Transmission Line

Line crew on one of the tubular aluminum towers, 112L.  Steel towers on the Twin Peaks summits in the background.

"It was a big step when we heard the power surge through the transmission line, and I felt very proud." (Adam Charneski)

A continuous flow of electricity was essential. Even a short stoppage could cause serious damage to aluminum production equipment and cost the Company millions in lost revenue and equipment repair.

Since wind and snow load were obstacles, the strongest cable was chosen - as thick as a man's wrist. An 82-kilometre transmission line relayed electricity over rugged mountainous terrain to the smelter at Kitimat. One-hundred-twenty-foot, tubular five-legged aluminum towers - a new invention - carried one of the two 300,000-volt transmission line circuits across the Twin Peaks summits of Kildala Pass at an elevation of up to one mile above sea level. The other line had standard steel towers. The two lines, L and R, were strung in a location where avalanches were least likely. Adam Charneski recalls the problem and the amount of work involved with the new experimental tubular towers:

Erecting aluminum Tower No. 113L, September 4, 1953.  Leg sections were hand-winched to the proper height, then connected by bolting on the inside. 

"[Alcan was] using aluminum and they wanted to market these simple designs around the world for transmission lines, because all these aluminum towers could be erected with a five-man crew, simple five-ton DB winches. Once you got all the material onto the site it self erected, very simple to erect. They were a little bit lighter than the steel towers so it was a thing to promote the use of aluminum, which in the long run didn't work out, because of all the problems we had... A very low velocity wind at 15 miles an hour would set off an oscillating vibration in those legs... The aluminum cans [sections], which are twelve feet four-and-a-half inches in length and forty inches in diameter ...were failing at the top closing section and at the footing level... we designed a damper after many experiments... I was installing these dampers with a small... five-man crew for three-and-a-half or four years. I think we finished them in 1957 or 1958... the steel towers to this day are posing no problems, they are just standing there just like nice little statues." (Adam Charneski)

"They had transmission towers that were so large that the men didn't climb up the outside of them. The legs were large enough that they had a door at the bottom - they were totally enclosed like a tube ...and the men climbed up the inside of this leg. The boast was that this would withstand anything that Mother Nature had to offer. About noon one day in the first winter Mother Nature shrugged her shoulders and wiped out three of these transmission towers... This would be in the winter of '54-'55. I'm not sure the length of time it took to restore the power but it was several weeks." (Noel Lewis-Watts)

Camp at Tower No. 106

Tower camps were set up to house the line crews:

"[My husband Art] was up at Kemano at the tower camps. That's where he started cooking, and he had an outfit. He used to go out in the field and cook for the crews that were working away from the camp, and he had a tent with a propane stove and it was open on all sides, and he said one day the helicopter ...dropped provisions to him and there was a little creek going by and this box of pork chops fell into the creek and broke open. And the bears came and he had to chase them away because they were hauling all the food off." (June Coultan)

" ...You worked your day shift, you had your three meals a day and in the evening you just... listened to a short wave radio, and that was about it... I had a... short wave radio that would pull in lots of stuff. It was a little black thing that I got somewhere, and packed around with me for quite awhile. In some areas you would get it and in some areas you wouldn't get it, and you had to stick out an antenna out of the tents and try and pull in some communication from somewhere." (Adam Charneski)

Once the transmission line and powerhouse were in operation, a more immediate form of communication had to be created between Kitimat and Kemano. Roy Ruddell recalls that early job:

Clearing the transmission line right-of-way, 1952.  Smeltersite on the Douglas Channel in the distance.

Stringing line, circa 1953. Alcan Collection. 

"One of the first things I was asked to do was become an expert on the power line carrier, which was a voice carried over the high voltage power lines at radio frequencies and it was delivered to Kemano and they had equipment there, it was British equipment. There were two big coils on the transmission line, and all the power went through these coils. Those coils could inject a signal into the transmission line, and that carried the voice. That was the only way we had of communicating with Kemano... Of course when the power failed, the voice failed."

During the urgency of one of these interruptions - an avalanche had taken out a tower - Roy tried an experiment:

"I put the power way up, about five times. I thought, well you know, this may wreck the equipment, but it's cheap compared to anything else. So I turned it way up and shouted into the mike and the power and the signal ran through the cables lying on the ground and somehow got through to Kemano. The people heard it on the desk and I sent instructions to them what to do in Kemano to go and put the power up, crank it up, and told them where to go and what to do. The electrician over there followed my instruction and after that we were able to communicate perfectly." (Roy Ruddell)