The Island Falls Development

This is a copy of another report called Island Falls Development. It was prepared by Davis and Huffaker for publishing in the "Actimist" in Winnipeg in 1933. Parts of this are very similar to the 1935 speech, Island Falls Power Development on the Churchill River, but it has some unique and interesting information. Any spelling or punctuation errors are theirs, not ours! Unfortunately, the photos referred to in the article are missing. It was provided by Allen Hattie of Brandon, Manitoba.

Article for “ACTIMIST”
Sept. 30, 1933.

To develop the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Mine at Flin Flon, Manitoba necessitated a large electric power supply which was economical, dependable and could be enlarged at any time to furnish additional power as the mine required.

A careful investigation eliminated steam electric power if a water power site could be found near enough to Flin Flon so the transmission line costs would not be prohibitive. After a number of sites were investigated the Island Falls site on the Churchill River was chosen because of possible expansion, comparatively short transmission line, and apparently a very dependable source of power as regards river flow and ice trouble. This development was undertaken by The Churchill River Power Co., a subsidiary of the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Contracts were let to the Fraser Brace Engineering Co. Ltd. for the plant construction and Lang and Ross Ltd. for the main transmission line.

Island Falls is located at 55 degrees 30’ North in Saskatchewan about fourteen miles west of the Manitoba Saskatchewan border and about fifty-eight miles northwest of Flin Flon.

Preliminary surveys, fixing the main features of the Island Falls site had been made prior to 1933, but detail surveying began in July 1928 and all possible schemes for development were investigated and the less desirable eliminated. Surveying continued throughout the entire construction period preparing topographical plans, investigating the foundation of the proposed structures, etc. Daily gauge readings and meter determinations of the river flow were taken from time to time and a number of investigations were made regarding water storage and dams. These included Reindeer Lake, Lac La Ronge, and Lac Ile à la Crosse.

Electric power was so important for the construction of the Island Falls development that the plant was designed to have two 1250 HP units installed in the finished plant after these units had first been operated at Spruce Falls, the temporary plant 13½ miles east of Island Falls, which generated power for the plant construction.

In June 1928, preparation was made to move about 500 tons of freight from Cranberry Portage at Mile 31 on the Flin Flon Railway and also on Athapapuskow Lake, by a water and portage road to Island Falls. The total distance was 110 miles, of which approximately 90 miles was water and 20 miles portages. A road was constructed from the north end of Flin Flon Lake to the south end of Mari Lake, a distance of approximately 14 miles. This road was ready for freight on August 24th. Contemporary with this, the northern portages, totaling five in number and having a combined length of 3.5 miles, were cut and made passable for teams. Thirteen wharves and nine barges were built. Movement of freight to the power site was in full swing by September 24th, and by October 20th, 450 tons had been landed at Island Falls. This freight had to be manhandled several times on the way. The summer route from Flin Flon to Island Falls is about 73 miles.

Immediately following the completion of the summer route a winter route from the north end of FF Lake at Mile 87 on the FF Railway was commenced. Fourteen and a half miles of road was cleared and graded, from Mile 87 to the south end of Mari Lake. North of this, eleven portages were cleared and graded, totaling in length 8.5 miles. All portage roads, with three exceptions were 36 feet wide and north going grades limited to 4% and under, because of heavy north going loads.

A complete freight handling depot was installed at Mile 87, also a smaller one at Island Falls. Seven intermediate camps along the route, for maintenance and icing, were established.

The contract for hauling was let and twelve Linn Tractors for transporting, three Holts for yarding and switching and one hundred and fifty heavy duty sleighs were purchased.

Winter freight began to move in late December, but only light loads of about 40 tons each. As the ice on the lakes increased in thickness and roads generally improved the loads were increased. It has been said that at least one Linn pulled a trailing load of more than 120 tons at one time. At the end of March 1929, over 23,000 tons were at Island Falls. The average time per return trip was about forty-six hours including all delays.

The freight consisted of cement, steel rails, power plant machinery, lumber and timber, reinforcing steel, gasoline, food supplies, and the contractor’s plant for construction purposes.

Work began the first part of October on the temporary power plant at Spruce Falls, which included the clearing of land, gathering timber, building camps, hauling supplies, installing machinery as fast as it came it, building storage dams and in general getting ready to install the two 1250 HP units as soon as possible. Portable gasoline engine driven machinery played a very important part in the speeding up of this work. The first electric lights being made possible by two four KW gasoline driven D.C. generators one of which is at present installed and furnishing power for the line patrolmen at Mile 13 on the main 110 k. transmission line. By the last part of December the storage dam had been closed and the water was rising.

The transmission line had been partly located and about three miles had been cleared and poles distributed, before the first of January. On the 26th of March 1929 the two 1250 HP units were started and line energized on the following day with power available for IF construction. The operation of this plant was very satisfactory during its months of operation as a temporary power plant. The voltage generated was 550 and stepped up to 26,400 for transmission to IF where it was stepped down to 2200 and 550 for distribution.

In the meantime construction of the Island Falls Plant and main transmission line was progressing rapidly. Cottages, bunk houses, staff house, waitresses house, a kitchen, and dining room that would accommodate all the men at one sitting, office buildings, cold storage building, and cement sheds were built along with carpenter, machine, and electricians shops. A mixing plant and rock crushing plant was being installed, derricks built, railway tracks laid, trolley wire strung, and sand pits cleared. On January 31st there was a total of 563 men on the payroll at Island Falls. A railway network was being laid for hauling rock, sand, cement, concrete, machinery, and in fact anything from one part of the job to another. Electric locomotive operation started in April, delivering rock to the crusher to be crushed for concrete with the fines being saved for cement blocks.

Railway electrification was very successful. Due to the fact that fuel for any other kind of motive power would have to be transported from FF by tractor in winter and by barge in summer, which had to be handled fourteen times over the summer route, made electrification much more desirable. The also, the ultimate scheme called for electric locomotives at FF. This made railway electrification still more desirable, because locomotives could be used at FF after construction was finished at IF. The trolley system was for side arm trolley with poles set in the ground wherever possible, but where the track had to be shifted the poles were portable with a flat base on which rock was piled for ballast. The poles were native pine and spruce untreated. In August 1929 there was 21,846 linear feet of track laid which was shifted from one place to another to take care of construction progress. Temporary bonds were used exclusively on the rails.

As fast as excavation could be done concrete forms were built, reinforcing steel and anchor bolts installed, concrete poured, cement blocks place for the superstructure and cranes installed to handle heavy machinery, until in May 1930 most of the major building jobs were finished. Those included the placing of approximately 135,000 cement blocks, over 800 tons of reinforcing steel, over 34,000 cubic yards of concrete poured in the power house superstructure and sub-structure, over 35,000 cubic yards of concrete poured and 179 tons of reinforcing steel placed in the dams at the north and south end of the power house and nearly 15,000 cubic yards of concrete poured and 138 tons of reinforcing steel placed in the overflow dam, making a total of approximately 84,000 cubic yards of concrete and 1,117 tons of reinforcing steel used at Island Falls. Of course cofferdams had to be built to divert the river while building was being done and then later removed. Cofferdams were built of rock and native timber.

Also in this same month two of the main generators were ready to be dried out, not because they had been in water, but because it is general practice to dry all pieces of electrical machinery that have high voltage windings. This drying is done by passing a heavy current through the windings short circuited and with reduced voltage. The reason being that perhaps windings had absorbed a little moisture.

On the 8th of June 1930 the Spruce Falls plant load was taken over by #1 main unit at Island Falls. In the meantime a two circuit transmission line was being constructed between Island Falls and FF which now consists of 356 galvanized steel towers on which is strung two circuits of 268,800 e.m. aluminum cable, steel reinforced and insulated with eight Canadian Ohio brass and Canadian porcelain ten inch disc insulators. The line is 59.8 miles long and there are two sectionalizing points, one at mile 13 and the other at mile 38 from the FF end. There is a 7/16 inch galvanized steel ground cable suspended on top of each tower which runs the entire length of the line. The Sherritt-Gordon line taps off either of these lines at mile 13 sectionalizing tower through disconnects.

On the 12th of June 1930 power was delivered to FF at 110,000 volts over the new two circuit line. All three generating units were tested except for full load and head and were running perfectly. At this time practically the entire equipment installation was finished except for moving the plant from Spruce Falls to be permanently installed at Island Falls.

On August 23, 1930 some stop logs were removed from the overflow dam and the river started cutting a new channel for itself between the forebay and the river below the power plant at a place called Sandy Bay. It was estimated the water cut out perhaps 200,000 cubic yards of earth the first 24 hours and soon had a good channel to carry the overflow water and also serve for regulating the proper forebay elevation which directly affects to operating head.

The first part of the IF development was now complete with half the water power harnessed as called for in the ultimate development at this point on the river. The plant, its equipment and ratings are as follows. The main dam is a gravity type concrete, steel reinforced structure with gate controlled undersluices and stop-log controlled spillway. It is 100 feet high and 800 feet long. The power house shown on drawings F84- F85- F86, which forms part of the dam itself now contains three 14,000 HP vertical shaft single runner turbines and two 1250 HP auxiliary units. Headworks have been built for three additional 14,000 HP units to be installed at any future time. The main turbines are I.P. Morris 6 blade propeller type and operate at 163.6 RPM and a rated head of 56 feet. The units consist of a concrete scrollcase, stationary guide vanes, upper an lower distributing plates, movable guide vanes or gates, throat ring, draft tube, propeller type runner, head cover and operating mechanism which is operated by the governor. The throat rings and parts of the runners are surfaced with monel which seems to have arrested the corrosive and erosive action that ordinarily shortens the life and cuts down the efficiency of a turbine. Inspections are made from time to time an all clearances checked.

If the tailwater elevation is below the runner these inspections are made easily and quickly by simply closing the emergency gates at the forebay end of the penstocks and climbing down to the runner through the air lock and. scroll case. If the water is too high for that it is necessary to lower the emergency gates, close the air vents and put two or three pounds air pressure in the scroll case which forces the water out through the bottom of the turbine. Inspection can then be made by going into the air look, close the entrance then admit air until the pressure is the same in the air look as in the scrollcase. Entrance is then made into the scroll case by opening the air tight door in the bottom of the air lock. In that way inspection of the turbines is made under perhaps two or three pounds pressure.

Direct connected to each turbine is the generator and exciters, as shown on pictures #1, #2, & #3. The generator is Canadian General Electric rated at 12,000 Kva. at 90% power factor, 3 phase, 60 cycle, 163.6 RPM. The main exciter is directly above the generator and the sub exciter directly above the main exciter all on the same shaft. The main exciter is a 250 volt 100 amp. machine while the sub exciter is 125 volts and 15 amp., full load. Each generator is lubricated by an individual system, the oil being pumped by a half horsepower pump from the sump tank in the wheel pit to a chamber on the side of the Kingsbury thrust bearing. From here it overflows into the thrust bearing housing where it completely submerges the thrust bearing and overflows back to the sump tank. It also runs by gravity from this chamber through the upper and lower guide bearings then back to the sump tank. There is also an auxiliary oil supply coming to all three generators by gravity from an oil tank about 33 feet above the distribution chamber outside the Kingsbury housing. If the oil in this chamber reaches a predetermined low level a float opens a valve to this supply. The distribution is the same as for the circulating pump system. This gravity supply then brings the wheel pit sump tank oil level up until it reaches a predetermined high level which operates another float switch and starts the standby pump. This continues to pump oil back into the gravity tank until the same float switch cuts out at a predetermined low oil level in the wheel pit sump tank. Each time oil is pumped to the gravity tank it flows through a Bowser filter. Sight glasses are provided so the operators can determine at a glance just how the oil is being distributed to any bearing. Each bearing also has n alarm which will notify the operators by light and horn if the temperature gets to high on any bearing. The thrust bearing is also equipped with a water cooling coil.

Besides the exciters on the generator shaft there is also a motor generator set on standby which is driven by station service at 550 volts. The D.C. end of the set consists of a 1200 RPM 230 volt, 400 amp. D.C. generator and a smaller one rated at 16 amps. and 125 volts. The exciter bus is arranged so this set can replace any unit exciter and operate with its own voltage regulator.

Each main unit has its own governor system for holding the unit speed as near constant at 163.6 RPM as possible. Woodward type A governors are used with a governor oil pump and accumulator tank for each unit. The governor oil pump is driven bay station service power and keeps the pressure in the accumulator tank between 160 and 175 pounds at all times. There is a spare pump provided that can replace any unit pump by changing the oil pipe valves from one to the other. A large equalizing pipe is provided between the governor oil sump tanks to insure all tanks maintaining their proper oil level.

After the temporary plant at Spruce Falls was stopped, it was dismantled and brought to IF where it has been installed by the operating crew a little at a time until both units were completely installed and operating in July 1933. These auxiliary units consist of a S. Morgan Smith-Inglis turbine operating at a head of approximately 40 feet. Woodward type HR governor with governor pump, accumulator tank etc., all on the same base. On the same shaft with the turbine is a General Electric generator of 800 Kw at 80% power factor, 3 phase, 60 cycle, 400 RPM, generating at 550 volts. An exciter on the same shaft generates at 120 volts D.C. This machine is shown on pictures #1 and #4.

The installation of these auxiliary units has made the station more dependable and easier to operate, especially during a power interruption of the main system. Normal operation is for the three main generators and at least one auxiliary generator to be synchronized on a bus feeding the main system and the other auxiliary generator to be feeding the station service, especially during stormy unsettled weather. The advantage of having one auxiliary generator on station service is that regardless of what happens on the system, the station has a good dependable source of power which is most needed during a system power interruption. If for example trouble develops on the system which lowers the system speed, the governors immediately open the main turbine gates to bring the speed back to normal, perhaps at that instant a breaker opens or trouble clears for some other reason, the system speed immediately goes up and the governors then close the main turbine gates. To operate the servo motors and turbine gates at that rate requires considerable oil from the accumulator tank. If the governor oil pump depends on the mains system power to hold the accumulator tank pressure up it cannot perform this duty as well as if it had a separate source of power independent of the main system. Station lights, water pumps, lubricating pumps and any other auxiliaries are always better if they have a dependable source of power unaffected by trouble outside the power house.

The auxiliary units generating at 550 volts and. the main generators at 6600 volts required a transformer bank from 550 to 6600. This bank was purchased and first used at Spruce Falls, but was connected for stepping the voltage from 550 to 36,400 for transmission. When the bank was installed at Island Falls it was connected for 550 to 6600 and was first used before the auxiliary units were installed here to take 6600 volt power from number 2 or 3 main units for station service at 550. The auxiliary units are now paralleled with #3 main unit on the 550 volt side through this bank.

The main units are paralleled on one of two 110,000 volt busses located in the top of the plant as shown on drawing J-85. Each unit and each line has a Canadian Westinghouse 400 amp. 110,000 volt oil circuit breaker. There is also a spare breaker and spare bus so arranged that the spare breaker can replace any unit or line breaker.

System power interruptions have been few and were as a rule caused by lightning striking the transmission line and in a few cases by a sleet storm loading the line conductors which caused uneven sag depending on relative thickness of sleet on adjoining conductors. Whenever sleet fell from a middle or bottom conductor this conductor generally flipped up to the conductor above which caused a phase to phase short circuit. Immediately after the storm the sleet was very hard to break from the conductors but eventually with a line dead and grounded, the conductors were cleared by a few blows with a long heavy stick of wood. This however, necessitated climbing nearly every tower for about 20 miles. Outages caused by lightning during the summer of 1933 have been fewer than other summers partly due perhaps to the fact that there are now 160 towers counterpoised with at least 25 feet of #2 bare stranded copper wire running diagonally along the ground from each tower leg. One leg of each tower is grounded to the nearest available ground. Oxide film lightning arresters are employed on each end of the lines as shown on picture #5, which was taken from the tailrace below the plant.

The switchboard as show on picture #6 is for the auxiliary units and station service circuits. All oil circuit breakers operated from this board are 550 volt breakers installed in a low tension switch room under the board. The switchboard as shown on picture #7 is for the spare exciter, main units, and lines with Canadian General Electric voltage regulators show in the extreme right hand corner of the picture. The protective relay board is directly behind this board. The relay protection consists of differential relays on each unit, which will function on grounded or shorted phases. The lines are protected with overload relays, also a ground relay is installed which gives an indication only. All relays and switchboards are Canadian Westinghouse.

Picture #8 taken from the forebay shows the power house with the boom just ahead of intakes. This boom was originally a single line of timbers, but it was found that whenever driftwood came down the river it was carried by wind and waves over the boom if the wind was very strong. By placing another string of timbers parallel with the first with about 8 feet between them the water between was calm enough to keep the trash from going over to the turbine intakes until such time as it could be floated over the spillway.

A machine shop with a varied assortment of tools, lathe, shaper, drill press, bolt and pipe threading machines, power hacksaw and electric welder is maintained. These machines are found to be very necessary.

The overflow dam as shown on picture #9 and print F93 is approximately 800 feet long and has 46 spillways. Stoplogs are British Columbia Fir 1 foot by 1 foot by 17 feet. Logs are removed in the spring, generally a section at one time and replaced in the fall at the same rate. A section consists of 12 or 13 logs. In the winter, logs are removed or replaced at the rate of one or two at a time to hold the forebay elevation more constant. These changes are made necessary by the river flow variations together with load changes. Stoplog operations are much more difficult in winter than summer because of ice and snow. Ice forms in the stoplog hoist guides at the ends of the logs for a distance of 3 or 4 feet. It is practically impossible to operate the crane until this ice is cleared. To date the most successful heater is a tank shown on picture 10 built of ¼” plate, the same shape as the guide and almost as large. The tank has 2 – 2000 watt 230 volt immersion elements completely covered in transil oil. One element is used to keep the oil hot and circulating from bottom to top and the other is for standby to be used if the one in service should fail and allow the heater to freeze in the guide. This second element also is used at times when the hearer is wanted to cut its way through the ice a little faster than usual. An “A” frame with chain blocks also shown on picture #10 is used for lowering and raising the heaters in the guides. When the stoplog crane is operating over a spillway the “A” frame and heaters are pushed to another spillway. The stoplog crane shown on picture #11 is housed and kept warm enough to insure good operation in sub zero weather with fewer chances of gear breakage. That part of the lifting mechanism that goes under water each time a log is raised or lowered is also kept warm so it will not freeze and make it inoperative each time it is submerged.

River flow measurements taken since 1927 are as follows:

Sept. 1927 18,000 cfs.  
July 1928 18,624 cfs.  
Sept. 1928 15,050 cfs.  
Dec. 1928 12,681 cfs.  
March 1929 12,200 cfs.  
Sept. 1929 23,069 cfs.  
Feb. 1930 19,160 cfs.  
Sept. 1930 20,800 cfs.  
April 9, 1931 17,500 cfs. Lowest flow of year.
Oct. 2, 1931 35,500 cfs Highest flow of year.
April 5, 1932 20,850 cfs. Lowest flow of year.
Sept. 9, 1932 60,117 cfs. Highest flow of year & highest in plant history.
April 17, 1933 22,866 cfs. Lowest flow of year.
August 9, 1933 46,123 cfs. Highest flow of year.

Because of the high flow of 1932 the operating head was considerably lowered which in turn lowered the maximum output of the units. Therefore, an investigation was started to find a way to control the tailrace elevation by opening channels below the power house a few miles to give the river a more direct route, thereby lowering the tailrace during high river flow.

The river being a series of lakes flowing in a general west to east direction in each bay or lake the ice melts or rots and causes an increased flow of water but practically no moving ice.

The camp consists of 16 cottages, one staff apartment, staff dormitory, bunk houses, recreation hall, staff kitchen, moving picture house, commissary, refrigerator plant, provision building, laundry, barns, and garages. Each dwelling place is strictly modern in every way even to being electrically heated. Provisions are brought in during the winter for the year with mail coming in at least once a week during the year. Modes of travel are canoes and boats in the summer and Linns, snowmobiles, and dog teams in the winter.

The camp enjoys a variety of entertainment which includes tennis, baseball, boating, swimming, and fishing in the summer time. With a maximum temperature under 90 degrees Fahr. While in the winter with minimum temperature sometimes slightly more than 50 degrees below zero, hockey, skiing, tobogganing, hunting, showshoeing, talking moving pictures, dancing and billiards together with excellent radio reception assures the employees having a very diversified way of spending spare time.