Skip to comments.Green, Shovel-Ready Stimulus — 100 Years Ago
Posted on 07/21/2011 5:53:47 AM PDT by Servant of the Cross
There was a time when our nation was capable of large, visionary construction projects.
Huntington Lake, Calif. Our politicians love soaring platitudes followed by little, if any, action. The more Americans are promised shovel-ready stimulus projects, new sources of power, and other fantasies, the more we accept that bureaucracy, regulations, lawsuits, and impact statements will prevent much from ever being done.
The president himself, after demanding nearly a trillion dollars in borrowed money for his budget, confessed that his shovel-ready projects had proved not so shovel-ready after all. Much of the vast sum of borrowed money instead went to subsidize nearly insolvent pension funds, entitlements, and bloated state budgets. Unemployment is still at 9.2 percent, with nearly 50 million people on government-subsidized food stamps even as American infrastructure is crumbling, the private sector is moribund, and national timidity prevents any new large, visionary construction. Prior generations gave us space projects; ours ends them. Boeing once ruled the skies; now the government sues to stop Boeing from opening a new plant.
For the way things used to be, consider the Big Creek hydroelectric project, begun here in the central Sierra Nevada mountains of California 100 years ago. It was the nations first large effort to generate electricity from falling water spurred by the need to provide electric power for a growing Los Angeles nearly 250 miles away.
Industrialist and entrepreneur Henry Huntington conceived the gargantuan effort, begun in 1911. In just 157 days, a supply railroad up the mountains was built by thousands of workers struggling at over 6,000 feet in elevation with picks, shovels, and horse-drawn scrapers. In just two years, electricity was flowing southward from a new powerhouse at Big Creek that harnessed San Joaquin River water released from the new Huntington Lake reservoir.
Huntingtons dream project eventually expanded, and today managed by the Southern California Edison power company would eventually encompass six major lakes, 27 dams, and 24 powerhouses that capture the descending High Sierra water to generate over 1,000 megawatts of clean electricity.
The interconnected lakes also store precious water for 1 million acres of irrigated California farmland thousands of feet below. The thriving High Sierra sailing, sports, and tourist industries grew up around the new lakes and roads. Far from destroying the environment, the Big Creek project created beautiful alpine reservoirs and gave millions of middle-class Californians access for the first time to the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Few appreciate that the entire project was built with private funds.
How did our ancestors poorer than we and with limited technology so quickly create such a vast project, which today probably would pose insurmountable challenges to their far richer, high-tech descendants?
They were far more in need and far more self-confident than we are today and they acted when they were 80 percent sure of success rather than endlessly talking and delaying in expectation of an always-elusive 100 percent certainty. In 1911, there was a desire for the new wonders of electricity. Today, we take the power for our iPads and video games for granted, and are more likely to nitpick the environmental and social sensibilities of past generations who gave us what we so nonchalantly use in the present.
Quite simply, Big Creek could not be built today in the United States. Environmentalists would claim that the pristine nature of the San Joaquin River would be unnecessarily altered, citing a newly discovered colony of spotted newts or dappled dragonflies in the way of the proposed penstocks. Unions would demand blanket representation without elections and every imaginable compensation for such hazardous duty. Workers would apply for stress-related disability benefits given the dizzying heights and the dank subterranean digging. Government regulators and inspectors would outnumber project engineers. Private entrepreneurs world never risk such a chancy investment without ironclad government guarantees of profits despite enormous cost overruns. And the public would be as skeptical of the risky projects success as they would be eager to enjoy its dividends when completed.
The Big Creek project, like the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate bridges, and the interstate highway system, was the work of a less wealthy but confident bygone generation. They understood mans ceaseless elemental struggle against nature to survive one more day, and they did not have the luxury of second- and third-guessing the work of others before them.
We should remember the lesson of Henry Huntingtons Big Creek project, started 100 years ago this year, as we let rich irrigated farm acreage lie idle and pass up the exploitation of new oil and gas fields preferring to argue endlessly over how to redistribute our inherited but ever-shrinking national pie.
It’s hard to finance great projects, private and public, when the Nomenclatura must squeeze enough out of the private sector to send half the population a check every month, in addition to their take off the top.
I used to work for SCE and have been to Big Creek Hydro. To say that it’s impressive is an understatement. Knowing that a lot of the projects there are near or over 100 years old and still function well is truly amazing.
The list is endless. Erie & Panama canals, Wilderness Road, Transcontinental Railroad, etc. etc.
This is largely forgotten in our disconnected, super soft world. Survival is a struggle and far too many are incapable of surviving either physically or mentally in the real world and they know it.
Ha!! After maybe 5 years, WE'D still be haggling with unions and waiting for the EPA study!!!
1928 - Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District incorporated
1929 - District cannot raise the construction funds due to crash
1930 - Bond measure approved by counties affected by the bridge
1932 - Bonds didn't sell; Amadeo Giannini, founder of Bank of America, agreed on behalf of his bank to buy the entire issue in order to help the local economy.
1933 - Construction started in January.
1937 - Construction completed in April.
The tragic TRUTH is that with the mindset of today’s American “ruling class” the United States of America could not be built.
The United States was built by people who made their living by....DOING!!
The United States today is controlled by people who make their living PREVENTING the doing of ANYTHING.
Not a true statement.
From 1892 to 1894, the Niagara Falls Power Company built a 6,700 foot (2042m) long, 21 foot (6m) high and 18 foot (5m) wide horseshoe shaped tunnel which was 160 feet (49m) underground. Twenty-eight workers died in construction related accidents during this project. The tunnel extended from the Niagara Power Company Powerhouse. The tunnel displaced 300,000 tons of rock and required 20 million bricks and 2.5 million feet of lumber to line and shore the interior.
Edward Dean Adams would design the requirements for the Niagara Falls Power Company Powerhouse #1. The new powerhouse was built 1.5 miles above the Falls.
Powerhouse #1 was built in bayed sections highlighted by circular topped windows measuring 14 feet wide and 15 feet high. The building was originally 140 feet long however it was expanded to 450 feet long when all of its generators were installed. Water delivered to the pit wheels below the powerhouse would deliver 100,000 horsepower.
The Niagara Falls Power Company Powerhouse #2 was build between 1901 and 1903.
As far as attemps go, the history goes back to 1886 with Thomas Evershed at Niagara. But the Adams plant was built in Niagara, NY and tied into a grid to Buffalo, NY by November 15th 1896 making it the first long distance transmission of electrical power.