Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Powerfully ahead of its time


Way up, almost in the middle of nowhere, the Woods family (founders of Victor) constructed “the world’s first steel-lined, rock faced dam” and along with it, a marvelous woodstaved pipeline, cable car and brick powerhouse. The Pike Peak Power Company seemed to be way ahead of its time with the construction of Skaguay Reservoir competed in 1901. The plant continued to operate until 1965 when silt-laden flood waters eventually plugged the works and washed away fill.
Despite many other impressive projects in the district, Warren, Harry and Frank Woods’ largest project was probably the power plant that supplied Victor, Cripple Creek and Pueblo with hydroelectric power. Impressive, because such projects are measured against the founding of the town itself, the development of the Gold Coin, United Mines Transportation Tunnel, and other mining interests and the foundation of the First National Bank of Victor and the Golden Crescent Water and Light Company. Southern Colorado Power Company and is a descendent of Pikes Peak Power Company.
The company was formed on Sept. 2, 1899 and was located on Beaver Creek, according to an article penned Kenneth W. Geddes for Pikes Peak Westerners Posse in 1979.
“All in all, eighteen miles of stream were covered. The area is some of the most rugged, inaccessible terrain in Teller and Fremont Counties, and the streams are noted for extreme differences in elevation in short distances,” wrote Geddes.
Original plans contemplated the construction of a dam and three power stations but only the first was ever built and operated. Geddes says that no expense was spared in the construction of the dam and plant and it involved, among other things, the building of its own railroad and the blasting off of an adjoining hilltop with a car of powder. Also the cable car was the only means of accessing the plant other than climbing.
“A trip on the Short Line might bankrupt the English language, but it was almost a prairie run in comparison to the Skaguay cable car trip,” noted Geddes. “The isolation from the outside world created a real life Shangri-La.”
The 60-foot by 100-foot plant itself was made of brick with arched windows and a corrugated arched roof and three cottages were available for families that ran the plant.
“Often the plant employees were cut off from the outside world for a period of time in the winter — once up to three months. Their living conditions were pleasant even though isolated. Flowers and grass grew around the cottages in dirt hauled in from the tram. In this secluded area there was no smoke. Electricity was the sole source of energy for heat, refrigeration and cooking.”
Flood waters in June of 1965 knocked out reservoirs above Skaguay but the dam there held. The rush of waters over the spillway however, damaged the fill enough that it had to be drained and repaired. “The flood spelled the finish for Skaguay. The cable car tracks were removed after the plant was basically dismantled and the pipe taken up,” says Geddes.
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