Larry's Electric Fountain Blog
Researching Darlington and the Electric Fountain history
My research into the story of Frederic W. Darlington and the Electric Fountain movement has yielded some interesting results so far with lots more work to do in February and March.
The connection between Darlington's work on street cars and interurban railways for Westinghouse and his fountains has become even more interesting with the finding of some great articles in the railway journals and books borrowed from my neighbor John Robinson.
I need to add two more confirmed Darlington fountains to the list on this site: Schenley Park in Pittsburgh and the Waite Electric Fountain in Salem, Oregon.
The Salem fountain history is interesting to read because they sent a group to Denver to see the Darlington fountain here before deciding on a builder for their fountain. They were very impressed with what they saw.
Doors Open Denver and the Electric Fountain history
I am working on a program for Doors Open Denver on Sunday afternoon, April 24th, at the Molkery in Montclair Park. Due to another group using the City Park Pavilion that weekend, we are not able to hold the event in City Park.
My working title is "Everything you ever wanted to know about the Prismatic Electric Fountain."
This program will include a slide show about the 1908 and 2008 fountains, along with a display of artifacts from the 1908 fountain. I will also talk about the new fountain lighting to be installed this spring.
My continuing research into the history of the fountain is starting to turn up more information, especially about the new lighting system that was installed in the 1980s by Bob Bauer and Carmel Alston of Theatrix. That system played music along with the night time fountain shows. I'd love to do that again. The software that now runs the fountain has the capability to synchronize music with the lights and water.
I'll post more about the 1980's system in a few days when I finish my interviews.
Currently there is a big gap in my knowledge of the history and operation of the fountain from 1960 to 1998. I will be researching newspaper articles and other sources to learn more about the fountain during the next two months.
If any of you have stories or information about the fountain from any era, I'd really enjoy hearing from you. A particular item of interest is a player-piano roll type of system that was once used to create fountain shows.
Use the contact form to reach me.
NEW FOUNTAIN LIGHTS!
I am pleased to announce that Denver Parks and Recreation awarded a contract to Encore Electric to replace the multi-color LED fountain lighting in the spring of 2016.
Encore was the electrical contractor for the 2008 reconstruction of the fountain so they have extensive experience working on the fountain and underwater lighting.
The German-made Oase brand lights installed in 2008 were the first generation of high-power, multi-color, underwater LED lights. Without them we would never have been able to produce the dramatic lighting effects seen on the reconstruction of the Electric Fountain.
Those lights did not last as long as we had hoped and they are not field repairable, leading to the fountain being dark at night for the past two seasons.
This past summer I asked Scott Gilmore, Deputy Director of Parks, to make a commitment to replace these lights and he agreed to my plan. The engineering work was completed in late summer and the project went out to bid in the fall.
LED lighting technology is evolving at a breathtaking pace and that is true for high intensity underwater lighting as well. We will be installing a 4th generation product that has red, green and blue LED chips under the same lens for superior color mixing.
Since the new fixtures are 54-Watt instead of 35-Watt, there will be fewer fixtures to maintain. The best news is that they are field-repairable, so if there is a failure of one or more LEDs on the circuit board, it can be exchanged for a new one in just a few minutes. The rest of the fixture and wiring will remain as originally installed.
The new lights are on order from Canada and should be here by February. The installation will start as soon as we can get access to the fountain vault by boat - usually in mid-March.
The work will be completed by May 1st. Testing and programming will then take place in the first two weeks of May. The fountain will be in operation for the Colfax Marathon on Sunday, May 15, 2016.
Other work will be done on the fountain this winter and in the spring. The PC and software that runs the fountain will be upgraded, sticking valves will be cleaned and valve operators will be replaced.
New pump motor drives will replace the ones installed in 2000, one of which has failed and cannot be repaired since spare parts are no longer available.
I am optimistic that the fountain will be performing in 2016 as well as it did in 2008 when the new fountain was turned on. The large backlog of deferred maintenance is being addressed and we have a great Denver Parks crew working on it now.
Changes and improvements
2015 was a year of major changes in personnel at the Denver Parks and Recreation maintenance operation. There is a new plumbing supervisor and a new fountain technician.
I welcome Matt Nelson to DPR. He is the first person to hold a new position that was created this year to bring more expertise and knowledge to the maintenance of the three technically sophisticated fountains in city parks.
Matt's primary job is maintaining and repairing the Electric Fountain and the interactive fountains at the Museum of Nature and Science and at Central Park in Stapleton. The works of these three fountains are much more complex than the other park fountains which just squirt water out of nozzles at a constant rate.
Some repairs have been made to the Electric Fountain this summer and major work is scheduled over the next six months. This includes a new motor drive to replace the 15 year old unit that stopped working and cannot be repaired economically.
An upgrade to the 37 valve actuators in the fountain vault will provide more operating torque to combat the gumming up of the valves caused by the algae in the lake water. That should help with the problem of sticking valves making the fountain shows look ragged and uneven.
The eight year old PC that runs the fountain shows will be upgraded and a new version of the software will be installed. The new software should make the creation of fountain shows easier.
Many thanks to Denver Parks and Recreation for making the funds available to tackle the backlog of deferred maintenance that has piled up over the past several years.
The fountain will make its return to operation in time for the Colfax Marathon on May 15, 2016.
I want to remind my readers that I am not an employee of Denver Parks and Recreation. I do advise them (for a fee) on the operation and maintenance of the Electric Fountain, especially as personnel changes have necessitated training new DPR employees.
I maintain this independent web site at my own expense. As noted on the main page, it is not a City of Denver site.
I'm hoping to make an announcement about repairs to the colored LED lighting in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
Due to the unfortunate death of the DPR employee who was responsible for starting up the fountains, I was asked to work on the spring startup of the Electric Fountain. There is also a new plumbing supervisor since last season so I had the opportunity to familiarize him with the startup procedures.
Today I also had a chance to repair some of the equipment in the fountain vault and on the fountain deck that had not been operating properly last year.
So far there is no progress in getting the new valve actuators installed to overcome the sticking created by the high algae content of the Ferril Lake water coating the valve seats and disks.
Two months ago I made a presentation to Denver Parks and Recreation to replace the 1st generation high power multi-color LED lighting with 4th generation fixtures that can be field repaired - something new in the industry.
I have completed all of the engineering work for the new lights. The installation would have been done by a contractor with prior experience working on the fountain lighting.
Unfortunately they rejected the proposal so I have no idea what they plan to do. I hope the fountain does not stay dark all summer.
2014 Fall shutdown
Due to more personnel changes at Denver Parks and Recreation I once again assisted with the fall shutdown of the Electric Fountain. I found many new problems had developed with the fountain equipment over the course of the summer.
As you all noticed, the LED fixtures were not repaired during the 2014 season.
I am submitting another report on the condition of the fountain to Denver Parks and Recreation. I'll have more to say on this subject after I see the response to my report from DPR.
Electric Fountain turned on early for Colfax Marathon
The Electric Fountain water features will be turned on Friday, May 16 in time for the Colfax Marathon. Because there is an ongoing project to clean the valves and upgrade the valve actuators, some of the water features may not be operating consistently.
Also, the project to upgrade the colored LED lighting is just now moving forward so the fountain lights will not be operating at this time.
I hope to have more to report on that subject soon.
Spring fountain repairs
We have had access to the fountain vault for a few weeks now - the ice melted on the lake earlier than in some past years. So that means the repair projects have started on the fountain to get it ready for the 2014 season.
New valve actuators are being ordered with higher torque ratings to compensate for the sticky gunk that builds up on the valve disks due to the poor quality of the lake water.
New 4th generation multi-color LED fixtures have been selected to replace the first generation fixtures in the eleven hourglass rings. We were out on the fountain two weeks ago taking measurements for the modifications of the stands that hold the light fixtures.
The new fixtures are brighter, less expensive and field repairable - a major improvement over the ones originally installed on the fountain.
The LED fixtures for the Peacock Fans and the Ribbons will be replaced next year when a smaller version of these new fixtures becomes available.
A sump pump in the fountain vault has been repaired and parts are on order to fix a few other worn out items.
I'm recovering from knee surgery so I won't be back out on the pontoon boat for a couple more weeks but I will be doing support work from my office.
The Electric Fountain on NOVA and in a doctor's office
I had a delightful surprise last week when I watched the PBS show NOVA titled At the Edge of Space on Channel 6. It seems that some of the research was done here in Denver and at two points in the show they featured a short segment of footage taken from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science looking towards downtown and the mountains.
The video was in a time-lapse format and showed the fountain going through several different water displays. The second time they showed this, a short segment of kids playing in the H2Odyssey interactive fountain on the west side of the Museum was also included.
I recently got a note from an administrator at the Denver Foundation (where the Electric Fountain endowment fund is administered) saying that she saw a beautiful framed photo of the Electric Fountain on the wall in the waiting room of her doctor's office. He had taken the photo himself.
Winter shutdown and repairs
I completed the winter shutdown of the Electric Fountain on Friday, November 1st. All of the pipes are flushed and drained.
Denver Parks and Recreation still needs to clean the black slime off the east side of the fountain vault before winter really sets in. According to tests run by DPR, this is "mold encapsulated in algae" and so far they have no way to prevent its growth using any chemical that would be allowed in Ferril Lake.
I finished my inspection of the fountain and have turned in a 12 page report to DPR detailing the maintenance and repair work that needs to be done. It is now in their hands to make this a budget priority so that the fountain can be brought back to full operation in 2014.
I always encourage citizens to contact Denver Parks and Recreation to voice their concerns about things that are important to them. There are many competing projects for a limited amount of maintenance funds and if DPR management hears from you about the importance of the Electric Fountain, we can ensure that the necessary maintenance work will get funded.
Fountain shut down on September 26
After getting a call from DPR I went over to look at the fountain this afternoon. I discovered that the air compressor was not working properly. The valves that turn the water on and off to the water features run on compressed air and therefore the water displays were not changing.
Getting a purchase order to bring in qualified contractors to work on the fountain has taken a lot longer than I would have liked. The air compressor should be worked on next week, as well as the water pressure regulator valve.
I am still exploring the best options for bringing the LED lighting back to full operation but that will take a couple of months, so installation of any replacements for the LED fixtures will not happen until next spring.
Bottom line: Between now and the end of October the Electric Fountain will run sporadically during the day with no set schedule as we test the repairs and then prepare it for winter. There will be no night time fountain shows but it may be run for a short time some nights for testing.
Progress, slow but steady
My first visit to the Electric Fountain vault gave me the opportunity to evaluate the problems at the fountain and to start working on solutions with the maintenance division of Denver Parks and Recreation.
The power relay for half of the colored fountain lighting has been replaced and we can now evaluate all of the individual LED lighting fixtures to see if they are operating properly. A quick look at the fountain at night makes it clear that some of these fixtures will need to be replaced.
The Prismatic Electric Fountain was the first tall (water spray height over 15 feet) fountain in North America to use these first generation high-power LED fixtures. As with many first generation products they have not been as reliable as we would have liked. So I am researching whether we want to replace them with the exact same product (now in its 3rd generation and more reliable) or something from a different manufacturer.
Going to a different manufacturer will create installation problems and expenses that we would not have if we stick with the same manufacturer so this is not a simple decision. I am researching the options and will present them to DPR for their consideration.
The large pressure regulating valve has had a diaphragm failure and is leaking water through the valve when it should be totally closed. As a result, the full output pressure of the fountain pump is not available for the nozzles. That is why the height of the display is not as tall as usual.
These diaphragms have a 4-10 year lifetime so we are within the normal life expectancy of that part since this is the sixth operating season for the fountain. However, we are bringing in an expert on these valves to see if the very poor water quality in the lake has created any additional problems with the internal valve mechanism. That would necessitate upgrading the internal parts to a more chemically-resistant (but more expensive) material.
This work will be done in September when the expert can be scheduled for a visit to the fountain vault.
Personnel changes within the maintenance division of DPR has left that group short on manpower so the replacement of all of the incandescent lamps and the cleaning of the lenses will take longer than I had hoped.
Some of the problems at the Electric Fountain will linger through the end of the operating season. We have not yet picked a date to shut down the fountain; it will depend on the schedule for the repair work.
Taking a boat out to the fountain vault and working on the fountain deck can only be done when the temperature and weather cooperate. There is a limited window in the fall between when the fountain is shut down and when the weather becomes too cold for hand work out there.
We will have a second work window in the spring when it warms up enough to work on the fountain vault deck. Any of the smaller equipment from the interior of the vault that needs to be worked on over the winter will be removed in the fall and replaced in the spring.
It is my hope that we will be able to complete all repairs and bring the fountain back to its full glory in time for the 2014 season.
Denver Post story
Many thanks to Angela Casias, public information officer with Denver Parks and Recreation, for providing details to Coleen O'Connor of the Denver Post for her story in the Saturday edition of the Post.
We expect the first batch of replacement parts to arrive on Tuesday, August 6 and are scheduled to work on the fountain all day on Wednesday, August 7.
Our agenda is to replace the faulty power relay for the multicolor LED fixtures, start replacing the incandescent lamps, finish the analysis of the problems with the pressure regulating valve and look at the operating parts on one of the valves that is sticking because of algae buildup on the mechanism.
Once we finish on Wednesday we should know what other parts are needed to bring the fountain back to peak performance.
I'll post another update once I have more information.
A trip to the fountain vault
The Electric Fountain has not been looking good lately, especially at night.
The Department of Parks and Recreation hired me to assess the problems with the Electric Fountain and I went out to the fountain vault today with two of their maintenance technicians.
The two things we looked at were the low water pressure and the lights that were not working.
The horrible water quality in Ferril Lake has taken a toll on the valves in the fountain. The green gunk (algae) in the water sticks to the valve mechanism and causes them to stick open or closed. It also clogs the mechanism for the pressure regulating valve, which is why the water pressure is running at 25 pounds instead of 75 pounds.
There is a filter on this valve but the backwash mechanism had failed and the filter was totally clogged with gunk.
I also found that one of the power relays for the colored LED power supplies had failed so half the lights had no power. There may be some other problems with some of the LED lights that we will find once we replace that relay.
Most of the white incandescent lights were burned out and the lenses on all of the incandescent fixtures are coated with a thick layer of algae.
I will be going back next week once parts arrive to fix some of these problems. But it may be several weeks before we get things looking more like normal.
The good news is that there is new management for the technicians who maintain the Electric Fountain so once we get things running properly again it should stay working.
I have been working out of town on a big project since March and am just now getting settled back in Denver. During this spring and early summer I have not had any time to update this web site.
I was contacted this week by the Department of Parks and Recreation to consult with them on problems with the valves and lighting on the fountain.
This is the sixth season for the Prismatic Electric Fountain and some of the parts of the fountain are starting to show damage from the poor water quality in Ferril Lake, resulting in valves sticking.
The unexpected algae problems in Ferril Lake have been very hard on both the fountain works and the irrigation system in the park. The change from fresh water from the South Platte River to recycled water from Denver Water has been the root cause of the increased algae problem in the lake.
Unfortunately that change in water supply occurred while the new Electric Fountain was being built, so we had no idea that this new, nitrogen-rich water was going to dramatically decrease the water quality in the lake until the first year the fountain was operational.
Some of you may remember the thick bed of algae that grew in the water just before the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The Electric Fountain helps aerate the water in the lake but it has no affect on the pH and other chemistry of the water.
Being stuck with the recycled water will mean more maintenance costs to keep the fountain running properly as the internal parts of the valves get coated with the sticky residues of organic material.
I'll post an update once I do my inspection of the works.
Denver Parks and Recreation maintaining fountain
Denver Parks and Recreation personnel now have total responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Electric Fountain. This spring they did the startup without my help for the first time.
There are some issues with a few of the valves sticking due to the poor water quality in Ferril Lake. Those should be resolved during the month of June.
As noted elsewhere, call 311 to report problems with the fountain operation.
Summertime at the fountain
I haven't posted anything on this blog since last fall. Many things have happened since then.
The Facilities Maintenance division of Denver Parks and Recreation has taken over the full operation and support of the Electric Fountain this year. I am a consultant to them but if you see any problems with the fountain, call 311 to report it.
I have not been able to get support from management at Denver Parks and Recreation to complete the Wigwam water feature. This has been frustrating since several outside groups have offered to help. So for now we have 11 of the 12 original Darlington water features operational.
And I will be very glad when the construction of the Asian Tropics exhibit at the Denver Zoo is completed. We have had many power and other utility disruptions in City Park because of the construction, several of which have caused problems with the City Park irrigation system and the Electric Fountain.
We had some concerns about the thunderstorm that passed through the City Park area on Wednesday, July 6th because the lightning detection system did not shut down the fountain despite strikes that seemed near enough to be a potential threat. The algorithm in the PC that processes the raw lightning data from the weather station has been adjusted to be more sensitive.
As a result, you may see the fountain shut down more often because of lightning strikes in the area.
The end of the 2010 season draws near
The 2010 operating season for the Electric Fountain saw some great times and some frustrating times. As we approach the end of the 2010 season (last day of full operation is Sunday, October 17) I thought I'd make a new post here.
The new lightning detection system became operational at the beginning of the season and even though it was disappointing to some visitors to see the fountain shut down at times when there was nearby lightning, the system did protect the fountain from costly damage.
The County Fair and Open House, with the City Park Alliance and councilwoman Carla Madison was a grand success. There was a great turnout for the Denver Municipal Band concert and free ice cream.
We had lots of visitors stop by the Friends of the Electric Fountain booth to see the photos and old nozzle display.
The only problems experienced with the operation of the fountain this year were caused by collateral damage from the explosion of a transformer at the Xcel Energy substation which feeds City Park and construction of the Asian Tropics exhibit at the Denver Zoo.
Total power outages shut down the fountain pumps on several occasions and an extended partial power outage caused two relays and the air compressor motor to burn up.
But the Department of Parks and Recreation funded the repairs to the fountain and we got it running again after each problem was diagnosed and the parts were replaced.
I have high hopes that we can raise the money to build the final water feature (the Wigwam) during the winter and get it installed before the beginning of the 2011 season.
This would complete the reconstruction of the fountain and create another great water effect for the fountain shows. If you can help us (every dollar counts!) please go to our fund raising page and send a check to the address shown.
If it isn't one thing it's another.
Just when I thought we were going to get through the season without any further problems we had a failure with the air compressor. An internal short circuit has tripped the circuit breaker. The compressed air is what runs the valves that turn the various water features on and off.
Initial diagnosis indicates that the problem was caused by the partial power outages experienced at the park this summer. We should know more in the next few days.
In the mean time, we will continue to run the pumps and the lights with a static display of the middle spray ring and the center geyser.
Power outages and fountain operation
The continuing power problems at City Park have caused multiple problems for the continuous operation of the Electric Fountain. This has been frustrating to me since we lost a major portion of our season last year due to the lightning strike.
Between the contractor working on the expansion project at the zoo digging up the power lines for the park and the explosion and fire at the nearby Xcel Energy substation, the power has been on and off in the park numerous times in the past 45 days.
Each time the power goes out, the pump drives, air compressor and other equipment must be manually restarted. This is done for safety reasons; having equipment restart automatically on such a sophisticated system can create a dangerous situation
When I went to watch the fountain on Wednesday evening it was running but dark. The incandescent lights were operating but not the multi-color LED lights. I am not sure when the lights stopped working since I did not get any calls about the fountain not working at night.
The most recent outage early Monday morning resulted in having only partial power for a number of hours after the outage. As a result, the two relays that turn the power on and off for the LED fountain lights were damaged.
I replaced the failed relays this morning (Thursday) and everything should be back to normal for the night time fountain shows. Fortunately, the replacement relays were fairly inexpensive and easily replaced.
The Electric Fountain is running for the season!!!
It was a busy week with several incredibly long days but the Electric Fountain was turned on for the season on Friday afternoon, May 28th. The LED lights have been repaired and the lightning detection system is operational.
A few of the valves still need to be adjusted and some new fountain shows will be written to show off new lighting effects for the Peacock and Ribbons.
Hope to see everyone on Monday, May 31st and again on June 4th for the Country Fair.
The countdown begins
As the electricians complete the replacement of the LED fixtures damaged by the lightning strike, we begin the spring start-up procedures for the fountain.
As you can imagine, there are lots of things to check and the water lines and nozzles all need to be flushed with fresh water. All equipment is tested and routine maintenance is performed to ensure that no problems develop during the summer season.
The final work on the lightning detection system is underway and we hope to have it all tested and running in time for the start of the season. The installation of this system will lead to some potential disappointments if an approaching storm generates enough nearby lightning strikes to shut down the fountain even though it is not raining close by.
Welcome to the Blog
One visitor told me that her family couldn't afford to go to the movies during the Great Depression so they would pack a picnic dinner and go to the park to hear the band play and watch the fountain perform.
Times have changed a lot since then but the one of the most rewarding things for me is to watch families coming back to City Park at night to walk around the lake and watch the fountain. And it isn't just the older people who remember the 1908 fountain. I've delighted to see many groups of people in their late teens and early 20s taking a break from texting or their iPhones for a few minutes to watch the fountain.
I'm looking forward to an exciting new season for the fountain this year and plan some great new fountain shows that will jazz things up a bit more. This was in the works for last year but the lightning strike cut the 2009 fountain season woefully short.
Some of the water features and lights that were added at the end of 2008, after the main season was over, have still not been fully integrated into the fountain shows seen by the public. The Peacock fan and the Ribbon have lighting that was not part of the original fountain.
Join us over the Memorial Day weekend to see what's new! And if you see a tall bearded guy wearing a baseball cap and pondering the fountain show with great intensity, come say "Hi" to me!