BOOK: Power From the Mountains
AUTHOR: Barbara Wolcott
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About the Book:
In the span of a decade, Southern California went from a settler lifestyle of horse-drawn carriages, outhouses and oil lamps to electric lights, kitchen appliances and street lighting that extended the time the general store was open to well beyond dusk. The emergent use of electricity in the west is a story of genius and vision thrown together with abusive corporate power.
The massive Big Creek hydroelectric system designed by engineer John Eastwood began construction at the same the Panama Canal dominated the headlines. Financed by Henry Huntington, construction was begun with mules, road scrapers and hand rock drills, working in a broad area from five to nine thousand feet elevation. The crowning achievement was an underground water tunnel 15 by 15 feet and 13.5 miles long—drilled through solid granite. Little attention was paid to the world’s largest electrical generating project in the High Sierra and it remains one of California’s best kept secrets.
Taken for granted like water and air, electricity has the power to stop life in general by not being there, as evidenced by major blackouts in US more than once. Californians made the leap into the twentieth century without a clue of what it took to give them the ability to do it. Power From the Mountains tells a story of vision, courage and persistence cluttered with politics in Sacramento and Washington DC as well as corporate misuse of another kind of power.
It took the conflicted genius of both John Eastwood and Henry Huntington to build Big Creek. Today that system uses the same mountain water nine times to generate electricity as it runs down to the Central Valley. It is the hardest working water in the world.
The Big Creek Project is not well known even within today’s professional engineering ranks. However, Big Creek produced the majority of all electrical power demand in all of Southern California until World War II and remains a seminal project still producing clean, sustainable power. Enormous in scope, impossible to imagine at the time except for the few with unfettered imagination.
“I completely enjoyed it. What a fascinating time period, with the majesty of engineers roughing it and working in the field! When they gave him ( John Eastwood ) that standing ovation in the meeting, that was the greatest accolade of all, from the men who actually built the dream. I damn near got out of my easy chair and clapped!”
“Because of my interest in trains and knowledge of the “Big Four”, growing up in Los Angeles and hearing Mulholland’s name used regularly, all that combined to really hit a nerve with me. A fascinating book, very well written which I literally couldn’t put down once I started it.”
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