We kept at the trails until we’d hiked everything along the east side of the road between Rockwood and Purgatory Trail in three different trips last week. Most of those days were bushwhacking and discovering old abandoned trails no longer in use. Finding old power lines high above the railroad tracks in the canyon below the trails, is a good example.
Another example of old technology in the canyon is an old seemingly abandoned power plant, but still keeps running on. The Tacoma Power Plant is only accessible by railroad and not a normal stop on that line, so the only way to access this remote location is by hiking down into the Animas Valley canyon.
We’d seen the power plant on a number of hikes down Sawmill Canyon, but never thought to ask about a tour, until we’d seen a presentation at an annual meeting of our local electrical coop, which was even more dry than my typing about it. The featured speaker was a fellow from that power plant and his talk was just about as dry, but we were determined to learn now than he gave out at the annual meeting.
We got a personal tour and it was well worth an extended look. The history, the improvements, past and future, is something to behold. For a little hydro plant this has quite a bit going for it. He was far more animated in his home territory than speaking in front of 300 people.
We got the full story of an event eleven years ago, when one of the generators got a vibration alarm on Halloween night, and the remote operator in the Denver area choose to silence the alarm. 2,400 signals later the generator blew up sending shrapnel thought the roof and took the several ton generator off it’s base destroying just about everything.
In order to repair it they needed a whole litany of thing before they could replace it. For example, the bridge to deliver improvements from the train needed replacing, and then the cribbing for a embankment needed replacing, then the transformers as well. Eleven years later they are just now ready to start on replacing the generator.
It’s an amazing part of our local history hidden down a canyon, now only accessible by a pop-car or a specially commissioned flat car delivery equipment to the power plant. This power plant only delivers about 5 MegaWatts of power to the local grid, but is enough to keep it on line and have two employees commute via that pop-car up the train tracks.
Really interesting is the fact that the lead engineer for this project came from the American Ski Area tram industry. He’s only been at Tacoma for 12 years and his last job was building a ski lift for Silverton Mountain for Aaron Brill. He’s very quickly found a niche that suits him well, as he’s got an old abandoned tram out back of the power plant that used to take employees and kids up and down the mountain. He’s got permission to restore the tram wheel house in his spare time.
Small world, this mountain country.