Letters to Home Power

Letters printed unedited. We'll print your name and address if you say it's OK.

Compiled by Glenda Hargrove

Dear Home Power folks:

I somehow just received the second issue of your fine little magazine and I guess if anyone in the world can appreciate such a Brave Beginning, it's me (being the father of Mother, which started a lot of people in the same direction over 18 years ago).

Conversely, you folks (being about the best I've seen currently carrying Mother's banner onward) may well appreciate the enclosed small gift. It's a copy from the original print run of the very first Mother. There have been hundreds of thousands of that issue reprinted since we first went on press for distribution January 1, 1970... but this is a genuine, guaranteed fugitive from the very first press run of 10,000 (it can be identified by the cosmetic ad-- for which we never got paid--on the inside back cover.

Please note, too, the poster that went out with every issue. It promised-- among other coming articles-- pieces on wind, water, solar, and methane power. And that was back when the rest of the world was telling us that "all the streams have already been harnessed, solar energy was tried in the 30's and didn't work, wind power is just too much trouble, and... what the hell is methane anyway?"

Yeah, I'm kinda the guy who kicked off the whole "modern" alternative energy awareness... but only because I grew up on a little family farm in Indiana where we just naturally had to make do and where the only electricity I had until I was seven years old (and moved to a different farm) was from a windplant (Marcellus Jacobs has since told me that he invented the electricity producing wind powered generator and he therefore has the right to name it and , by gadfries, it's not a windmill... windmills pump water). But I digress. I started to say that our windplant was homebuilt and my dad even carved out simitar blades for the unit. Them were the days (I was born in 1937 and liked the depression. While city folks were walking the streets looking for work, we had an attic hung heavy with home-cured hams, a root cellar full of fruit and vegetables, rows of home-canned meats and vegetables in the pantry, crocks of pickles curing away, and all the fresh milk, butter, cream, eggs, etc. we could eat. Likewise later when the city folks had work during WWII and plenty of money... but no ration stamps. Self-sufficiency makes sense to me because I started right off living it).

Anyhow I'm always happy to see a new crew carry on the work. As you may or may not know, we started with $1,500, a donated typewriter, and a third or fourth hand kitchen table (which we ate off of too). We were, at the time, up against directly competitive new magazines with as much as $6,000,000 in backing. Plus the "other guys" had guaranteed advertising contracts, guaranteed distribution contracts, "name" editors and writers, and many other resources that we didn't have. The only thing we had going for us was we-- as you are doing now-- tried to speak truth and be genuinely helpful... while our so-called competition tried to be "hip" and "with it" and "slick". Ten years later they were gone and we were doing a $20,000,000-a-year business.

That's the success part. The other side of the coin is the minimum 18-hour a day I worked, seven days a week for that solid ten years. And I was doing it for virtually nothing... plowing everything back into the business all the time.

BOTTOM LINE: If I hadn't finally just got up and walked out one day, I'd have been dead within another six months. So the best piece of advice I can give you is that they call them deadlines for a reason. If you take it too serious, they'll kill you.

And for what? I look back now and, except for a very few bright spots such as the work you folks are doing, the world is in worse shape now that than it was when I started: More pollution, more wars, more waste, more species gone, more people, more disease, more of all the things that rape the planet faster and faster. And I still haven't regained my health from all that overwork.

And MOTHER? Well, I haven't really has anything to do with the magazine for about eight years now (the hotshots I "gave" it to didn't seem interested in anything I had to say) and it's been resold and it's pretty dopey these days. If I were still around, The Mother Earth News would be running a lot of the stuff that you guys are printing. So more power to you! (Solar, wind, water,etc. power of course.)

But I ramble. Perhaps you'll find Mother No.1 worth keeping in your office as a symbol that the torch has been passed. Maybe you'll even swap me a copy of your first issue in exchange. And please do keep me on your mailing list and let me know if I can be of any help to you. I sure don't know it all but I have been down the same path you're now traveling and I did learn a little.

Right now I'm living above the 8,000 ft. level overlooking the lights of Denver at night and my wife and I have been looking for "just the right spot" somewhere in the Pacific to set up a food-and-energy self-sufficient homestead. We've been to Fiji, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Hawaii. Hawaii (except for the Big Island) is going fast and even the Big Island is increasingly raped these days. French Polynesia is absolutely beautiful but France is drenching it with fallout from nuclear tests. New Zealand is wonderful and will grow anything... but there seems to be a lot of cancer there from all the pesticides the use (many of which have been banned here). Tasmania and other parts of Australia are also being "developed" at an increasing rate and Fiji-- which is still largely organized on a village-by-village self-sufficient basis-- is going through some dangerous political troubles.

There just ain't no place to hide these days. And Big Brother always wants more than his cut. Self-sufficiency is still the best way of life... if you can find a little corner of the world out of the mainstream.


John Shuttleworth

Founder of the Mother Earth News

Hello John:

You DID change the World. You showed many of us what could be done. Thank you.

The synchronicity of the Universe amazes us. We are starting out with just what you had, we even eat on the same (and only) table that we layout Home Power on. The only difference is that our donated typewriter is a computer. Time marches on. We appreciate your support and the flowers in your letter. Mother No.1 is enshrined in our office. When we get tired and down, we look at it and smile.

We hear you about overwork. We've been wondering when someone would reinvent sleep. Right now we are so enthused by the responses from everyone that we can't even think of anything else we'd rather be doing. There's a copy of HP#1 in the mail for you.

Thank you for passing the torch. We only hope that we can carry it as high and brightly as you did.

Great! Been reading #1 & 2 the last two evenings. Been waiting a long time for this. Keep up the good work.

I agree soldering is the way to go. However, solder itself isn't such a good conductor. Stress the need to make a good mechanical connection BEFORE soldering. I.E., Perez, HP#1, pg. #24-- copper tube connectors. Shove the wires in the tube (maybe flux them first) flatten the tube in a vise or whatever, THEN solder and drill your hole.

Same item, different comment. Copper is not so hot, or maybe too hot, around sulfuric acid. Coating all the exposed copper with solder helps. All old battery cables used lead, either made the connector out of it, or coated the connector with it. Some still do.

I agree with all your comments stressing the need for care in making connections in low voltage, high current systems. All the problems are of course magnified in a salt water marine environment. Which is where most of the wiring I do lives.

There are times and places where soldering is either not practical, or desirable for some reason. Like temporary connections, or things you know you'll have to unhook for servicing sometime.

This product recommendation is based on ten years of use, at first hesitant, and now whole hearted. KOPR-SHIELD is a conductive, anticorrosion surface compound and antiseize, made by Thomas & Betts Co., Box 1960, Sparks, NV 89431.

I use this stuff on all mechanically made electrical connections. Bolted ring connectors, split bolts,etc. Even wire nuts (Great AE God forbid!) have given good service when installed on wires liberally coated with Kopr-Shield. Like on a bilge pump down in a salty bilge, where its gotta work, and if it doesn't you gotta rip it out and stuff in another one in a panic, hopefully without too much damage to the wiring harness. Anyway, I've had wire nuts (Kopr-Shielded, of course) working perfectly, down in bilges, for years. Kopr-Shield is great stuff.

Fred Richardson, Richardson Marine Electric, Waldron, WA

I like this Home Power issue and look forward to more. I have a comment about Solar Power that has nothing to do with the efforts of this magazine. I am converting to solar power when I already have commercial AC power. Because I don't believe in fossil fuel pollution or nuclear waste. It bothers me that most people involved in selling solar power insist on making a high wage, which helps to keep solar power very expensive. Therefore, the average homeowner sees no logical reason to convert from AC commercial to clean solar power.

Larry & Nancy Tibbetts, Taos, NM

Good job! I especially liked the articles on batteries. That information is hard to come by. I had never heard of "equalizing charges". Would like to see an article on PV powered water pumps for wells. Your classifieds might become important. Tell your advertisers we actually READ their ads!

Emmett Eiland, Oakland, CA

I enjoyed reading your magazine. The articles were informative without being so technical that the average person gets confused. The advertising is as important to me as the articles because when you make your own power, you have to keep current on where to get parts and supplies, etc. I'll be looking forward to future issues.

James V. Larson, Gheen, MN

Your magazine is excellent for me. I am a foreign student from Zaire, Africa. I am going to live in a remote area back home and work for my church, this will be very important for me. My church back home will be able to buy some equipment from your advertisers. I am going to keep all the magazines I

will get from you for future reference for addresses where we can buy this equipment. I am a solar engineering technology student. This is excellent. Don't give up.

Mambo D. Assama, Colorado Springs, CO

I don't know where you found me, but I sure am glad you did.

Free, you say? Hell, bill me, this is a bargain at several prices Keep these coming, and I don't even mind going on a few mailing lists. Many Thanks.

Lee W. Harwell, Rochester, NY

I would like to know the names of people who are using it IN THIS AREA. I would like to know of classes, training sessions, seminars, workshops, shows, etc. about PV IN THIS AREA.

Donna L. Schrock, Meyersdale, PA

I've just experienced a 49 hour power outage due to a rather typical ice storm. Perhaps with your help, this won't happen to this home again! Believe me, I had visions of wind mills; send more issues of Home Power.

Louise Hansen, Marshfield, MO

I am a woman who is reasonably intelligent, has some mechanical aptitude, and enjoys designing and installing my own systems. However, my area of expertise is NOT electricity or hydraulics! Therefore, I really appreciate information for the lay person that helps me do things efficiently, simply, elegantly! Thanks.

Shelley Hughes, Santa Barbara, CA

I enjoy your magazine tremendously. Of all the publications I receive, yours is the most relevant to my needs, and I have passed the application on to several neighbors in similar situations. I'm enclosing a small contribution toward the cost of mailing Home Power to me, since you are giving it away. Keep up the good work!

P.S.-- My wife and I have lived under our own power for seven years, and we wouldn't have it any other way. The question we are most often asked: "How do you flush the toilet?" Makes you see how little people understand the forces that drive their own lives.

Oskar Riedel, Duvall, WA


We try our best to directly answer all your questions. Please remember that we are limited by our own experiences. If we don't have the direct personal experience to answer your question, we will print your question anyway in hopes that a reader with the experience will answer it. So this column is not only for question by Home Power readers, but also answers.

Do you have information on new battery technology? Eugene LaTenfresse, Willow, AK

There are a number of developing battery technologies. Right now, nickel-cadmium cells are almost ready to be used in home power systems. The only drawback is the price which is still several times that of lead acid types. Other technologies such a rechargeable lithium cells are still some time off. Home Power will be running an article soon on the nicad types.

How about an article on alternators for low power water systems? I know of someone who thinks the Ford 90 amp is the most efficient. Is this so? I have a 12V compact disc player and would like to find a 12V amp with a frequency response of 20 to 20,000 hertz, 30 to 100 watts/channel, and low distortion. Do you know of any way to get that without going to super expensive car stereos? I have an AKAI boom box that I use now. It works OK, but the fidelity isn't that great. I think an article on 12V sound would be well appreciated. Durga C. Tamm, Fort Jones, CA

Well, our Hydro editor Paul Cunningham runs Energy Systems and Design, POB 1557, Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada E0E 1P0. One of his specialties is using car alternators in low head hydro situations. Write him for info and we'll get an article about this into the pipeline. I don't have any particular data on the efficiency of this Ford alternator. The efficiency of an alternator can be estimated visually by looking at two things. One, the diameter of the wire composing the stator, and Two,the overall diameter of the stator. The larger wire and the bigger overall diameter gives the alternator more efficiency. Our use of Delco and Chrysler alternators has proven to us that there is in fact great efficiency differences be different makes and models. This is a subject for an future article detailing what makes up an efficient alternator and why, complete with side by side testing of various makes and models. Right now, the hottest alternator I know of is the 100 ampere Chrysler model that look like overgrown Delcos. We're not into audio enough to answer your question about 12 VDC sound equipment. How about it, anyone out there who can answer Durga's question?

It is advised, when charging a battery, to continue charging until the battery is completely full. With a PV powered system, with a motorized backup, is it customary to use the motor-gen. every day which the solar power is insufficient to provide full charge? Where can I buy a 0 to 25W rheostat for resistive field controller for a home-built motor-gen.? Robert Weaver, Waldron Island, WA

No, you don't need to run your generator every day the sun doesn't shine. Run it when the batteries are empty, or whenever you need the extra energy (like washing the clothes or vacuuming the floor). If you do start the generator, then keep it running until the batteries are full. One of the big advantages of the engine/generator is ability to completely recharge the battery. This adds years to the battery's life. You can buy a 25 Watt, 25W, Rheostat for $15.28 from Allied

Electronics, 250 N.W. 39th St., Seattle WA 98107 or call 1-800-444-5700.

My wife and I felt this was a very good mag. for those striving to maintain their own power. We would like to see you include some practical working schematics and drawings. We would also like to be able to write to you with questions or problems or our own ideas. Who do we write to and will you answer? James F. Carr, Rush, KY

We are happy to answer questions and print answers in this column. We will accept your articles and letters. The volume of specific questions is so great that we are unable to answer every one. We pick those that we feel have the widest interest for this column.

My home power is fine. What I am interested in is future power. The first thing I would like to do is to put a Photovoltaic cell(s) to run a deep well pump, 320 feet deep. When I find out what components I need, I believe I could install it without too much trouble. I have a submersible pump now, I believe that I should go to a jack pump. This is what I need to find out. H. McManus, El Paso, TX

Write Jim Allen at Solarjack Pumps, 102 West 8th St., Safford, AZ 85546 or call him at 602-428-1092. Jim specializes in PV powered jack pumps that work on very deep wells.

Are water turbines clean downstream? R.M. Olivar, Yreka, CA

You bet! A properly installed and maintained water turbine should have almost no impact on a stream's environment.

Would like to see information on interior lighting techniques, specifically what people are using for shading and diffusing low wattage stick fluorescents. It seems to me anything commercially available is designed for higher wattages AC. Mark Shenstone, Trumansburg, NY

See the article on lighting in this issue. In a nutshell, shading and diffusing wastes light. If a light is so bright as to require shading, etc., then use a smaller light! Area lighting is for those with unlimited cheap energy. We use spot lighting. The light is where you need it and not wasted where you don't.

How do you convert appliances to 12V? How about the new plethora of rechargeable appliances? They all work on 2 to 9 VDC.

Bryan S. Thompson, DeKalb Junction, NY Some appliances, especially electronics like radios, and stereos, are easily converted to 12 VDC by a knowledgeable technician. Others, like appliances using motors, TVs, and VCRs, are anywhere from somewhat difficult to virtually impossible. There are too many differing appliances to be specific. Most appliances that work on DC energy at 12 Volts or less are easily converted to 12 VDC operation. We use many battery operated rechargeable appliances, drills, soldering irons, etc. and recharge their batteries off of the large 12 VDC battery system. An article about this will be forthcoming.

I would like to know if there is a 12V VCR that records and plays back and/or if there is a small (30 to 100 watt) inexpensive inverter suitable for powering a 120 vac VCR. Richard Wilson, Winter Harbor, ME

Just about every VCR maker has a 12 VDC model for mobile/portable use. Toshiba V-X34, Panasonic Models PV-5800, PV-8500 & PV-9600, JVC models HR-S100 & HR-C3, Hitachi models VT-3P, VT-5P & VT-8P and RCA VKP

170 for example all run on 12 VDC. These units are usually more expensive than the comparable 120 vac units because fewer of them are made. Heliotrope and Trace both make excellent 500 watt inverters. Beware of the small, inexpensive, square wave type of inverters. While they do work (for a while), many vCRs and TV will experience glitches in the video due to their dirty power. A word of advise, don't waste your money on marginal inverters. Once you have an inverter, you'll find many things to plug into it. Consider 500 watts to be a minimum size. Consider only inverters with proven performance and reliability.

Could you recommend an engineering firm to help me decide which source of alternative energy to pursue here in the thumb of Michigan?

Try Chad Lampkin, Michigan Energy Works, 9605 Potters Rd., Saranac, MI 48881 or Jim Cook with Save On Solar, Inc., 6905 White Rabbit Rd., Battle Creek, MI 49017

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