As the Runner Turns … Again

In Episode 2 of this short “soap opera,” one month later, our antagonist Dug E. Syner corresponds with Whyr T. Heckawe, proposing solutions to his problems at the Lost Lake hydro project.

By Tom Spicher


  • Dug E. (D.E.) Syner, senior project engineer with Turnkey Ops. Ltd. in Burymdeep, Ontario, Canada
  • Whyr T. (W.T.) Heckawe, project manager, Lost Lake Project, owned by Unlimited Waterpower Ltd. in Camp Bichemorre, Yukon Territory, Canada


Our story takes place via standard postal correspondence.

Dear Whyr,

I am cheered by the rapid response you have shown for the few little problems you have encountered. The Hydro Wheels guide should help you out on future turbine repair. You may want to take note of the crack repair portion.

I must admit the fish situation is somewhat unexpected. I shall travel out immediately with our chief biologist. Please secure a float plane for the month of June for our usage. I will be shipping some equipment immediately. Treat the long slender packing tubes carefully, as they hold delicate water testing equipment. We assume the bears are still a problem and so will be shipping some rifles as well. We would also like to have you engage the guide or one of his associates so that we can make some ground study around the reservoir in early fall. Let him know how important to the future of the reservoir this study will be.

The downstream fish migration should be a minor problem once the trashrack is replaced. A small mesh net across the discharge canal should solve the re-entry problem, as well as provide a source of revenue for the locals. It is assumed that the high population will not last once the lake has stabilized. That clandestine muskellunge planting sounds interesting. We may have to repeat the lake testing for several years. You need not worry about additional costs. We shall cover our expenses, except for travel, of course.

We are sorry to hear that your generating season was cut a bit short by the unusual water conditions. Your power production to the mine established after preliminary plant site drillings should justify the project by itself. The local area will still benefit from the power and recreational values added by the project. Your investors are pleased with the rapid start-up and swing into production of the gold mine. The 14- and 22-pound nuggets found during the drilling should help cover some of your incidental costs.

I am enclosing the card of a Juneau engineer (author of Hydro Wheels) who has some experience in sealing tunnel plugs at a couple of Alaskan hydro plants. He works with a Juneau-based driller, a couple of brothers, I understand. Squint or Peek or something like that is their name. Please have your driver pick us up at the Whitehorse airport at 4:30 p.m. on May 30 [in 10 weeks]. We will have extensive camping and survey gear with us to allow complete inspection of the current local conditions. It sounds like you need to get more maintenance training for your staff to minimize the problems you have been encountering. You may be able to find someone who can come out to the site and help with some training. Our turbine supplier would like to help, but with the press of business, only some of his less-experienced people are available. Our generator supplier still does not have an English-speaking technician. That Quebec situation is worse than the European or Japanese suppliers.

We will see you soon, have the guest house ready for us. I appreciate the name honor.


D.E. Syner

Two Months Later…

Dear Mr. Syner,

If you don’t have any immediate answers to our environmental/social problems, please don’t bother to come out. We are having a local welding shop fabricate a new rack in several pieces to allow sky crane placement as soon as the ice is out. The suckers are growing rapidly in size and the locals now prefer them.

The guest house is available only to major stockholders and rents for $1,000 a week, maximum stay two weeks. The planes are only available for flights on a first-come, first-served basis. Overnighters must bring radios to call for flights out. Each trip from the camp runway to Near Island or South Dam is $300, payable in advance. Return trips are free when another party is brought in. Flights from Whitehorse to Lost Lake Reservoir are 00 or $800 each way depending on whether you need a 286 or Beaver.

Bug repellant is going for $6 per ounce. Camping out by the dump is allowed for no more than three days at a time. The guide says it must get quite a bit colder somewhere before he will provide any services to you, or something to that effect.

I appreciate the tip on the tunnel plug. The Juneau folks have just finished the job and leakage is reduced to a few drips. Please do not send any gear to the Whitehorse airport, they are quite swamped and we will not pick up gear or personnel. The taxi service is quite satisfactory at $300 per trip for up to three people. Carrying game or fish back is another thing. We do have the walk-in freezer to pack game or fish once it has been properly prepared. The taxi will handle frozen packages at an additional $50 each.

Naming the falls wasn’t intended to be an honor. Lost Lake Project will accept no further vouchers.


W.T Heckawe

About six weeks later…

Dear Dug,

We are again in need of some assistance in maintaining our plant. This past summer, we discovered damage to the hot applied coal tar lining of the penstock. It seems that while we were unwatered, the exposed portion of the penstock experienced unusual heat exposure due to our bright sunshine. The paint sagged in some places and dropped down to cover our penstock drain. Head gate leakage is minimal but because this happened on a weekend, we found the spiral case flooded and required a local dive team to remove the large paint flakes from the penstock drain. Two wheelbarrows of paint were removed before we could open the drain valve and dry out the spiral case.

We need to know if there is a better coating that will not soften when the penstock is exposed to heat. It should be a material that will cure in the moist atmosphere of our penstock. The entire penstock requires recoating. While we were in the process of patching the exposed portions with the hot coal tar, we experienced a fire. It seems that the little burner under the paint pot was left unmonitored when the painter had to attend to a call from nature. Consequently, the paint ignited and the fire spread to the penstock coating and burned all of the paint off. The fire stopped at the pool where the vacuum breaker is and did not damage the head gate. We will need a new rubber seal for that vacuum breaker valve.

We would appreciate any assistance you may offer.

W.T. Heckawe

Two weeks later…

Dear Whyr,

Sorry to hear about your problems. Due to the holiday season (and our mail service), I was unable to respond earlier. There is a Seattle-area paint manufacturer that has a polyurethane paint that should do the job. I have ordered a new vacuum breaker seal for you; it should be delivered within a week. The automated sand blaster we used originally is being prepared for shipment and should be there by early February. Do you still have the rigging to move it up the penstock? You will have to order more of the copper slag for the blasting operation.

Remember to close the manhole cover at the top when the painting is finished. We had quite a flood when that little aspect was ignored on our first filling. You have to get better coordination between your rigging and operations crews. That was more serious than neglecting to remove the draft tube gate before starting the station service unit. That fiasco caused quite a fountain on the draft tube deck. My assistant Tom was responsible for that. He released the clearances before checking on responsibility for the gate removal.


D.E. Syner

Tom Spicher owns consulting company Hydro Y.E.S. and is a member of the Hydro Review editorial advisory board. He has “seen a lot” during his 40+ years of working in plants.

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