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1973: The year wind energy saved Christmas

By Staff | Dec 24, 2016

An unidentified Casler Electric employee holds the rudder of a Wincharger generator, the downtown Sioux City answer to a 1973 lighting challenge. The wind energy generator was being placed atop the Younkers department store building.

SIOUX CITY – A festive Christmas without a downtown’s traditional glittering lights may have been an invitation to Scrooge rather than Santa.

This was the looming challenge 43 years ago this Sunday in Sioux City, as with other cities across the country.

The backdrop of the petroleum blockages coming from Middle Eastern countries fueled an energy crisis nationwide in the United States.

Sioux City, however, had its own way of keeping the Christmas lights aglow – wind energy.

A 27-foot tower, erected atop Younkers department store, supported a Syverson Wincharger. The unit was a battery-powered generator manufactured by Sioux City’s Dyna Technology Inc.’s locally-based Wincharger plant.

ABOVE — The Wincharger is being prepared as the solution to a Christmas lighting challenge during the oil embargo crisis inn 1973. The photo was taken near a downtown Sioux City intersection as pedestrians look on.

The first generators were designed to power farms’ windmills following the Rural Electrification Administration’s move to provide on-farm electricity.

The generator atop the Younkers building would provide 2,000 watts of power sufficient to keep the unit’s rotor blades facing into the wind, while ensuring a power feed for the lights as explained in a Sioux City Journal account.

Casler Electric Co. was in charge of the installation. The 120-volt direct current generator with a rudder would go into action when wind speeds became less than 10 mph, lighting the downtown intersection near the Younkers store relying on a time clock.

Modern-day technology, in this instance Facebook, played a key role in bringing this pre-wind farm story to light, as a trio of native Sioux City residents joined forces to gather the information.

George Lindblade, a longtime Sioux City photographer, often referred to as the city’s unofficial historian, photographed the 1973 generator installation. He ignited the spark of interest when he posted a photo on Facebook.

AN EARLY WINCHARGER operator’s manual provides a look at the company’s popular wind generator that originally served farms throughout the country prior to the 1970s energy crisis.

“It was hard to tell as we watched the generator set up if the community had really thought about the energy shortage’s meaning no lights at Christmas,” Lindblade said following the news by Iowa Public Service (now MidAmerican Energy). “The announcement by Mooney and Wincharger’s forthcoming help hadn’t been considered as the company had always been thought of as serving the needs of agriculture at the time. It caused a lot of excitement.”

Kim Walish, research librarian at the Sioux City Public Library, recalled the energy crisis followed by Wincharger’s role in the lighting.

“There was a personal interest in assisting with the information in that I had actually worked at the plant while attending college,” she said as she delved into the filmed Journal articles attesting to the project.

Tom Munson, researcher with the Sioux City Museum, who contributed additional photographs for this article, said he was also appreciative of the opportunity to bring to light a possible forgotten Sioux City Christmas story.

Wincharger’s reputation for its generators was highlighted years later with a recording of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd having relied on the wind generator for radio transmitters and lights during his visit to the South Pole.

The company’s vice president at the time, Michael Mooney, said the company continued to grow as energy shortages continued, with inquiries received from the National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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