Hydro Hall of Fame who’s who of industry history

For those who have never traveled to America’s heartland or might otherwise be unfamiliar with it, there’s an old honky-tonk located on the corner of Easton and Main in Tulsa called Cain’s Ballroom.

The building is probably most notable to non-Oklahomans as being the long-time home of western swing musician Bob Wills, whose daily broadcasts from beneath the Cain’s proscenium arch became a national institution during the Great Depression.

Though it’s been more than 80 years since Wills and his Texas Playboys called Cain’s home, the dance hall and its spring-loaded floor still holds a special place in the hearts of many who grew up in northeastern Oklahoma.

It doesn’t look like much. In fact, it was originally built as a garage to house cars belonging to one of Tulsa’s founders — but for a lot of us, it’s the place we saw our first concerts as teenagers and now all these years later, it’s the place we go to buy Coors tallboys by the six-pack while stomping our boots to what we Oklahomans consider “real” country music because… well… that’s just what you do at Cain’s.

If it seems like I’m waxing poetic, I am, but I had a bit of a revelation this past weekend while standing under the red neon star that’s adorned the hall’s ceiling ever since the building became Cain’s Dance Academy in 1930.

You see, Oklahomans have a somewhat skewed sense of historical perspective being that we live in one of the last states to have achieved that status — we were admitted as No. 46 in 1907 — and though we consider buildings like Cain’s that were built in the 1920s during Tulsa’s Golden Age as “The Oil Capital of the World” to be “historical”, we do so without putting it into a greater context.

To better illustrate this, the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight four years before Oklahoma achieved statehood, Pablo Picasso first dabbled in cubism the same year, and the Boston Red Sox moved into Fenway Park when we were just five years old.

Furthering my point, hydropower projects like the Vulcan Street Hydroelectric Central Station (put into service in 1882) and Fulton Hydro Station (1884) were already generating energy years before the unassigned lands of what was then known as “Indian Territory” were claimed via land run.

Personally speaking, I’m fascinated that water was already being used to generate electricity while our forebears settling the dusty plains of the Cherokee Strip in Conestoga wagons could hardly fathom the concept of artificial light.

Equally staggering to me, however, is the fact that some of those plants are still in operation today.

It is this longevity that inspired the creation of the Hydro Hall of Fame which, now in its 19th year, includes close to 40 plants — all of which are more than 100 years old.

They range in size from mere kilowatts to 200 megawatts, though each continues to serve as a testament to their designers, builders, owners, operators and customers.

And though some have received upgrades and rehabilitations in the decades since their construction, the same generating units that were originally transported on the backs of steam locomotives are now powering iPads, laptop computers and smartphones at many of the Hydro Hall of Fame facilities.

Each of the members has its own unique tale that’s the story of a place, a people and an era, and it’s why the editors of Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide magazines have collected all those stories into the new Hydro Hall of Fame page here at HydroWorld.com.

Information about each of the facilities inducted into the hall is available there, as are the criteria for nominating a new member and a submission sheet for future Hall of Fame consideration.

Assuming then that my loquacious fondness for Cain’s Ballroom might seem overly indulgent, I tell the story about a place I love because it’s the same way I hear many of you in the hydropower sector talk about the industry’s most venerable plants.

There’s a lot of sentimental feelings toward those old plants, and one can tell many of their current operators and owners take great pride in saying, “our plant was the first at this”, or “our plant was a pioneer in that”.

In many cases too, the projects recognized by the Hall of Fame represent far more to their communities than a mere source of power — serving as long-established landmarks, and creators of recreational and agricultural opportunity that have literally spanned generations.

We know there are scores of hydroelectric projects around the world — many of which we probably haven’t even heard of — that are more than deserving of recognition for their historical significance, so we encourage you to tell us who deserves to be part of the 2014 Hydro Hall of Fame class.

New inductees are honored each year at the HydroVision International closing luncheon, which will take place this year July 25 at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn.

For more information about HydroVision International 2014, visit HydroEvent.com.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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