Using water from Niagara Falls for power

Possibilities of the utilization of waterfalls for the transmission of power electrically immediately attracted attention to the world's greatest waterfall, that of Niagara. At Niagara River and Falls, about 18,000,000 cubic feet of water flow per minute through a descent of more than 300 feet, including both falls and rapids; this represents something like 7,000,000 horse-power. Engineers had been aware that the enormous power which goes to waste over the Niagara was sufficient to turn the wheels of every factory in the United States, but there seemed to be no possibility of its utilization. While a few paper-mills and flour-mills had been established near there, the expense of the direct application of the power was too great to make the attempt desirable. But when dynamos had been perfected and electricity made commercially available, attention became attracted to the waste of power. Siemens, the great German inventor, in 1877 prophesied that a few more years would see the great water-courses like that of Niagara utilized in part to generate electricity and to transmit by its means electric light and power to surrounding industrial stations. It seemed a wild dream then; but before twenty years had passed, it had been realized, and to-day the power of Niagara is tuning machinery and running street-cars in Buffalo, twenty-six miles away. Power from the falls has been used to operate machinery in New York, being thus employed at the electrical exposition.

When a waterfall is to be used for power the ordinary method is to dig a canal from a point above to a point below the waterfall, this canal being called a mill-race. The water in this canal is so directed as either to fall upon or to flow under a wheel, and the revolution of this wheel furnishes the motive power of the mill with whose machinery it is connected, by means of shafts and belts. Aesthetic reasons alone would have prevented the employment of these means at Niagara, and would merely have resulted in building a canal which would be lined with mills. An entirely different method was proposed by Thomas Ever-shed, state engineer of New York, and his suggestion was adopted by the company. At a point about a mile above the falls, 1,200 acres of land were bought, and here a short canal was dug and an enormous pit, 140 feet in length, 18 feet in width and 178 feet deep was excavated. From the bottom of this pit a tunnel was also made to the river tunnel level some distance below the falls. This tunnel is 6,807 feet (over a mile and a quarter) in length, and it took a thousand men more than three years to dig it, even with the improved tunnelling appliances of this generation. Enough limestone rock was dug out of the tunnel to make some twenty acres of new land worth $5,000 an acre along the shore of the Niagara, and the construction of the tunnel and mainwheel pits cost twenty-seven lives. The tunnel is shaped like a horse-shoe, 18 feet 10 inches wide at its broadest part, and 14 feet wide at the bottom. It is 21 feet high, and has a downward pitch varying from 4 to 7 feet in 1,000. It is lined at the lower end with heavy steel plates, and the rest of the way with from four to six rings of brick, especially prepared to withstand the wear and tear of water for generations to come.

This tunnel is the "tail-race," as the millwright would call it. The water drawn from it falls a distance of 154 feet to the bottom, where, by its fall, it may revolve ten enormous horizontal or turbine wheels. These in turn may revolve ten dynamos in the power-house above, each capable of furnishing 5,000 horse-power; only three of these turbines have as yet been built. The water having thus given its power to the company, which has transferred it into electricity, runs off through the tunnel, and is discharged into the river below.

The turbine wheels, placed at the bottom of that mighty pit cut straight down for 200 feet into the solid rocks, are the monarchs of their kind. The force of the volume of water that each of the three now in place receives is so great that it would sweep away a considerable structure made as strong as man could build it with stone and masonry.

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