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Backyard Lightning


Most of us are afraid of lightning. One man in Newcastle actually likes lightning so much he's making it in his backyard.

Kevin Eldredge can bring the fire in the sky down to earth with a device he's built. The 16-foot-high Tesla coil was erected a few years ago in the backyard of his Newcastle, Okla. Home. The reason for this high-frequency high-voltage resonant transformer? Personal amusement, said Eldredge.

"I like lightning. I like to watch lightning and sparks, and this took care of that," he said.

Eldredge started with some smaller coils back in the early 1990s, but the small bolts just didn't quite cut it for this electricity aficionado. He kept building up and bigger, until this 16-footer stood tall. Eldredge claims this coil is the largest of its kind built by a hobbyist.

Not everyone enjoys high-powered lightning in their neighborhood, however, and the first time Eldredge fired up this Tesla coil, the fire department was called.

"It looked like it was just a lightning storm right there in his back yard," said Capt. Max Rinehart of the Newcastle Fire Department. "I'm not a fan of electricity, so I kept my distance."

During set-up, Eldredge said he has to follow a written checklist now, because missing or forgetting little things could lead to very costly and dangerous mistakes.

The man who created the coil Eldredge uses is a man whose ideas led to today's wireless communications and could, perhaps, help create tomorrow's outer space defenses.

Nikola Tesla was a visionary when it came to things electric, but he was often misunderstood. He was retroactively considered the real founder of the radio, but he died alone and in an extreme amount of debt.

Tesla also got involved in a bitter dispute with Thomas Edison over whether direct or alternating current was the best way to transmit electricity.

"Edison tried to prove to the public that DC was the best way to go and Tesla along with Westinghouse wanted to make everyone think that AC was the way to go," said Eldredge.  "Tesla won."

Thanks to YouTube, anyone with a computer can now watch the Tesla coil light up Eldredge's backyard and the night sky over Newcastle.

Orginally Aired: 11-11-2007

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