Third edition of the Estacada Arts Commissions Powerhouse Project a success

by: JEFF SPIEGEL - Portland artist Chris Mooney sketches the outside of the powerhouse as part of his research.For the third year in a row, artists from Estacada and across the Portland area congregated at a local powerhouse in search of artistic inspiration. The idea began two years ago at River Mill and then continued last year at Oak Grove, but this year, artists visited the oldest powerhouse on the Clackamas River - Faraday.


Construction on the Faraday Powerhouse and Dam began in 1902 by the Oregon Water, Power and Rail Company (OWPR) as part of the "Cazadero Project." As the Portland population began to grow rapidly, the need for more power increased.

For an idea of how fast Portland was growing, in 1860 the population was just 2,874. Just 50 years later, in 1910, that number grew to 207,214, having increased by more than 100 percent in four of the five decades in between.

The low-cost hydroelectric generation was very attractive to OWPR and the potential that lay in the Clackamas River was identified early on. The delay in using the Clackamas was mostly because they had been using Multnomah Falls, but by the turn of the century, it was just about tapped out.

So in 1902, construction began on the powerhouse and the dam - including the building of the railroad that would connect Estacada to Portland. The line ran through Gresham and Boring before terminating in Estacada, and while it was built to haul workmen, OWPR quickly began advertising Estacada as a tourist destination as well.

In 1906, OWPR merged with Portland General Electric and the Portland Railway Company to form the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company.

The dam's role was to divert water from the river into a canal that transported the water into Faraday Lake, which sat 150 feet above the powerhouse. Once in the lake, steel penstocks carried the water into the powerhouse and its turbine generators.

Operation in the plant began in February 1907 with a total of three units in operation.

In June 1908, one of the units over-operated, causing it to fly apart and destroy the other generators. While one generator was replaced in July, the other two were not both in place until November 1908.

Fourth and fifth generators were later added in 1909 and 1910, giving the powerhouse a peak capacity of 18,000 kilowatts.

For nearly 50 years, the powerhouse remained nearly untouched, until 1957, when a sixth generator was added. This one contained much newer technology, however, as it stood vertically, while the other five ran horizontally. Peak capacity increased to 25,000 kilowatts.

The only other major events in the powerhouse's history have been floods, of which there have been four notable ones.

The largest, in 1964, severely damaged the dam, leaving the powerhouse without the ability to generate any power. Despite the high water levels, which reached nearly to the top of the ceilings, the equipment was undamaged for the most part.

On a normal day, the river flows at a speed of 7,000 cubic feet per second. In 1964, the water was moving at a speed of 86,900 cubic feet per second.

The most recent flood, in February 1996, was nearly as massive, with water levels rising above all of the generators. After this flood, four of the five generators needed to be rewound with electrical coils.

"It's amazing how long the generators have lasted," Bob Steele of PGE said. "It's rugged machinery that our people do a fantastic job of taking care of."

The powerhouse was operated by people from within until 1997, but things have been completely automated since then, allowing PGE to check on the facility just once or twice a day.

Powerhouse project

With these pieces of Oregon and industrial history right in Estacada's backyard, the Estacada Arts Commission decided to do something about it. For the past two years, artists have traveled to the sites over the course of two days and then created incredible pieces of art over the next few months.

Once completed, the art traveled around the area - beginning in the Estacada Public Library before traveling to PGE headquarters downtown, among other places.

"I really like the access to a world I never knew existed and the juxtaposition of nature and machine," Jane Reid of the Estacada Arts Commission said. "It's great to be able to throw artists into the mix and see what we come out with."

What makes this project so unique is that the artists come from all different media. Along with traditional painters and sculptors, there are also collage artists, writers, quilters, woodworkers and other mediums among the 22 artists who visited the power plant over two days.

"I will be writing something about this experience, probably some sort of fictional character relating to everything," Estacada's Kathryn Hurd said. "It's fascinating to think about the men who did what was needed for this and it will be interesting to write about them."

Another local artist, filmmaker Julius Kuzmiemski, explained some of the challenges they face.

"You're doing your site research at the same time you're shooting," he said. "I enjoy crawling around on stuff and the huge machines, though."

The goal is to have artwork finished in mid-September for viewing in the Estacada Public Library.

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