Tuesday, April 7

Dinky Pelton wheel

When visiting Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, we were looking forward to seeing the power plant we had heard so much about. When we got to the power room, we couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when we saw an 18" Pelton wheel. Not because we have a much more powerful 24-incher, but because you simply can’t do much with a seven thousand watt direct current generator in a very large house (castle) with many outbuildings and even a whole great big pipe organ. It only spins at 750 RPM, versus the 900 that spins ours, plus we get almost ten times the power. And what’s with direct current? This thing must have been used only for emergency backup, since the room also contained a whole passel of diesel generators.

To anyone who knows how these things should be configured, there is something obviously missing. (Time out while you examine the photo)

Doo de doo du doo dee doo…

Time’s up. You’re right! There’s no flywheel! For some odd reason, the Park Service people had removed it and leaned it against the wall and covered the spinning shaft between the wheel and generator with a chintzy homemade metal screen. When I mentioned this oddity to the tour guide, who’s been leading this show for at least 12 years, she didn’t have a clue. She mentioned that there wasn’t any space to put the wheel in since the two drive shafts were fixed in place. “Not if you move those two flanges apart,” I pointed out. “Oh” was her response.

There was another really tiny Pelton wheel nearby in the laundry room. It was connected directly to a big ceiling-mounted driveshaft that had wheels which connected to the machines with belts, directly driving them—no electricity needed. (The machines were gone, as were the belts, so we had to imagine the cleverness of the setup.)

A third Pelton wheel was displayed outside the power room. Part of its shroud was cut away allowing people to see the actual wheel with its buckets. You could actually spin the shaft by hand and make it go! Wow…

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