HOME & HEART: Solar Pioneers Party—Part Deux

Kathleen and solar pioneer Chris Carter check out the world’s largest Pelton wheel—30 feet in diameter. It produced 1,000 horsepower from 354 psi through a 1.75-inch nozzle. The penstock was 20 inches in diameter and 7,070 feet long. At its perimeter, the wheel moved 70 mph.
Dr. Solar (aka Terry Robinson). Below: The medicine-show caravan he uses to promote green living and renewable energy use.

My husband Bob-O and I attended the second of a trilogy of celebrations honoring the pioneers that brought solar (and other renewable energy) into the lives and mainstream of America. Jeff Spies’ dream of a Solar Pioneers Party (SPP) once again enriched and recorded the history of the movement that brought us to this place.

This year, SPP.2 was held in Grass Valley, California. The Nevada County Fairgrounds/RV park was very accommodating to our motley assembly of tents, travel trailers, teepees, and gypsy caravans. Pretty, spacious, and clean, the fairgrounds are open to the public during the day. I saw many young mothers with their small children—riding bikes, scooters, and skateboards along the paths—safe from traffic. What a terrific way to use the fairgrounds off-season.

Gold Mining Museum

The Northstar Mining Museum was only a couple of blocks away, housed in the original Northstar Mine Powerhouse. This museum is truly a gold mine of the history of the Pelton wheel.

The original powerhouse walls are 2 feet thick and made with native stone. The building and picnic areas sit next to a creek. But the first thing you see as you arrive are two enormous Pelton wheels.

This is an excellent museum with a gregarious and knowledgeable staff. It houses the powerhouse’s original Pelton wheel next to the world’s largest diameter (30-foot) Pelton wheel in its original race. Although Pelton claimed the wheel would be too large to operate properly, it did work quite well. The wheel was constructed in parts in San Francisco and assembled in the powerhouse.

The sheer number and quality of historic artifacts and power equipment from a bygone time was amazing. The yard surrounding the powerhouse has quite a display of mining tools and equipment—Little Giants (hydraulic mining nozzles), a small rail car used to haul miners down a deep, steep mine shaft; more Pelton wheels; and pieces of stamp mills. I had never seen a wooden gold-mining pan before, but here were two kinds—one Russian, a tray carved from a large piece of wood, and one shaped like the classic metal pan. (I think they would make great bread-rising bowls.) I was fascinated with the hydro-powered wringer washing machines. There was even a large wooden cash register with clay balls that dropped into grooved tracks like an abacus marble game. Have you ever seen a dynamite packing machine? Well, now I have.

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