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Monday, July 1, 2013

Field Trip Friday 2 - Keokuk Iowa Lock and Dam Tour

Did you ever wonder where all that electricity that you have in your house ever came from?  I have to admit it has not been one of my personal top questions that I have asked.  This past Saturday though I had the opportunity to take a tour of the lock and dam near my hometown and see exactly how all that power is made and where it goes.  Well not exactly as they keep a lot of that stuff secret or at least don't let any ole person see it, but I did get to see some cool stuff on the tour anyway.


This past weekend was Keokuk Iowa's 100 Year Celebration of Lock and Dam #19.  The largest dam on the Upper Mississippi River.  The day was celebrated with lots of food, entertainment,and of course dam tours.

Normally nobody is allowed into the dam to see how it works and the last time that it was open at all to the public was a year ago.  I didn't go a year ago, but I was told by several people that you were not allowed very far into the building at all.  So as far as what we were able to see this year, it was a lot more and probably a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity.

I decided to go because it was that once in a lifetime opportunity and because I knew my husband would find the tour very interesting.  He loves to see how things work.  My son wasn't quite as thrilled by the idea, but once the tour started he changed his tune very quickly.

We had taken the buses that were offered to get to the tour because this was the way our sky was looking as we started our tour.  Yeah rain was acoming and it wasn't going to wait for us to get into the dam before the heavens let loose on us.  We had to run to the security station and pray that we could outrun it.  Those prayers were not answered haha.  We had to stop so that the security people could take a look inside my purse.  I was freaked out that they would confiscate my pepper spray that I keep on hand and my pocket knife.  They didn't, but it did make us too late to miss that rain.  So we got soaked as we flew into the building.  It was all good.

Lock and Dam Tour
Here we are soaking wet, but inside and hopefully drying out quickly.  The security guards told us to make sure that we went right to the generator area to get dried off.  I wasn't sure what they were talking about at first.  
Oops excuse my upside down word

The very first thing that I noticed as we started our tour was how exceptionally LOUD generators are.  Seriously these suckers are HUGE and make a lot of noise!  I did figure out what the security guards were talking about though because they put out a lot of heat and you can feel it blowing off them and standing in front of them it felt like I was blow drying my hair.  Good for us this day, but I would think it would be awful when it is 90 degrees plus for those working in here!  There were I believe 15 generators all helping to create electricity.

dam tour

Let me see if I can explain this concisely and easy to understand without getting all boring.  The water flows into the "lake" above the dam and enters the power plant.  Less water = less generators, too much water = gates are opened to let water flow downstream.  Water passes through the plant and the water pressure spins these giant wheels called turbines.  As the water spins the turbine, it turns a rotor inside the generator.  The rotor is a magnet that spins inside a stationary coil of wire, called a strator.  As the turbine spins, it turns the rotor which creates an electric current in that strator.  Electricity is made!  Get it?  I was a little bit confused but I got the jist of it.  Someplace underneath the water that goes over this spillway(picture above) is where the water comes in to turn the turbine.

dam tour
You weren't allowed down to see how and where the water comes in.  The closest I could get was as the water was flowing out, you could look between these grates to see the water flowing.  If you looked out of the dam windows you can see areas where the water is getting spit out after it has turned the turbine.  We watched as debris and stuff got sucked under the water on its way out and back downstream.  The turmoil of the water was pretty wild, unfortunately I couldn't get a good enough picture to show you the turmoil itself.

The history behind the building of the dam is pretty fascinating.  Construction began in January of 1910 with teams of mules and horses.  By 1911 900 men were at work to build it and was completed in May 31, 1913.  Prominent members of Keokuk wanted to get in on the whole electricity game and they knew that they could use the power of the Mississippi River to do that.  This would attract more people and businesses to the Keokuk area.  An interesting Confederate States and Civil War connection was that the surveyor for the US War Department that called attention to the fact that this could be a potential source of power back in 1836, if they could learn to control it.  Guess who that surveyor was????  None other then Robert E. Lee.  Yes THAT Robert E. Lee who became the commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War!  How fascinating is that???  Ok, ok I know my Civil War geek is showing through haha.

This dam was, at the time, the largest dam and power plant and known as the greatest water development project of its time.  The turbines were the largest ever built!  The building of this dam brought about inventions that would forever change the transmission of electrical power. 

original lock and dam
Here is some of the original lock foundations before they built the new lock system.  The locks are used to get huge cargo ships over the dam so they can continue downstream delivering their goods.

This was just a fascinating and education tour of our past and just fun to go on.  I was so glad that I was able to.  So where does all that electricity go?  Well it turns out, not to my house or to Keokuk but it flows on down straight south to St. Louis.  Glad I was able to get that answered!

To see more of my fun Iowa travel click here!

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