Hometown tidbits: The first modern hydroelectric plant

I’m currently reading California: An American History, by Jack Mack Faragher. There is an interesting historical tidbit that calls out the area where I grew up.

A robust economy pulled migrants to California. That had not always been the case. The economy had grown slowly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, held back in part by the absence of coal deposits on the Pacific coast. In the 1890s, however, Californians began exploiting other forms of energy that would power a takeoff into sustained economic development.

They first harnessed the power of the water that coursed down the watercourses draining the state’s many mountain ranges. In 1893, utilizing technology developed for the mining industry, the first modern hydroelectric plant in the nation began operation on a fast-flowing creek near the southern California town of Redlands. Local orange growers needed a source of power that would enable them to pump water up into the hills, where they wanted to lay out more groves. The Redlands generating station became the model for dozens of others, many in the Sierra Nevada, designed to provide power for both domestic and industrial use.

Hey, that’s neat! I grew up on a property with a creek near the town of Redlands (and have even done a small bit of research on it back in the ‘ol university days).

I wonder… is it the same creek (or rather the bigger creek near this small creek I grew up on). To the Google machine!

Search: “redlands first hydroelectric plant

Yup!

Built by the Redlands Electric Light and Power Company, the Mill Creek hydroelectric generating plant began operating on 7 September 1893. This powerhouse was foremost in the use of three-phase alternating current power for commercial application and was influential in the widespread adoption of three-phase power throughout the United States.

[…]

The success of the 3-phase generators at the Mill Creek No. 1 was apparent, for these original generators were used until 1934. Although the original units have been replaced, this plant is still in operation to this day. Today, more than 100 years after Mill Creek’ completion. 3- phase generators are still the primary form of power generation around the world.

Hah, that is pretty cool! I distinctly remember this building from playing nearby and exploring the “wash” (as we called the area). You can see it via Google Street View, here, just to the north of Highway 38.

This is just one of the many wonders about this area.

See also:

3 weeks of GOES-17 imagery: hurricanes, wildfires and more

I recently built a side project recently that automatically downloads GOES-17 imagery every 10 minutes and then compiles it into a video.

The result is pretty darn awesome! Here is 3 weeks of GOES-17 imagery sourced from NOAA / CIRA / RAMMB. The video begins the night of August 15th, 2020 as lightning storms rolled through Northern California and runs until the afternoon of September 10th, 2020.

Almost immediately, you begin to see smoke plumes from fires created due to lightning strikes.

Note: The blue and yellow blocks that you see periodically flash on screen are the result of corrupted image data downlinked from GOES-17. I’m not sure exactly what causes this, but these errors are present within the original images files hosted on NOAA’s CDN.

(Be sure to bump up the video quality — YouTube’s default compression really ruins the image)

Unimaginable fires in the North Bay

At the moment, something like 3,000 homes have been lost in the North Bay. It’s hard to even fathom the thousands of tragedies unfolding in the North Bay this week and how people who’ve lost their homes, pets, friends, loved ones, or all of it are even coping right now. ❤️

In 2003, a meth addict trying to burn down a house started the Old Fire in the mountains near our house in Southern California. At the time, my dad worked for San Bernardino County and helped maintain their emergency communications system.

When the fires broke out, he was tasked with heading up the hill and bringing some emergency generators and other supplies to an *old* AT&T communications bunker on Strawberry Peak. It was built in the 1950’s and allegedly hardened to withstand a nuclear war. I ended up making the trip up with him.

For two days, we sat on top of the bunker and watched the fires slowly climb the mountain toward us. They were far enough away that we couldn’t hear trees burning, nor hear the bombers dropping Phos-Chek, nor smell smoke due to the wind blowing in a different direction, nor hear the sirens of firetrucks passing below on Highway 18.

At night, we watched the eerie glow of the flames play off the constantly changing patterns of smoke. Fortunately for us, the flames never reach the communications bunker.

Down below, 90,000 acres and 1,000 homes would ultimately be lost.

We had a few close calls growing up, but we were always lucky. I can’t even pretend to imagine the pain and suffering our friends and their families are going through right now.

Where the hell is Mentone Beach?

Mentone beach

My cousin is getting married, so Kerry and I came down to Southern California for the weekend and are staying with my parents in Mentone.

A few friends on Facebook left me some comments that said, “enjoy the beach!” Kerry was confused at what this meant. Apparently, I never told her about the history of Mentone Beach! The LA Times explains:

At least 60 miles from the coast, where the San Bernardino Mountains shoot through clouds, a signpost painted on a weather-beaten water tower beckons like a desert oasis: Mentone Beach.

[…]

Mentone, named for a Mediterranean resort in southeast France, seemed destined for coastal status: Its founders noted that “the climate and vegetation were the same; only the sea was missing.”

That’s right, this is where I’m from. See also, “In search of Paul Bunyan.”