"" Writer's Wanderings: Vermilion, Ohio's Lester Allan Pelton

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vermilion, Ohio's Lester Allan Pelton

While in Vermilion, Ohio, on Saturday, I picked up a brochure put out by the Vermilion Area Archival Society that featured the inventor, Lester Allan Pelton, who grew up in the area. He is noted for the "Pelton Water-Wheel" which produced the first hydroelectric power in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Calivornia in 1887.

Pelton was born in Vermilion and lived there until he was twenty and, like so many others of his era, got "gold fever." He and about 20 local boys headed west to find their fortune. Pelton worked as a fish peddler for a time supplying miners with the fresh catch of the day. It appears he didn't really care for mining even though he moved closer to the region where it was going on. Instead, he was more a book worm and a skilled tinsmith, carpenter and millwright.

His idea for the water wheel is said to have come when he chased a stray cow by tossing water at it. He noticed the water split, circled the cow's notstrils and came out at the outer edge. He started drawing a water-wheel with split metal cups. That led to experimenting with it in the mines and eventually to making hydroelectic power efficient.

I was impressed. All that from tossing water at a cow. His birthplace is owned privately by some folks who remodeled it after a major fire destroyed a good part of it. You can also see the "Cuddeback School" where he first learned his ABC's.

Our trip to Vermilion also included a stop at a small park area where there was a festival of sorts going on. Corn roasted on an open grill. Homemade goodies and crafts were for sale and the kids were inventively putting together "corn racers." The Rotary Club was sponsoring a craft where kids could put wheels to an ear of corn and race them down a pine derby track. The rain didn't deter the fun and who knows, maybe the racers will spark an idea for a future inventor in the group.

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