands of feet from ridges
above, they were Californias first source of electrical power. The
oldest powerhouses were built by survivors of the original gold
rush, who turned metalworking and pipe-fitting skills to the task
of generating electricity. The resulting machines were curious
amalgamations of steam valves, riveted pipes, waterwheels, and
rudimentary electrical devices imported from the East Coast. These
views show how miners chipped out a small ledge on a granite cliff
hundreds of feet below Spaulding Lake dam to create an anchor point
for a powerhouse that seems embedded in the rock itself. They also
celebrate the genius of mining-camp tinkerer Lester Pelton, who, in
1880, invented a more efficient waterwheel capable of spinning a
generator shaft at high speed. His invention bore his name, and the
basic design is used to this day throughout the world.
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