The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JULY  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.

The People News
Special Report






Ocoee's "Old Flume"     

The only one of it's kind in the nation.

by Alexandra Edwards

The grand mountain peaks of the Cherokee National Forest draw thousands of visitors each year to beautiful Ocoee, Tennessee. Located on U.S. Highway 64 and Highway 411 between Cleveland and Benton, in southeast Tennessee, Ocoee has much to offer.

Known as the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest, scenic Highway 64 tapers off into a winding country road that leads to Parksville Lake and the Ocoee River dams. This area was known to the native Cherokee as "The Apricot Vine Place."

The Ocoee River, famous around the world for it's whitewater rafting and  venue for part of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, now attracts around 250,000 rafting visitors annually. The thrill of riding the rapids of the Ocoee has been a fun summer pastime and water sport enjoyed for over 27 years. 

Two dams known as Ocoee Dam No. 1 and Ocoee Dam No. 2, were built between 1910-1913 by the East Tennessee Power Company for the purpose of providing electricity to their customers.  It is said that a main reason for building

Alexandra Edwards

the dams was to accommodate the power requirements of a large aluminum company that had relocated in Blount county.  It needed a tremendous amount of cheap electricity to make aluminum and hydro-electric power was an ideal way to provide it.

Alongside the river, perched on a mountain ledge, a wooden flume (trough) was built to divert the waters of the upper river into an elevated water path to concentrate water pressure for the hydro-electric powerhouses. The Historic Ocoee Flume Line,

the only one of its kind in the nation,  was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its links to early hydro-electric development. Interestingly, wooden flumes date back to ancient times when they were used by the King of Assria and the Romans to move water from one place to another.

Flowing out of Lake Blue Ridge as the Toccoa river in Georgia, the name of the river changes to Ocoee at the Tennessee border. In Tennessee the river is blocked by a diversion dam to be harnessed by the flume. The river is funneled into the wooden chute which is built like a three-sided box, 14 feet deep, 12 feet wide and held together with concrete coated nails. The swelling of the timber prevents the river from spilling through the boards much the same as a wine barrel expands to become watertight.  The river flows through the flume at a volume of 1,000 cubic feet per second to Ocoee No. 2 Powerhouse located 5 miles downstream. The flume carries the water to a point where it is discharged through pipes to the powerhouse 250 feet below.

The flume, constructed of tongue-and-groove California longleaf pine was built almost level and drops very little as it follows its winding course to the powerhouse. At five places along the way, it is supported by trestles varying in height from 70 to 150 feet, that span gorges adjoining the riverbed. It has been estimated that 203.5 million pounds of water is being supported by the flume

from one end to the other.

A narrow-gauge rail track, wide enough to support a rail car used by the maintenance crew runs the entire length of the flume. Another unique engineering feature of the design is a siphon system. The siphon utilizes an entire section of the river as an overflow, it's purpose is to ensure the water level never gets too high in the flume. Should this happen, due to a heavy rainfall, the extra water is diverted down a rocky spillway. The siphon also ensures that ground around the flume does not become saturated and washed away by overflowing water.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), purchased East Tennessee Power Company in 1939. Their engineers were impressed by the unusual way the company produced power and duplicated the idea by building a third dam during World War ll.  Ocoee No. 2 and Ocoee No. 3 make clever use of East Tennessee's mountainous topography to maximize power production.  While

the water flows from Ocoee No. 2  to its powerhouse by way of a wooden flume,  water  from Ocoee No. 3 flows to its powerhouse by a tunnel.

Even today, the two generators at Ocoee No. 2 use the flume to produce 28 megawatts of electricity for the TVA.

After the "old flume" was shut down due to structural problems in September of 1976, more and more "outdoor enthusiasts" began showing up at the Ocoee River with army surplus rafts to run the rapids. Rafters pleaded  with TVA not to reopen the flume and to have the right to use the whitewater in the river. After much resistance, TVA finally agreed to schedule water releases into the river by regularly blocking the flume's use of water. Scheduling water normally used by the flume to flow into the river guaranteed at least 116 days of whitewater recreation each year. Commercial rafting found a home on the Ocoee River in 1977. At that time there were just three rafting companies, today there are around 25.

In July of 2002, an enormous rock-slide near Tablesaw on the Ocoee River caused damage to the 91 year old flume creating a 40 foot hole in one side, destroying beams and supports. A boulder the size of a dump truck caused most of the damage. The incident required TVA to change their water release

pattern while repairs were made.  While repairs were being made the water being released into the Ocoee River enabled the rafters to use the rapids seven days a week. An extra busy season for Ocoee was enjoyed that year.

Larry Cavett, a retired operations manager for TVA Ocoee Dam No.2, who has a good understanding of the flume's construction and history says, "The flume lives in the hearts and minds of the people around the Ocoee River. It is a piece of history, even though the people who built the original are long gone, the flume has always had good stories. Like the time when they were building it, the work crews were over budget, so the powers that be said the next week they have to work at half pay. So, that next week when the workers showed up, they

had cut their shovels in half."

Drive along U.S Highway 64, known locally as the Old Copper Road, to Ocoee and see the flume for yourself. While, there, take in the beautiful, scenic wonders, for this is truly "God's country."