Stationary Power Plants in California

by Bruce Petty

This web page is about Stationary Power Plants in California, it is done as a pictorial because web-pages are really great for photographs but not for reading a lot of text. Email me at if you have a comment or question. Please enjoy your visit.

Stationary Power Plants furnished steam and electric power for most industries at the turn of the century. Mining, Lumber and the Oil industries had some of the largest Stationary Power Plants.

This is a drawing showing the basic Stationary Power Plant. The boiler is seen without the brick around the firebox. Coal or Wood were the early fuels, Oil fired boilers were common after 1910. The pipe from the steam dome of the boiler went to the steam engine. After the steam was used in the engine, it was exausted usually up a pipe to the roof of the boiler house. A flat leather belts from the steam engine operated the machinery.

This Power Plant along the California Coast was used for a turn of the century mining operation. The reason it was here by the ocean is that coal was dilivered in bags from ships, seen stacked in front of the power house.

Inside the Engine Room is this Union Iron Works, Stationary Steam Engine. The Boiler room and the Engine Room are seperated by a wall, this because Boilers are dirty from firing with coal and the steam engine and its Electric Generator need to be kept clean.

There are two flat belts seen in this picture, the large one going to the generator (seen in the above picture) and a smaller belt going to what is called an exciter, used to make AC electricity. Note the Steam Gauge Board on the wall and the Electric Control Pannel at the right. The man who had the job of engine operator, oiled around the engine and also had to keep the equipment clean. The men working in the Boiler room shoveling coal was the dirty work.

Inside this engine room is a Corliss Steam Engine. This type of engine was designed to get the most work out of each pound of steam. This engine was used at mine near San Diego, CA. Find more information about Corliss Steam Engines at the bottom of page.

South of San Jose, in the mountains was the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Company, this was the Santa Isabel Shaft.

This is a Prescott, Scott & Co., Cornish Pumping Engine, used to remove the water from the bottom of the mine. The pump was located at the bottom of the shaft connected by a rod to the walking beam of the engine below floor level.

This is a Prescott, Scott & Co. builders plate from a Hoisting engine, like the one in the photograph below. The company was located in San Francisco, and supplied many engines to mines working the gold fields of California and Nevada.

This is a Prescott, Scott & Co., Mine Hoisting Engine, built in 1882. The hoist allowed men and materials to be lowered to different levels of the mine and the ore to be removed.

Here is a view of students learning the technology of the early1900s, Steam-Electric Power Generation.

This is the Steam-Electric Power plant at St. Helena, CA. Looks to be a number of additions made to the plant as the city kept getting larger.

This is a 1925 photo the Sacramento Hospitle steam plant. The old guy at the far right of the picture looks like he runs the plant.

This is Dick Bricktel (1976) oiling the Corliss engine that powered the lumber mill in McCloud, CA. Above him is the Fly Ball Governer that turned slowly controling the speed of the engine. The leather Flat Belt on the that was around the 18 foot flywheel went into the mill powering two sawing head rigs.

Corliss Steam Engine Page.