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The start of the six mile
flume to Hammond
Power House #1

The underpinnings of the flume were mostly 4 x 4".

Freddie Griffes, Flumwalker,
after 41 years on the job.

The Flume

If you stop at the Oak Grove bridge built in 1923 and look up the mountain side to the south, you will see the flume that still carries water to the power station at Hammond. You might wonder at the difficulty of building such a structure on such a steep hillside. But it is even more impressive when you realize the road wasn't there when the flume was constructed in 1898.

The Flume ran across several cliffs and rock walls.

As soon as the Mt. Whitney Power and Electric Company was formed, the first order of business was the building of a flume. D.L. Wishon was given the job of surveying and engineering a structure that could deliver enough water to a penstock with a 1,300 foot drop to power the generators at Hammond. Wishon surveyed a line across the steep mountain slopes on the south side of the East Fork of the Kaweah River.

Hauling wood and other materials for construction of the flume required ingenuity, for there was no access to the surveyed area. Henry Alles and Jim Davenport owned Atwell Mill below Mineral King at the time. Davenport evidently sold or leased his interest to the Mt. Whitney Power Company and Alles agreed to let the company's mill operator, A.G. Comstock, cut Sequoia trees for the flume. John Grunigen, who worked at both the mill and on the flume, related that the company put so many men to work at the mill that they “fell over each other”.

As the lumber was cut, it was hauled by wagon down the Mineral King wagon road on the north side of the canyon. Just above Oak Grove, a long V-shaped flume was hung from cables stretching from the road across the wide canyon to the river. The lumber was placed in this “chute” and dropped to the river where a diversion dam of granite masonry was being built.

From there, the wood had to be delivered to the workers along the remote terrain. This took some ingenuity. As each thousand-foot section of flume was completed, water was turned into it temporarily. Then lumber from the pool behind the diversion dam was floated down the flume to the next section to be built. In extremely rugged areas, dollies were constructed that ran the lumber under the flat bottom of the finished flume to the next work site.

The head carpenter on the project rode a bicycle from the construction camp to the work sites, using a 2 by 12-inch plank in the center of the completed section as his bike path. This, in spite of the fact the grade of the flume was “rather heavy” at 20 feet to the mile, and the timber structure supporting him could rise more than 50 feet above the ground in some areas.

On completion, the flume was filled with a constant flow of water that was fed to it from the river through a 50 foot granite tunnel leading from the intake pond. It ran 30,000 feet or almost six miles along the steep mountain side with a capacity of 17 cubic feet per second. It was 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep with sand traps provided at frequent intervals. Built of 1 1/2 inch by 12 inch Sequoia planks, the seams were caulked with spun oakum and battened with 1 inch by 4 inch strips. The underpinning that held up the structure was mostly 4 by 4s.

“It was a uniform type of flume,” Phil Winser, who worked on the project, described it, “. . . winding round the contours of the mountain side, crossing gulches on trestles and hanging on granite ledges from steel pins and nicks blasted out of them, gaining elevation above the river bed rapidly on account of the great difference in fall, until discharging into the tapering steel pipe with a drop which at the time was the highest then built for the purpose in the world.”

In all, about 75 men worked on the project, cutting, drilling, blasting and erecting the flume and its underpinnings. The project took just eight months.

It was not without its problems. There were injuries and accidents inherent in the work involved and the harsh terrain of the project. One time, after a man was severely injured from a powder blast, John Grunigen helped carry him back to camp. Traversing a narrow ledge, John slipped on some rubble and started sliding down the cliff. He landed 80 feet below, with the ends of his fingers worn off from trying to hold on to the cliff side. On regaining consciousness back at camp, he was informed that when his co-workers picked him up, they found a crushed rattlesnake underneath him.

In 1947, the wood flume was replaced with metal, but it still holds its original alignment. For years, a man could be seen walking along its top on the 2” x 12” catwalk, checking for leaks, breaks, wash-outs, trapped animals and clogging debris. In the early days that man might have been Gus Parr, the first flume tender, or Dan Alles or Albert O. Griffes who lived at Oak Grove. After 1918, it was Albert’s son, Freddie, who walked the six mile stretch from Oak Grove to the flume’s end high on Holland Mountain above the power house. Neither heat, rain, snow, high winds nor ice coatings on the catwalk ever stopped Freddie. It was estimated that after 41 years on the job he had walked the equivalent of six journeys around the world.

(CREDITS: Journal of Electricity, Power and Gas, Dec. 27, 1913; “The Power of the Kaweah”, Kaweah Commonwealth, July 2, 1999; “A Triumph of Engineering”, by Jay O’Connell, Kaweah Commonwealth, May 30, 1997; “From an Old Notebook, A Dan Alles Interview”, by Joe Doctor, Exeter Sun, March 4, 1987; “An Historical Overview of Electrification of the San Joaquin Valley” by William Myers, April 11, 1985; “Flume Folks” by Sophie Britten, Kaweah Commonwealth, June 27, 1997; “Kaweah River Hydro Project Was One of State’s First” by Joe Doctor, Exeter Sun, Feb. 8, 1989; “London Money, Kaweah Grit” by Jay O’Connell, Kaweah Commonwealth, May 16, 1997; “Power Development of Three Rivers” by Margaret Sippel, N.D.; “F.E. ‘Freddie’ Griffes 74 Years Resident of Three Rivers”, Sequoia Sentinel, July 28, 1972; “Cox and Symons Couple Purchase Oak Grove Home”, Visalia Times-Delta, April 23, 1959: Photos from Jackson files. Compilation by Louise Jackson. Webmaster, Jill Brown.)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
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