[X001M2AT], Letter from Wilson Stout Howell to John H Vail, April 18th, 1889
I beg to submit to you this, my report of the condition and future of the station the Des Moines Edison Light Co, Des Moines as follows: ## Des Moines is a thriving city of about forty thousand and (40,000) people the center of a large and furtile farming district the state capacity and county seat. The city exhibits many evidence of prosperity and enterprise which mark it as rich field for investment in an Edison plant. Such evidences of solidity and growthas the erection of substantial business blocks, a thoroughly first class hotel, scores of dwellings of all classes, two electric strut railways and a government building of no mean proportions illustrate the resources of the Capitol City. ## Des Moines is said to have sixteen railroads, which radiate from it as spokes from the hub, several bridges spanning the Des Moines River connect the Eastern and Western parts of the city. ## The Edison station is located about two blocks South of the business center of the city and a considerable distance out of the present center of ilumination which is all north and west of the station. ## The building occupied as the station was built for some other purpose and is not suited to its present use either in size, strength, shape or construction. ## The boilers are too small for their present maximum winter load and have required extensive repairs recently, which I understand put them in good condition. ## The engines are in bad condition, the show speed Buckeye engine being on a very bad foundation is in constant danger of breaking down completely although it has run for many months as I found it. ## This engine is belted to a counter shaft on the floor of the dynamo room in the second story where it drives two H dynamos of the 400 ampere type built for 125 volts. The regulation of this engine is very good but it requires overhauling and a rigid foundation. ## The other engine, an Armington & Simms, is in great need of repair. The governor works badly and is considerably worn, this destroys the regulation and makes the engine unreliable. I am told that the piston is too small for the cylinder which is a source of great loss of steam. The speed of this engine varied nine (9) revolutions on a constant load during midday. This engine is belted direct to a pair of H. dynamos built for 400 amperes at 120 volts, the dynamos being on the floor above the engine room with belts at about 45 degrees from horizontal. The belts connecting the A&S engine to the dynamos are of cotton, and slip considerably, making a range of speed on dynamos as high as 65 revolutions (from 914 rev. to 849 rev.) part of which can be charged to the variations of speed of the engine (9 revolutions as stated.) ## The Buckeye engine is connected to countershaft by a leather belt, from this countershaft two dynamos are driven, one by a leather belt (H. #56) and the other (H. #57) by a leather belt. The variation of speed of dynamo #56 is 59 revolutions, (from 835 rev. to 786 rev.) the result of about half an hours speed counting during which twenty five (25) counts were made, similar test of #57 dynamo, driven by leather belt showed a range of only 16 revolutions, or from 818 to 802 revolutions per minute. This leather belt is in poor condition, yet it slips less than any other belt on dynamo in this station, all the others being cotton. The countershafting and its belts occupy too much space for economy and introduce unnecessary machinery and loss of power in the plant. The dynamos, four in number, are of the 400 amp. type built for 125 volts, their shop numbers are #56, #57, #65 & #66 and are all in fair condition. Two span armatures are carried which have been patched and repaired by the station men. ## The electrical apparatus is all of ancient type and of poor design and faulty construction. The main ampere meter (first type with permanent magnet) is of no use, its readings being about 100 per cent too high. The dynamo ampere meters are of the first type of pendulum instruments. The pressure indicators are of the old two lamp pattern with plugs and are not easily kept in adjusting and are unrealiable. The equializers are of the double headed pattern and are never used, all their resistance being kept out of circuit and regulation effected entirely by the dynamo regulators. The dynamo regulators are very much larger than late experience has demonstrated necessary, and take up too much space to admit of bunching all apparatus in a small compas. ## The wiring of the station is not in accord with the best modern practice but is not very bad. ## Three feeders carry the current out of the station to the business district where the load is heavier between these three feeders the mains are fairly well bridged, but beyond the bridging is infrequent and insufficient, the bridges being small and the neutral wires being omitted entirely from all bridges excepting when main runs directly from one feeder to another. Mains of great length are extended far into the residence district, so great is the distance from the feeders that a great drop occurs during times of heavy load and much complaint is made from these localities. ## The load is not balanced between the two sides of the system and cannot be as long as motors of 110 vots are used. Mr. Colby, the manager, impresses me as a man of good judgment and a fair amount of knowledge of the business which he seems to be able to grasp. In my opinion he needs only experience to make a valuable man. The dwelling house leighting is sought after and made an item of considerable importance, and will, in my opinion prove a source of considerable income. ## Arc and municipal lighting have been entirely abandoned to rivals and should be vigorously fought as the field promises a rich harvest, East Des Moines being practically unoccupied by El. Lt. companies. A large, and constantly increasing, motor business is being done, Des Moines has over 90 horse-power of motors installed with St. Paul, nearly six times as large, has less than 75 horsepower. ## Des Moines has learned the disadvantage of 110 volt motors and is installing none of over 1/4 horsepower which are wound for less than 220 volts. ## The future of this station is a subject of considerable importance and should have prompt and vigorous attention. The demand for light is greater htan they can supply. The present plant cannot be enlarged or altered to meet the demand and which will follow a betterment of the service. They have not a large enough lot to build a station on without removing their entire present plant and cutting off all revenue pending reconstruction. ## I am positive that the only course is to construct an entirely new station, equipped with modern apparatus in the most approved manner. This new station should be located in the center of distribution and should serve both sides of the river with arc and incandescent light for both "domestic" and municipal lighting, having special attention to their extensive and growing motor business. Such a center is very near the present old dam across the Des Moines river, which dam I am told is controlled by the Edison people under an option the franchise giving them a right to a fall of eight feet an dis represented as equivalent to eight-hundred horse-power. ## Under these circumstances I should recommend the Des Moines Co. to have a survey made by a compentent water power expert and to secure this dam provided the price will allow an attractive return on the gross investment in a complete ne wstation at the dam, embracing sufficient steam plant to drive the entire load of Edison lamps, this steam plant to be a reserve on duplicate to be used when the water power failed. ## The cost of such a new plant would be made up of the cost of real estate and dam, station building, flume, water wheels, tail-race, shafting, dynamos, electrical apparatus, feeders and mains. When the new station is started the boilers, engines, dynamos and apparatus of the pursuit station should be repaired and removed to the new station to be installed as an auxilliary or spare plant. This spare plant could run the entire load of Edison Lamps if a means could be provided for cutting out the heavy motor load when a stoppage of the water power necessitated dependence upon the steam plant. The bulk of the motor load is in the business center of the city. This load could be connected to a special power main. This main could be connected to the station of to the heavy feeder in the business center, from which would get its principle supply of current and the outer ends of the power circuit could be bridged through light safety wires on position and negative to the ordinary mains. Provide a mains of cutting of the principle supply to the power circuit (at the station, or on the line) when necessary, leaving the power circuit connected to the mains only through small safety catch wires which would burn off and thus open the line when such abnormal work was imposed on them. Thus the present steam plant could hold up the Edison lamps although the water power were shut down. ## There is a demand today for much more and better lighting in Des Moines, and all classes of light can profitably be done from one station. The fact that the present Edison plant holds its prices up while furnishing a poor light indicates a prospherous future for that company which shall make a good light and reach out after business. ## The Des Moines Edison Light Co. are in the field and occupy already the best territory but while their natural position is one of great advantage they have a rival which is today figuring you an electric light plant with the Thomson-Houston Co. and are talking of constructing "a plant second to none." ## Mr. Colby recognize the necessity for promptly and dispatch in heading off the rival company and evidently has done much good work already in pushing matters in Des Moines. Mr. Colby informs me that they will not be cramped for fun that they, the Des Moines Edison Co. can raise two hundred thousand dollars ($2,000) with the help of the parent company. If this is so no time should be lost. ## I had rather today invest in the new interpe in Des Moines than in the St. Paul Co.
[X001M2AT], Letter from Wilson Stout Howell to John H Vail, April 18th, 1889
Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University