Mountains of Supplies
A 56-mile railroad was constructed along the mountain to transport materials and workers to the site of Powerhouse No. 1, where a permanent town developed. Before it was abandoned in 1933, the train hauled more than 400,000 tons of machinery and supplies to Big Creek.
During the long winters, massive snowfalls isolated the work camps for nearly seven months. To move mail and medicines, a team of seven dogs and a driver were brought in from Alaska to traverse the dangerous snowy terrain. A new radio base station kept workers connected to the outside world.
In 1913, work on the project slowed as war jitters grew in Europe. The international bond market fell, and financial support for Big Creek became uncertain. Huntington went so far as to pledge his personal property as collateral for temporary loans to keep construction moving. In October 1913, circuits around the project site received power from Powerhouse No. 1 for the first time.
Lighting up Los Angeles
By 1913, three 150,000-volt wire circuits spanned 241 miles from Powerhouse No. 1 to the Eagle Rock Substation, creating the longest, highest-voltage transmission line in the world. The line was completed in November 1913 but remained untested.
On Saturday, Nov. 8, 1913, tens of thousands of Californians were riding electric trolleys and working in Los Angeles when the Redondo Beach Generating Station lost power and the city came to a standstill. A risky decision was made to switch over to the
Big Creek line. At 8:38 a.m., power trickled into the city, and Big Creek electrified Los Angeles for the first time.
Expanding for the Future
Before 1917, Huntington’s Pacific Light & Power Corporation owned the Big Creek project. On May 26, 1917, PL&P was purchased by and merged into the Southern California Edison Company. The company doubled in assets, now serving more than 100 cities and 1.25 million people. The larger service territory and ever-increasing population called for increasing Big Creek’s generation capacity.
From 1917 to 1929, nearly 5,000 SCE employees were at work building powerhouses, transmission lines, dams, roads and artificial tunnels. They ran a lumber mill, operated a railroad and maintained a mountain resort, among other jobs. Powerhouses 1 and 2 were expanded, three new powerhouses were built, a massive tunnel was dug to divert water and the original 150,000-volt transmission line was converted to 220,000 volts.
Today, the Big Creek system is one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the country. It includes nine powerhouses and can generate enough electricity to power about 650,000 homes.