Denver Gas & Electric Light Co. Photos, circa 1920

Denver Gas & Electric Light Co. truck #166, circa 1920 near Blake St. and Park Ave West in Denver.

Two weekends ago, when I was up working the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club booth at the Rocky Mountain Train Show in Denver, I came across an old Public Service Co binder of photos for sale. Unlike most stuff at the show, most of the photos inside weren’t railroad related, and the vendor sold me the whole thing for a $20. Inside were all sorts of photos from the Denver Gas & Electric Light Company.

Denver Gas & Electric Light Co was created out of Denver’s two major utility players in 1910 – the Denver Gas & Electric Company and Lacombe Electric Company. It lasted until 1923, when it was merged with a number of other utilities to create Public Service Co., which eventually became Xcel Energy today.

If you like vintage vehicles, vintage utility equipment, or just old views of Denver, read on…

The Vehicles

There was a pretty cool selection of early DG&EL line trucks in the album, most based around Ford Model TT trucks. In addition, there were a number of smaller service cars and some trailers.

The Early Arc Lamp Streetlights

Because early incandescent lights weren’t up to the task of producing the vast amounts of light needed to illuminate streets at night, arc lights became the technology of choice for street lighting from 1880 up until about 1920. These devices use two carbon electrodes to strike an electric arc, which gives off a harsh white light.

They had a number of disadvantages. The light they gave off was horrible, and was actually harmful in that it contained significant amounts of ultraviolet. They were maintenance intensive, as the carbon rods had a short lifespan. (Typical was 8-10 hours in the early years, 100-125 hours in the later years – you’ll see in many of the pictures that the fixture is on an cable and pulleys so that it can be lowered for service easily.) They required the use of a fiddly electromagnetic mechanism to strike the arc and then keep the rods at exactly the right distance while the arc was active. Basically, they were the least bad option, but they certainly weren’t good.

Mike Spadafora brought an operating unit to the Helena insulator show last year as an exhibit. I told him it was the most educational yet terrifying exhibit I’d ever seen. His was an AC-powered unit modified to run off wall power, and watching a naked arc be struck off mains power, even if only for a brief second to protect everyone, is a little scary.

In the album were quite a few of these unique electrical relics, along with some more modern incandescent replacements that had already started to be installed I’ve put them together here:

The Arapahoe Bar Dredge

These were actually the first pictures that caught my eye, largely for the three big white porcelain Boch’s Patent U-928 glaze-filled insulators on the incoming power lines. These insulators aren’t terribly rare, but they were one of the earlier attempts at a reliable high voltage porcelain insulator.

The dredge took me a bit, as the DG&EL didn’t serve power outside the immediate Denver area and I wasn’t aware of any gold dredging in and around Denver. Up in South Park, sure, but not Denver proper. Thankfully, some Googling turned up a near perfect match in this Denver Public Library photo.

Turns out there was one. Actually there were two, both named Eleanor, apparently (Eleanor #1 and Eleanor #2). Built in 1904, these two were some of the first electric-powered gold dredges in the West. Both were turned loose on the Arapahoe Bar deposits in August 1904. (Arapahoe Bar is near the eastern edge of the Coors Brewery property today, east of Golden.) Both were pretty much a failure, and by 1907 they were dismantled and sent to other locations.

If I’m right on the dredge, that makes the dredge photos much earlier than much of the rest of the album – from 1904-1907.

DG&EL Line Construction & Facilities

As an insulator collector and a student of industrial history, old utility photos fascinate me. Here’s the worthwhile ones.

And a few other random historic Denver shots that were worth including…