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Updated: Nov 13, 2021

By David John Smith

The Story of Svælgfos - Part I

Svælgfos represented a critical element of Sam Eyde’s strategy. Although his burning desire was to tame the mighty Rjukanfossen to the north, he would have to succeed here. The financier Banque Paribas stipulated that the Svælgfos project must be implemented first – before the bank would agree to financing the Rjukan projects.

Hydro also required the building of a larger nitrate factory further down Tinnelva in Notodden (in what is now Notodden Hydro Industrial Park).

This would require 30,000 horsepower to be generated from the Svælgfos project, but the top managers in BASF wanted to see results first. Then they would join on in the exponentially larger scale industrial activities to the north in Rjukan

“Not even Niagara can compare…”

Industry magnate Carl Duisberg of the Bayer Group declared that not even Niagara could compare to Svælgfos I, a hydroelectric power plant project that had been initiated in 1905 with the goal of providing 30,000 horsepower – a massive amount of power at the time. It would be the largest in Norway and Europe and would exceed the total aggregate hydropower development in Norway over the previous three years.

This would be the second largest hydroelectric power plant in the world and represent a quantum leap forward from Tinfos I production capacity.To achieve this, the powerful Svælgfosen waterfall would have to be tamed at a point where Tinnelva cascaded into a narrow gorge, a formidable task.

This would be a supreme test of engineering and manpower, and it had to succeed. Hydro and Eyde would have to rise to the occasion.

The Legend

The choice of a project manager would be decisive, and to manage the project, Sam Eyde tasked Sigurd Kloumann, a legend within engineering and leadership.

Many years later, Sam Eyde would write of Kloumann and Svælgfos in his autobiography. It was Svælgfos that Eyde mentioned most in his book – more than either Vemork or Såheim, which would each become the largest power plants in the world in 1911 and 1916 respectively.

It had been back in the spring of 1903 that Kloumann had first been hired by Sam Eyde to survey Vammafossen with the goal of developing it as a location for a power plant, establishing him with a reputation as a highly efficient engineer.

Kloumann was also a participant in the testing of the Birkeland/Eyde furnace at Ankerløkken and the establishment of Norsk Hydro. He was also the site and construction manager for developing the first test and production facilities in Notodden. The projects were undertaken simultaneously, both beginning in 1905 and completed in 1907.

Troubled Waters

To achieve the construction at Svælgfos, Hydro had to build a large workforce. During the development and construction of the dam and hydroelectric plant, up to 400 workers lived in rudimentary cabins.

The task was difficult, the work went on day and night, and flooding destroyed the work that had been done on several occasions, losing several weeks each time.

Once the expanded Notodden calcium nitrate production capacity was completed in 1907, they would need all of the 30,000 horsepower that would be generated from Svælgfos I. To achieve this, a strong current was needed and so the Tinnelva was dammed just at the point where the water had cascaded into a deep and narrow gorge – to be then led into a tunnel that would force the water to the intake of the power plant.

At the same time, the thriving timber industry could not be disrupted, so one of the world’s longest log flume systems was gradually constructed. This would lead the timber past the Svælgfos dam and further into the valley at Notodden.

Tune in again next Wednesday for conclusion of this story of this “make or break” project for the young Hydro company.

Special thanks to NIA for photos 1, 3 and 4

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