Saturday, November 21, 2015

50 HP Fairbanks Morse, II

This 50HP Fairbanks-Morse engine, built in 1911 and installed at historic Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1912, was for many years the only source of power at the Observatory campus. It's "a twin cylinder gasoline fueled engine, directly coupled to a generator capable of producing 40 kilowatts of power at 125 volts DC." There's more about the engine here and here.

We got our tour courtesy of Ken (L) and Larry (R) Evans, who've been keeping the engine running for more than 15 years.

Ready, set...let's see what this baby can do.


A brief view from the other side.

Not everyone gets excited about it. But a lot of us do.

The Fairbanks Morse engine is in a restricted area of the Observatory campus, but the Observatory itself is open to the public every day, 10am-5pm, as long as the roads are open. The Cosmic Cafe is open on weekends from April through November. Guided tours of the Observatory are available on weekends, or by reservation. You can even reserve one of the telescopes for a star gazing party! Or a photo shoot! Or an anniversary party! Or a wedding! I'm pretty sure there's not a more unique location, at least not within driving distance of my house.

11/23/15 update from Ken Evans (left, above): 
"If that lizard got onto the running flywheel, it would have to go 60 miles per hour to stay in one spot. Just a little trivia I once figured out.

"I am draining the water out of it tomorrow, Tuesday Nov 24 for the winter. Freezing nights are predicted for several days and we don't want to damage anything on such a treasure.  So the show season is over. Of course it can be looked at, just not run."

11/26/15 Here's another update from Ken Evans, and let's all thank him and Larry; they've been so helpful and informative and that's what makes this fun.

"Electricity Now and Then -  The AC electricity for Mt Wilson is supplied by SoCal Edison. In the Power House where the Fairbanks-Morse engine is located the DC is provided by solid state rectifiers and distributed from there. Originally DC was provided by various sizes of internal combustion engines. The F-M being the last. It was really a battery charger. There was a room with glass jar wet batteries and were charged during the day. At night the batteries were used which provided non polluting quiet power that astronomers liked. When AC power came to the Observatory in 1917, an AC motor driving a DC generator was installed and the F-M was a back-up. We are not sure if the AC-DC motor set was used to charge the batteries or ran all the time.

Fuel Oil -  A fuel oil called California Distillate was used as the source of heat. It is lighter than kerosene maybe like paint thinner. A large storage tank was set on a high spot and distributed to Day Tanks at various facilities by gravity. The Fairbanks-Morse engine was run on it. However, we use gasoline now for the demonstration runs. They had to start it on gasoline and then switch over to the distillate. It had to be delivered up the Toll Road but no reference has been found about delivery.

A lot of propane is now used at Mt. Wilson for heating and cooking.

Engine Running -  The engine had to be run during winter because it was the main power source. So freezing was not an issue. The combustion air intake can come from three sources. First is outside air, then room air and last, a shroud around the exhaust manifold would provide warmed air. We only use outside air. We only run the engine for demonstration during the summer. We have another volunteer that has figured out the generating system and we have generated electricity to run a light bulb and a motor for compressed air for starting. We have a modern air compressor for starting now. One cylinder of the two is converted to run on air to start the second cylinder and then converted to produce power from both.

Water -  Water for Mt. Wilson is obtained from wells near by. But because of the drought, they have gone dry and water is trucked in." 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pasadena Central Library, East Wing, Upstairs

We've returned to the main floor and the room north of the Reference Desk. I've looked at the floor plan and I think the room is part of the Reference Materials area.

In my previous post we went downstairs. Now we're going up, into another "staff only" area. The upstairs in this wing is less used than that in the west wing because there's only one entry and one exit. It's not up to code, therefore not accessible to the public, nor is it a regular office space for staff.

Dan McLaughlin, librarian, archivist, historian and author, was my delightful guide for a wonderful tour of some of the library's secrets.

I'm pretty sure he didn't show me everything.

The room above is at the top of the first flight of stairs.We couldn't get the door open. It's currently being used for storage, as you see.

Dan takes a right turn and leads me across an open area with more storage. It's the balcony you've seen from the Main Hall.

We're facing west now. On the left you see the large, arched windows that look out over the front courtyard and fountain of the Walnut Street entry. The counterpart to this photo, looking out from the opposite balcony, is in my post about the east wing.

Each window bears an inscription. This one is above the balcony we're standing on.

Another view of the same window shows something I didn't notice until I enlarged it on my computer screen: it looks out over more windows. These illuminate more storage areas. Some we were able to access, some we weren't.

There is so much here. Archivists work constantly, and they will never catch up. Job security!

More stairs. We're heading to the third floor now. This small window looks across Walnut Street to Pasadena's Police Headquarters.

Yes, there is a fourth floor in this wing. We were moving fast and I was snapping away; I can't remember if there's a fourth floor in the east wing. If there was, I'm pretty sure I didn't see it. Notice the dust on the stairs. They are used, but not much.

We weren't able to open this door, nor were we clear on the origins of the message, "ESK BEFORE USING THIS ROOM." It appears a letter has been scraped off, but it still doesn't make sense.

It's just as well. The library has secrets. It always has and it always will. I'm glad of that. Secrets are mysteries, and I like mysteries.

Dan calls the rope "security." It seems to be working.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Pasadena Central Library, East Wing, Downstairs

Let's go downstairs first, shall we?

This stairway leads down from the room just north of the Reference Desk at the east end of the Main Hall at Pasadena's Central Library.

At the bottom you arrive in a public area where there are 30 or so (or more) computers available for public use. Just beyond that room is the copy/fax room, also available to the public.

Between the two rooms, a door leads to more of the staff's working spaces.

Soon we came upon rooms of archives. Dan McLaughlin, librarian extraordinaire, author and my guide, knew I was interested in archives because of the novel I'm working on about an archivist who finds something that puts her life in danger.

Dan's an archivist. This is his office. This particular view is so useful to me and it was generous of Dan to show it off.

Lots more people work in that basement. The library has a huge staff.

Who knew? Right there in the library's basement, just about under the Main Hall, there's a shiny conference room that can also be used as a screening room.

I've lost my sense of direction already. Can it be possible that the basement is larger than the main floor's footprint? There is so much down there! We're heading into more archives.

This wowed me. Presidential papers. Really? Well, not originals. Dan told me many libraries have these books.

More and more, on and on. Not glamorous, just hidden and utilitarian and overwhelming. Thank goodness for the big staff, because one brain could not hold all the information about where everything is. Well, maybe a good librarian's brain could do that. Maybe that's part of what makes a good librarian.

See if the room above looks familiar in the following clip from the 1978 film, "Foul Play." I never would have known about this if Dan hadn't told me.

At the end, Goldie Hawn runs out through the Central Library's Main Hall. The Hall is dressed up for the shot with extra shelves to block Goldie's escape. The shot was taken from the same angle where I took a photo from above the Main Hall in my previous post.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pasadena Central Library, West Wing

When it comes to Pasadena's Central Library, there might be no better tour guide than Dan McLaughlin, Librarian, Archivist and Pasadena historian. Lucky me, I asked him for a tour and he said yes. He even held my book, Act As If, when I took his picture. (Which I did not ask him to do but I wasn't going to turn him down.)

Dan is also an author of novels, plays and history books, two of which I purchased at Art Night. You may remember Pasadena Pursuit, the Pasadena Museum of History exhibit he curated across the hall from Ann Erdman's Mystery History.

I'm working on my new novel and it takes place in a library. It might even take place in Pasadena. For research and inspiration, I hoped to snoop around, above and behind things in Pasadena's Myron Hunt-designed, 1927-opened, 130,000 square foot Central Library.

Let's start with the library's west wing, which is way bigger than I imagined it could be.

When you enter the door west of the check-out desk where it says "Staff Only," a corridor takes you past a coffee room and several offices. Pretty soon you come upon this long room where books are being checked in and catalogued. I'm standing near the west end of the room. The windows face out onto the parking lot. Does the purple protect workers and books from the sun? The door at the far end opens onto the hallway that leads from the parking lot into the library.

We're on the second floor now, right above where I was standing when I took the previous shot. I hope the employees don't mind me showing their lounge. I think it's pretty nice. Very roomy and comfy, with a kitchen off to the left. The coffee room on the first floor is a lot smaller. This one's more like a full kitchen.

I never knew about this and it's hiding in plain view! The walkway leads from the lounge to the office pictured below. You can look north over the parking lot and to the mountains from here. Next time I'm at the library, I'm going to look up from the parking lot and see if I can spot it.

We're looking toward the mountains. More purple. I'm gonna go with sun protection.

Dan asked me to be careful about taking photos of library patrons. "We like people to feel safe here," he said, "we protect their privacy." I don't think you can recognize anyone in this photo of the Main Hall, taken from the second floor balcony looking east. The Hall's floor is cork, to reduce noise. The woodwork is quarter-sawn oak.

An interesting tale about the chandeliers: they're replicas of the ones Myron Hunt designed for the building. Other lights were installed in the 1960's "which obscured the beautiful ceilings," and no one knows what happened to the originals. But Hunt had designed the same ones for the Huntington Library, and these are copies of the Huntington's.

I took about a million photos and I'll post more. But I want to thank the library staff right now, and especially Dan McLaughlin. I had hoped to be inspired by my tour and I haven't stopped writing since.

Do you want an architectural tour of the Pasadena Central Library? Yes, you may have one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Behind the Scenes

This combination lock opens a door to a stairway that most Pasadenish have not climbed. Yet many of us have walked past this door. Where do you suppose we are?

Here's another clue. I'm giving it away!

In the next few posts, we'll take a behind-the-scenes tour of...

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cravens Estate

I did some volunteer work for the Pasadena Museum of History and they invited me to their volunteer meeting at the Cravens Estate.

Nice digs.

The Cravens Estate was built in 1930 for John S. and Mildred Cravens. It was a headquarters of the Red Cross for some years, but is no longer. It might be on the market! We volunteers discussed the possibility of pooling our funds.

The Estate is often used as a filming location. In 2010 it was the Pasadena Showcase House, and there's more information about it here. Some of the info is out of date but it gives you an idea about the history and size of the place.

This is just inside the main entrance. You can see a dining room beyond. I admit I'm not crazy about the murals, but I love the light.

Here's a hallway leading to the rear garden. I was trying to keep my reflection out of the picture.

A staircase leads to the second floor and a showpiece skylight. Those rectangles are mirror images of it.

I really, really wanted to snoop around the second and third floors, as well as the rooms on the first floor where our volunteer meeting was not taking place. But mama raised an obedient girl and I didn't have the nerve. What if I were caught? Would I be spanked?

The back porch is nice, too.

More pictures here. A lot more!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mt. Wilson Observatory Hideout IV: Farewell for Now

Update 10/2/15: I heard from Ken Evans, Mt. Wilson volunteer (thank you, Ken!). He's always got great info:
"Hi Petrea -  I was looking at your web page and saw your photo of the big bucket outside the Monastery kitchen at Mt. Wilson.  It was used to haul concrete up to the second floor of the Monastery during construction. I have seen photos on the Huntington Library digital images page that show the Monastery under construction. It shows a wood tower with pulleys and cable system to haul the bucket up. The power for the lift was a Model T Ford truck with ballast on the back to give traction.  The truck would drive forward and the bucket would go up. I think the concrete was then poured into wheel barrows and moved where needed."

Thanks, Ken!

Original post:

Last night's blood moon brought crowds to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. The parking lot is always open and it's a good spot for viewing the night skies. The Observatory itself closes to the public at 5pm but last night the staff left the gate open and people wandered, enjoying the grounds. Despite all the light from the city below it's still very dark up here, and fun to snoop. Everyone had a good time even though throughout most of the evening the moon demurely hid its heavenly body behind a tantalizing veil of clouds.

One does not get a good photo of a moon, even a giant blood moon, with an iPhone. You will find all the gorgeous shots you could possibly want elsewhere on the web. So for my last post from the mountain, I thought I'd show you things you won't find elsewhere. Above, that's a giant old bucket thing (technical term) behind the Monastery kitchen. Something from an old well? Chili cooker? The rim of the bucket came up to my waist.

Here's a view from a second floor window in the Monastery. I don't know what it is. You tell me. I like it in black and white. (Ken says these are "...old fashioned heat vents. Some times used on water heaters, or stove flues. I would have to look in the building to see if they are still in use. My guess is no.")

A better view of that drain we saw the other day.

Science moves on, always looking for the newest discovery. That's what science must do. Funding follows the biggest telescope, the latest thing. For the first half of the 20th century and beyond, Mt. Wilson Observatory was the cutting edge of astronomical research, but larger telescopes are now the norm. Important work is still done here (the Solar Telescopes, the CHARA Array, etc.), but the Observatory is in transition. What will it become? A museum of astronomical history? An Observatory? An educational facility? All three? What do you envision?

I'm not sure what's in Mt. Wilson's future, but I know what's in its past: major scientific discoveries that changed the world's understanding of itself and its place in the cosmos. Like Hubble's glass plate proving the expansion of the universe (a discovery he made here, using the 100-inch Hooker Telescope), it's impossible to place a monetary value on that.

I have been more than fortunate to experience this magical place in a private way. There's a lot here to do, see and think about. My endless thanks to those who made it possible.

Come visit, then let's talk some more.