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Self-Guided Tour Sign #16 – Electricity for Dunsmuir

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With the arrival of the new town of Dunsmuir in the late 1880s, there was a need for the town to have electric power.  Electricity as a utility was still very much a novelty in the 1880s, and often it was local entrepeneurs who pulled together some money to create a small power plant and get the agreement of the town to string electric lines along the streets and into people's businesses and homes.

A popular way to generate electricity at the local level was with "Pelton Water Wheels"--named after their inventor, Lester Pelton.  Pelton took existing designs for waterwheels and improved them to make better use of the energy in fast-moving water.  His original Pelton Water Wheels were first used beginning in the 1870s in California gold mining to operate the machinery there.

By the 1880s, the Pelton Water Wheel Company (based in San Francisco) began selling Pelton Water Wheels to businesses to generate electricity, and at the height of its popularity, the company had sold over 11,000 Pelton Water Wheels in the United States. 

To generate electricity, the Pelton Water Wheel turned an axle, which turned a turbine containing magnets and wires. The turning magnets and wires created electricity, which then traveled by newly-installed wires into the new town of Dunsmuir, as well as to the long-established Upper Soda Springs Resort located here.

After a number of years, it became clear that demand for electricity in Dunsmuir (and elsewhere in Siskiyou County) was increasing past the ability of a local Pelton Water Wheel to generate enough electricity.  By 1902, Dunsmuir's Pelton Water Wheel was retired, and Dunsmuir and the Resort began receiving electricity from the Siskiyou Electric Power Company--which in 1912 merged into the California-Oregon Power Company, better known as "Copco".

Copco greatly expanded its ability to generate electricity, for example by building dams, and expanded the inter-city electric lines carrying this electricity.  By about 1915, Copco built the first substation here, on the property of the Upper Soda Springs Resort, to handle the electricity for Dunsmuir.

In 1961, Copco was purchased by Pacific Power and Light, based in Portland, Oregon--which continued to operate Dunsmuir's electricity under the name "Copco"; however, the name "Copco" was eventually retired and Dunsmuir's electric company is now known by the new name of the parent company, "PacifiCorp".


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