May 29, 2008

Living Sculpture

Click on the image to see animation
In 1971 and '72, I served as Superintendent of the power plants and chilled water plants at the University of Oklahoma. In a building we referred to as the "old" power plant there was an 1898 Westinghouse reciprocating steam driven dynamo -- a very early electrical generator that had served the university at the turn of the century. It was gorgeous! It had a huge cast iron flywheel decorated with bright paint, ornate lettering, and gold leaf. Everything had been beautifully preserved. It was like a technological time capsule. Each week, my crew turned it over by hand to make sure it stayed lubricated. About once a year, Earl Tabor, our chief engineer, would apply steam pressure to it and run it for a few minutes to exercise its mechanisms.

A Dynamo Similar to the One at Oklahoma

My immediate boss, Mike Hunt, had gone to work for the University in the 1920's. His first job was setting the clocks in the classrooms every morning. This was necessary because they shut the powerplant down every night! The power plant stayed on line for one half hour after the library closed each night. Then, everything shut down, including the street lights. At 6 AM, the plant was restarted for the day.

The University was building a new engineering center in the early 1970's. The architects had designed a large atrium at the main entrance to the building. There were plans to have a sculpture competition to come up with a work of art that would idealize the engineering profession. I suggested to one of the officials that the antique dynamo would make the perfect centerpiece for that large open space. My suggestion went nowhere, and a massive laminated wooden abstract sculpture was installed.

I wonder what ever happened to that beautiful piece of machinery. Could it still be residing in the "old" power plant???

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