Plant That Burned Natural Gas Now Distant Memory


Young grew up in Electric Plant Camp. His father, Norman, worked at the plant as an engineer. Every day, Orin brought lunch to his father. He still remembers much of the plant the way he experienced it as a boy.

“It was clean and quiet,” he said during an early December tour of the empty building. “There were big fires.” Norman worked a desk in the back corner of the building, checking electric meters to make sure the plant’s output was constant.

Norman manned the plant with three crews of five workers and a small maintenance staff. Workers at the plant kept one of the two generators running at all times, with a third, a much smaller turbine constantly running, ready to replace any failing units.

In the rare times they ran out of natural gas, the plant burned crude oil, sending a cloud of black smoke into the Salt Creek Field air.

The plant closed for good in 1958, about a year after Norman retired.

Pacific Light and Power moved to the area and bought the transmission lines but not the building, which started as a Midwest Refining Company property and changed hands more times than most with secondhand knowledge of the plant can track.

“They didn’t have anybody who knew how to run this plant,” Orin said.

As Orin – a 1951 Midwest High School graduate – remembers it, people in Midwest didn’t worry about the plant closure.

“It was just, ‘Oh well,”’ he said.

Most who’d lived in Electric Plant Camp picked up and moved seven miles south into Midwest proper and started over.

What happens to the old plant next remains to be seen.

There are stacks of hay and feed in what used to be the boiler room and a loading dock.

Parts of the main floor are sinking in. The lowest level of the building – once the pump room – is now completely flooded, likely by groundwater. Stairs that led from the generator room to a room some 20 feet below have since fallen to the ground, leaving only a long drop down.

Orin has salvaged as much as possible from the plant since its closure – a boiler nameplate here, a drill press there – and donated much of it to the Salt Creek Museum.

The man’s love for the building is evident. Now retired, he’s still willing to climb into his beat-up silver Volvo and drive the nearly 100 miles from his home in Story to give a tour of the plant and relive old memories.

“I’m proud of the old place,” he said. “Not that I had much to do with it.”

Young said that he’s considered requesting some sort of historic designation for the structure, but wouldn’t know where to start.

And the building’s value may also eclipse the historic. With natural gas prices waning and impending Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would make it even more expensive to burn coal, natural gas is becoming a popular fuel for power plants.

Young said he’s not sure what it would take to renovate the plant, but it may not be necessary.

“It’s lasted this long,” he said. “If it only lasted another 100 years ….”

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Posted by on Jan 2nd, 2013 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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