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Brown, Molly
Gunnison, John
Marshall, William
Mears, Otto
Moffat, David
Nunn, Lucien
Palmer, William
Tesla, Nicola



L. L. Nunn


ames town view 2000 P5240040.jpg (194781 bytes)
Ames Town View 2000


Related Information

Lucien Nunn and the
Ames Power Plant

The small town of Ames, CO is located about a mile northwest of Ophir near the confluence of the Lake Fork and Howard Fork of the San Miguel River. A power plant located here generates Alternating Current and was the first of its kind in the world.


Mr. Nunn was an enterprising lawyer that moved west to find his fortune in the early mining years of Colorado. Some say he became a lawyer when he was hit in the back of the head with a law book during a barroom brawl. Never the less, he was a genius that found himself in Telluride and dabbled in unsuccessful mining ventures there. Although his mining luck was poor he was still a wizard at creating and they say he made a modest fortune when he installed a bath tub in his house and charged the miners 4 bits a soak.

Nunn's time in Telluride made him very aware of one of the biggest problems for the mines in the area and that was the cost of fuel to run the large machinery that supported operations. In those days the available timber had already been cut down to support the mine tunnels and to burn for heat. Hauling coal or wood to the sites was very expensive and almost prohibitive at the current ore prices. 

Nunn was working on the fuel problem for the Gold King mine and he eventually came up with the scheme of using AC power. In those days electricity was just arriving on the scene and it was first as Direct Current from Thomas Edison's shop. However, one of the most brilliant minds of the times, Nickola Tesla, developed Alternating Current and this form of electric power had great potential because it could be transmitted across long distances with much less loss of energy.  

Convincing investors to back AC current was not easy for Nunn. Edison was, of course, against the project because he had the rights to DC current. The Edison gang claimed the AC form of electricity was a deadly killer due to the high voltages and took some form of pleasure in frying small animals in front of gawking onlookers to show the perils of its use.

Still, Nunn somehow met with Westinghouse and convinced him to invest in his venture to power the mines with AC current. Westinghouse proceeded to purchase patents from Tesla to build AC generators and motors for one million dollars, a tidy sum in the day. 

A 100 horse power generator and motor were built and these were the largest ever. Nunn purchased water rights from Trout Lake and the Lake Fork and proceeded to build the hydraulics required to run the generator at Ames. 

Construction of the Ames facility was performed by students that Nunn hired from Cornell University as well as other local talent. The students must have had a blast coming to work from the east to the gorgeous mountain area for such a high-tech venture and they served Nunn well. Water flumes were built from the local creeks above the power plant site and provided the elevation head that ran the hydraulic power generator. In 1890 the operation was first put on line and ran the machinery at the mines successfully. By 1895 larger generators were being installed and most of the mines in the area were tapped in. Eventually the whole thing became the Telluride Power Company.

Nunn went on from the successful Ames venture to become world famous in power generation. He was even responsible for the first Canadian hydro-electric power plant on Niagara falls. Of course, Edison, Westinghouse and Telsa all became famous names of the time.


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