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Technology of Merit.

Technology of Merit
(System of Merit).
Is it worth inventing or creating?
Does it really do what it was designed to do?
Theodore R. Hazen

Is what you are doing (or someone else) is a Technology of Merit? Is it worth inventing? Is it worth the cost and effort? Is it safe? Will it last 10 to 30 years or more, or even creating in the first place? Does it really do what it was designed to do?

System of Merit is a phrase coined by William "Bill" Foshag. Bills is a retired Aeronautics engineer with the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., and has owned Heishman's Mill, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, since 1966. If it is not part of the System of Merit, then it must be about the technology of the ridiculous. It is what happens when anyone thinks that he can create water wheels just because they have basic carpentry skills, or other basic machinery knowledge without the proper technical background.

William Foshag is working on a two year project with Tom Rich, and the students of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The goal is to redesign the original undershot water wheels which were first installed in Heishman's Mill (and Burgner's Mill, the next Mill downstream from Heishman's Mill), Creek Road, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The students will be given access to only the known information about water wheel design at the time when they were constructed without any modern influences of the passage of time, and further developments in technology. One of the aims of the projects is to develop test models for the hydraulic flume at Bucknell. They hope to prove that low head hydro (which is fixed) operating with unlimited amounts of water can be of a greater efficiency than what has been reported in books on hydraulic engineering. The original undershot water wheel tested by the Franklin Institute in the 1840's may have been a poor example to use and test. We know that later improved designs such as the Poncelet, Sagebien, and the Zuppinger undershot water wheels came about the French government offered large rewards for more efficient designs.

Technology of the Ridiculous has no System of Merit. For example, a wooden water wheel that weighs 4 tons, and then weighs 5 tons when water logged is constructed on an inch and one-half metal pipe. Water wheel shafts, arms (or spokes), and rim boards (thickness of wood or metal) are basically made too small to do the job. If a water wheel weighs 4 to 5 tons, then it is designed to move an equal amount of machinery inside the mill operating under that amount of "load." So many people think that they can construct water wheels that basically end up simply turning for show. That is what it is, "Technology of Show." I can "show" you that I can construct a water wheel, and that is all it ends up being, a water wheel which is "Constructed for Show." It is designed to be turned by the water wheel, but cannot possibly do the amount of work which it was designed to do.

Without a System of Merit, one enters into the School of the Ridiculous. For example, many are graduates of the School of Hydraulic Technology of the Ridiculous. They have for generations continued with the crazy idea that wooden water wheels should be constructed out of "green lumber." Their rational being that water wheels are, or should always be "wet" so therefore, the water wheel should be constructed out of "green lumber," and therefore, would never become "seasoned lumber." My grandfather always said that a proper wooden water wheel "should be made out of seasoned white oak." The problem with "green" is there is no in between state, it goes from "green" directly to "rot!' They are causing their worst fears to happen. I don't know who has perpetuated this absurd idea. I would have thought that in the last 50 years, or so, this bizarre idea would have shown that it is a ridiculous method of water wheel construction. This crazy idea is even found in the National Park Service Preservation Unit. They have created a science of how to construct and maintain water wheels out of "green lumber." They have developed methods which are taught in their workshop on how to seal water wheel shafts with wet rags, and wax to maintain them in a so-call state of forever "unseasoned." These people are dangerous because they have no hydraulic or millwright backgrounds. The main problem with the National Park Service is that they are firm believers in the saying, "If it is found in PRINT, then it must be true!" It is simply, a bizarre realm of the school which states, "I think I know better than you! So therefore, I will tell you the way it should be done."

A sub-set of the School of Hydraulic Technology of the Ridiculous says that I can build a water wheel out of pine, and two-by-fours. Pine is just not a water wheel material, along with exotic woods such as mahogany. Pine would last about two years in a water wheel, and would have to be replaced.

"The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," by Oliver Evans, 1795 in 15 editions to 1860 are easier to find than books that were published in the 20th century. "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," by Oliver Evans, is considered the miller's and millwright's bible. You can build and operate a mill if you have the prior knowledge to understand the book. What happened when other books were published after Oliver Evans, was that water wheels fell out of fashion, and the industry had turned their focus on water turbines. So then even later when books appeared on just hydraulic engineering, vertical water wheels became something that they felt they had to include, but just not into too much detail where a person could actually construct one. This is why I think that it is silly that a person would look in one of those later or modern textbooks on hydraulic engineering to learn how to build an overshot, undershot, or breast shot water wheel. I have has some conversations with a contemporary graduate of hydraulic engineering, and he said that he learned only how to build earthen dams. I grew up with the understanding that "earthen" dams are bad news, but they don't require any great sort of craftsmanship to construct (not like a stone or masonry mill dam), and can be built with heavy equipment.

I had two friends who constructed a grist mill for a theme park. I was hired to operate the mill once it was completed. In the building of the mill they began to make a few parts that they did not find in existing mills. So instead of making the "driver" the way it was done historically, by having a blacksmith forge it out of one piece of iron bar, they welded it together out of "six" pieces of iron stock. One day when they were test running the mill, the welds broke apart. Before they could stop the mill which was powered by pumped (blue colored) water, the controls were located outside of the mill on the other side (of the Mabry Mill type) reflecting pond below the mill, the millstone jumped the spindle. Pieces of the driver were sucked between the two millstones. The "driver" turns the upper runner millstone, with the balance rynd above that. The flying upper runner millstone which had jumped the spindle busted though the millstone cover, destroying several pieces of machinery inside the mill, and then going though a foot and one half square log wall before coming to rest outside of the mill. You read, and hear stories about millstones gone wild, jumping the spindle, and ether going though the floor, injuring, or killing someone in the mill. One common method which a millstones runs wild is that if the miller (or millstone dresser) tries to lift the runner millstone and there is water still in the water wheel buckets. The will will continue to turn until the weight of the water wheel equalizes, and in that time the runner millstone may come off the bales of the millstone crane. Needless to say, the mill (my friends constructed) did not function for several years after that, and in the meantime, I moved on.

The Fitz Water Wheel Company basically built water wheels using the bracelet method of construction. They had several sizes of water wheel buckets. Lets us say, for example, small, medium, and large. With these basic bucket designs they could virtually build water wheels of any diameter, and width. For example, using the smaller bucket design, they could built water wheels from 4 to 8 feet in diameter just by increasing or decreasing the amount of buckets in each section. Then using the medium size bucket design, they could build water wheels from 10 feet to 16 feet, and with the larger bucket design, they could build water wheels from 18 feet to 50 feet. Once this system was worked out, they could then construct water wheels from one foot wide to 20 feet in width. They could simply add the basic modular components to construct any size water wheel.

This basic system of bucket and rims then dictated the number of arms or spokes water wheels had of different diameter. Water wheels up to 12 feet in diameter had 8 arms. Water wheels to 29 in diameter 10 arms; water wheels from 20 to 30 feet in diameter had 12 arms, and water wheels larger than 30 feet in diameter had 14 to 16 arms.

Today, if Fitz was still in business, they would have a computer program which they could plug in the "fall" and the "amount of water (gallons of water per minute)," and the computer would spit out the idea water wheel for that site. The diameter and the width come out of large sheets of plans. A water wheel being 10 feet in diameter would have 48 buckets around it, and a 20 foot water wheel would have 60 buckets around it, and so-on and so-forth. Fitz would have been the pioneer in the creation of water wheel design computer programs, and then by simply pushing a button a set of full size water wheel plans would come out of a specially designed printer.

New Water Wheel at the John P. Cable Mill, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Do Not Attempt to Build or Construct a Water Wheel on Your Own!
Do not attempt to build a water wheel in your garage, basement, shed,
workshop, or home without out proper professional training, apprenticeship,
guidance, and supervision. This is not a means to hire me, or one of my friends. You can get killed if things are not constructed out of proper materials using traditional historical methods.

Mickey Mouse* Water Wheel Discovered in Old Photograph
19th Century photograph of the mill in Mill Creek, West Virginia.

The water wheel is what some people would call a "hillbilly water wheel." It is built without any understanding or knowledge of hydraulic engineering, water wheel construction, etc., but on some level it works. The lack of understanding the basic principles of how water wheels function did not prevent someone from building a water wheel that actually works. It is not like where I come from in Pennsylvania, where people would call "Yankee ingenuity" because this works on a different level. A level of we will make do with what ever very little we have to make it work. It is also very different than the term used in the South when you build something without any intelligence behind it, and it works because you slapped it together. Just because it is old, historical, does not mean that it was built technically correct.

*Mickey Mouse. Something which is poor taste, tasteless, showy,pompous, and over done. It uses no known technology other than amusement park technology. It uses no principles of design, either modern or historical. Basically it is a movie prop. It looks good, but will never work the way the real thing would function. It is one dimensional, its a false front. It looks good, but it is not multidimensional.

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Copyright 2006 by T. R. Hazen