IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - May/June 2014 - 110

history

Thomas J. Blalock

fond farewell to The Lab
the demolition of Building 9

R

Recently, I dRove out the
tyler Street extension in Pittsfield,
Massachusetts, to view the ongoing
demolition of Building 9 in the former
General electric company (Ge) plant.
Building 9 once had been a worldrenowned center of high-voltage and
lightning research. It was named the
Ge high voltage laboratory and was
commonly referred to as "the lab."
Amidst the heaps of rubble inside the
skeletal steel column and beam framework still standing, I noticed a large pile
of shiny sheet metal. Since I had worked
in this building from 1966 to 1974, I recognized this debris as having been the
walls and ceiling of a special room that
was known as test Area 5.
the performance of high-voltage
insulating devices (made of porcelain,
glass, etc.) located outdoors is very
much a function of the weather. In this
roughly 40-ft (12.2-m) square, twostorey-high room, both temperature and
humidity could be regulated over a large
range to simulate various weather conditions. Rain, ice, and even fog could be
created to determine the insulating ability of devices under such conditions.
I recall one instance where a customer required an insulating structure
to be tested while subjected to an outrageously high amount of simulated
rainfall. I believe that a special hose
line had to be run in from a fire hydrant outdoors to obtain this amount of
water. Being frustrated comedians, the
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPE.2014.2301559
Date of publication: 17 April 2014

110

ieee power & energy magazine

In this issue's "History" column, we offer the personal reminiscences of Thomas J.
Blalock, a frequent contributor to these pages, of his experiences at the General
Electric (GE) High Voltage Laboratory formerly in Building 9 at the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, GE plant. Tom worked as a development engineer in Building 9 from 1966
to 1974. His broad range of duties included lightning protection and high-voltage
switching surge studies. In this article, Tom tells us of the work that went on in Building 9, the closing of the laboratory, and the demolition of the building in 2013.
Tom's article was first published in the 12 June 2013 edition of The Berkshire
Eagle newspaper in Pittsfield. It is reprinted here with the permission of the newspaper. Special thanks go to Editor William Everhart and Librarian Jeannie Maschino of
The Berkshire Eagle staff for their kind consideration and assistance.
We welcome Tom Blalock back as our guest history author for this issue of IEEE
Power & Energy Magazine.
-Carl Sulzberger
Associate Editor, History

technicians in charge of setting up this
test decided to label this quantity of
water with a special name. they called
it "one noah."
A high-voltage
laboratory had existed in the plant since
1914, and Building
9 was constructed in
1949 (see Figure 1).
the primary need for
such a facility was
for the testing of new
insulation structures
use d i n t he large
power transformers
built there. these
transformers not only
had to withstand increasingly greater operating voltage levels throughout the 20th

century but also the vicious surges created
by lightning strikes to the long transmission lines to which these transformers
were connected.
the eff ects o f
natural lightning were
simulated at the lab
using tall, imposing
stacks of components called capacitors, which could be
charged to a high voltage and then suddenly
discharged at an even
higher voltage so as to
mimic an actual lightning strike to a piece
of electric power
equipment. Formally, these devices were
known as impulse generators, but they

A high-voltage
laboratory had
existed in the
plant since 1914,
and Building 9
was constructed
in 1949.

1540-7977/14/$31.00©2014IEEE

may/june 2014



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - May/June 2014

IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - May/June 2014 - Cover1
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