4H Project – Electricity

I was born and raised on a small Flower Farm in Fresno.


My first experience with electricity began when I joined the 4-H club at Central Union High School in Fresno, circa 6-th grade.

All the projects seemed to be related toward farming and we were not farmers. The suburbs were taking over the farm land. Some of the kids told the  leader that they were sad that “Nobody wants to join 4-H any more.” The teachers were not happy because of the drop in membership and interest in 4H due to more suburban kids at the school, so I asked the 4H leader “Do you have any projects that will interest suburban kids?”  He asked me “What would you like to learn?” I said “Well, how about electricity?” I thought that would send him away muttering, never to be heard from again, but guess what?

About two weeks later the teacher came back and told me PG&E says they have some books they could send out from New York and would I be interested? I said “YES! I would like to be the first one to sign up.” When the books came they had dark green covers with a cartoon character of Ready Kilowatt on the cover. A kilowatt is a measurement of the amount of electricity.

The teacher gave us a class every two weeks.  We learned how to make Western Union splices and a little bit about Ohms law (used to calculate amps, watts and volts) and lots of other stuff, including safety issues like, don’t fly kites near the wires and all that kind of grammar school kid stuff.

At home one day I was using the vise in an out-building (shed) and I wanted to work after sunset, so I needed a light over the vise. I asked my Father to put up a light for me and he told me  “Go ahead and do it yourself, Son.” I said – But what if I get shocked!”  He said “Turn off the electricity.” Duh!, I thought to myself.

Since I had taken some of the Ready Kilowatt 4-H classes, I knew how to make a Western Union splice so I went ahead and spliced on to the two parallel wires that were running above the vice. I stripped the rubber insulation that covered wires and “T” spliced on new  copper wires and added a pull chain light fixture over the vice.

After using the light for a while, it started to flicker. That was how I learned that splices need to be soldered for a long lasting permanent connection.  This was before wire nuts were in common use.

I liked wood working and I had a wood lathe at home. I made a table lamp by turning some redwood on the lathe. I added a lamp holder with a twist switch and wired it up with a special knot called the Underwriters Knot. It keeps the cord from pulling out of the base.

NEXT – Raising Sheep

(c) 2014 John A. Peters

One thought on “4H Project – Electricity”

  1. Could be fun.

    You’ll need to get a language type to proofread. The spelling of “Reddy Kilowatt” would require fact-checking, but “Vice” versus “Vise” is something your neighborhood English major can identify for you.

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