Jilly D.

Posts Tagged ‘waterwheel’

Po-dunk. Po-dunk. The sound of power.

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on January 18, 2014 at 8:57 pm

956725-R1-20-21AIn New York the joke is there are only two seasons: winter and road construction. In the heart of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, farmers know four distinct seasons. Different kinds of alternative energy can be harvested each in its own time.



Sam Warren built a system that integrates sun, water and wind with the natural forces of local weather. When the sun doesn’t shine, the wind blows. When it isn’t sunny or windy, it’s raining and the water runs. Instead of fighting against the forces of nature, Sam works with them.

Solar panels provide the primary source for generating electricity year round.  Windmills and a waterwheel are complementary sources. The sun, wind and water keep us free and clear. No credit card bills, no interest payments, no debt.

Too many people think retrofitting their current residence with alternative energy involves a substantial capital investment. For some folks no matter how much money they spend, their residences are not well situated for harvesting the sun, wind or water. For others, it makes perfect environmental and economic sense.

Sam practices the “pay as you go” system. Start with what you can afford and your savings provide the capital to purchase your next solar panel, or inverter, windmill or meter.

956725-R1-19-20AIn the last 15 years Sam installed more solar panels than his original two. As he could afford it, he added two windmills and built a waterwheel. The first windmill was an Enron model and it still works on a pole attached to the roof. The second windmill is much larger and sits atop an 80 ft. tower to the west of the cabin. Each catches different air currents.

The waterwheel is 10 feet in diameter, set in concrete and weighs more than 3,000 lbs. of steel. Sam designed it based on a Fitz Overshoot wheel. He built it entirely from scratch; cutting and welding the steel into a true circle. It took him most of a winter to build.

On Easter Sunday 2002 he began digging a half acre pond at the northeastern corner of our property. The pond is more than 40 feet higher than the cabin roof. Sam laid pipes from the pond overflow pipe through the fields and down to the cabin. The six inch pipe brings water to the wheel by the force of gravity. Later that spring, he hired a crane to set the waterwheel upright and level; then poured concrete for its foundation right in front of the cabin.766018-R1-12-13A

Water is a power source available in winter: running water never freezes. Because it is gravity fed, water flows without need of an electric pump.

The waterwheel will run on just a trickle of water. Once the cups fill with water and the wheel begins to move it is impossible to stop the momentum. Sam hooked up a turbine from to the waterwheel and it generates 3-phase electricity.

100_0931Once the waterwheel was in place, Sam spent the summer and fall building a millhouse around it. With pulleys and gears, Sam rigged up various farm implements to run off the waterwheel’s power: a corn sheller, a seed cleaner, an 1892 drill press, a grain mill, apple corer and peeler, cider press, and knife sharpener. He built in grain bins and countertops in the second floor, or attic, of the millhouse.

The lean-to kitchen eventually gave way to a new summer kitchen that is 6 foot wide by 12 foot long situated between the cabin and the millhouse. There is a big picture window between the summer kitchen and the millhouse. When I put the coffee on in the morning I get to look out at the waterwheel. The dawn’s light bursts into the millhouse and catches the water as it splashes. Po-dunk, po-dunk, po-dunk. The music of the wheel plays round and round. Light is refracted in every direction by the spokes of the spinning wheel.


From a quiet life of desperation

In Off-The-Grid Memoir, Uncategorized on January 4, 2014 at 9:09 pm

766018-R1-12-13AWhen New York State Electric and Gas told Sam it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to bring electricity down to the homestead from the road more than 1,400 feet, Sam decided he would make his own power instead. Our electricity is home grown.209467-R1-02-3

Sam started out with a couple of solar panels. He’s been off-the-grid since 1994. Today there are two big banks of solar panels generating enough power to run electric fence, lights, radio, a big screen TV, a DVD player, refrigerator, freezer, water pump and other appliances; although not all of them at the same time.

“Got no mortgage; no rent payment. Got no utility bills. No heat or electric payments. Got no bills for cable service, internet, high speed dialup or instant messaging. No health insurance payments or medical bills. Don’t budget for entertainment or travel. Grocery bills are next to nothing because we raise the food we eat and most of the feed for our animals. No need for a health club membership,” Sam says.

“People go to work every day all day long so they can pay for their housing and heat. They come home after dark. They spend more time at work than at home trying to pay for the cost of having a home,” says Sam. “Makes no sense to me,” he says.111111-R1-14-15_015

It took me two years after I moved in with Sam to leave my guaranteed-for-life job as a tenured college professor. Once I added up the rent, heat, electric, health insurance, meals, car loan payment, gas, insurance, travel, wardrobe, dry cleaning, haircuts, books, magazines, journals, computer software, credit card payments and business expenses involved in keeping up appearances of a modern professional I got a real shock. I looked around at my colleagues paying off student loans, saving for their children’s college tuition, paying for daycare or private school fees, caring for elderly parents, taking on second mortgages and huge credit card debt. Too many of my professional associates were in therapy, depressed, drinking too much, taking lots of antidepressants and prescription narcotics, dysfunctional as human beings and creating a toxic work environment to which I got physically sick. The job didn’t pay for itself. I could never make more money than what I needed to spend to keep up, much less stay sane.

Until I met Sam I was like millions of other Americans today. I was always strapped with debt. First it was student loan debt, but as I paid that down, the credit card debt piled on as I tried to maintain the appearances of a professional lifestyle. I couldn’t even start to save for a down payment, much less afford a mortgage on my teaching salary.

No repo men came after my car. No bill collectors harassed me. I could make the minimum payments and my credit limits kept rising. But I could never afford the credit extended to me. I faced rising fuel costs, heating costs, worked harder and longer hours. I spent more on energy going to and from work and on heating a household in which I spent less and less time. I couldn’t enjoy what I had and I couldn’t live on what I could afford. I couldn’t sleep at night owing for the rest of my life.

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GHFrom a quiet life of desperation to a life of quiet deliberation, I took my lessons from a self-educated man. What I learned from him proved more potent a remedy to my ailments than any pharmaceutical. Everything passes away but a few things endure. Sun, wind, water, fire, stone and earth have been here across all time, but love is the greatest source of power to sustain the human spirit.

Stirred, shaken, crushed

In Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond, The Farm, Time and seasons on April 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

The interior life of my middle life has so many reference points in the external world and yet at moments it slips into an abyss of alienation from all of that reality. To get grounded I’ve been taking the dogs on long walks back along the shores of Warren Pond. The snow is all gone, though it’s still too wet to plow the fields.

It’s good to see vehicles in front of the cabin and barns. Seeing guys working as I turned down into the field from the long curving lane made me take a breath and relax. Things are happening; improvements are being made.

The back addition, the ‘sun room’ where Sam had installed a panorama for his Lionel Train set is long gone. All the solar panels are off the roof and most all of the wood is being saved for reuse. The Andersons, who bought the farm last September, are moving forward with their own exciting plans to build sustainably. The millhouse came down yesterday afternoon.

The waterwheel, ten feet in diameter, made of steel, stood under the sky again. I remembered Sam building it; and I have photographs of it before the millhouse went up around it. I have no idea how they’re going to move that but these guys working are making progress fast. It’s spring. New beginnings.

Many fruit trees planted, chickens on their way, and a whole host of wonderful new adventures for the Andersons, Darryl and Suzanne and their four grown children. This afternoon the crew had stripped the front porch off.

Today the cabin is back to its original size: 14 X 20 feet; but there’s no kitchen lean-to left. You can see each and every stone Sam set for its foundation.  The outdoor furnace is completely gone.

The dogs and I walked the fields. Lucy splashed through every puddle and plopped along the edge of the pond enjoying the change in season. Scooby dashed through the open fields; stretching those long legs in heart- thumping gallops and jumping over hurdles.

Sitting on the western edge of the pond a very large turtle pushed off into the pond’s deep water; just in advance of the dancing Dalmatians. Heard it before I saw it. Big turtle.

Walked to the pavilion and kissed Sam’s gravestone.