Evan Snell knew he wanted one of this year's 4-H projects to be "something in electricity." When he found out Sedgwick County was offering a project in wind energy, he was intrigued. He wanted to build his own wind turbine.
"My first task was to figure out what parts I would need and where to get them," he said. "We could have ordered a kit but that was about $400, and we didn't want to spend that much."
So he went online to find ideas and parts.
First, he needed a motor just the right size to generate enough electricity to charge a 12-volt battery.
"That would be about 13.6 volts and 200 to 300 RPM," he said.
And how does a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Hyde Elementary School in Wichita know that?
"My dad," he says. "He's an electrical engineer."
He found his motor -- recycled from a change machine -- on E-bay for $8.
He made most of the rest of the wind turbine from PVC pipes of varying sizes from a pattern that he and his dad found online. They cut the blades with a jigsaw from the pattern, which he taped to PVC pipe.
The turbine works, he said, by winding the motor backward as the wind turns the blades; turning it into a generator that moves the power through a voltage regulator and a circuit into the 12 volt battery. Evan chose to use a 12 volt battery that the family already owned that has the kind of plug you would use to plug into an automobile power port.
"You can run anything off the wind turbine battery that you could off your car port," he said. "You can charge phones, run lights, a fan, and stuff like that."
Evan said he will probably put his turbine to use on the family's ranch in Elk County near Howard.
"It's more open out there with more wind," he said.
And now that he has built one turbine, he said, he might build several more.
He won a purple ribbon for his wind turbine at the Sedgwick County Fair and is looking forward to competing in the Kansas State Fair.
He will also be entering a geology exhibit, a project he did for the first time this year, even though he has been fascinated by collecting rocks ever since he can remember.
"He's been picking up rocks and saying 'what's this' since he was about two years old," his mom says.
His "box of rocks" this year includes rocks, minerals and fossils, all collected on "rock hounding" trips in Kansas.
His purple-ribbon winning collection includes a sample of obsidian, which he found in a quarry in Elk County – obsidian is not commonly found in Kansas because it is the result of volcanoes, which there is no history of in Kansas.
"It was in a quarry, so I think it might have been brought there in a piece of equipment that had been in Colorado or New Mexico where you commonly find obsidian," he said.
He said he will probably swap that sample with another rock in his state fair entry because he will not be there during judging to explain and defend his entry.
"I think that judges might take points off because that isn't usually found in Kansas," he said. "I'll probably put in something more common."
His mom, Rebecca, says that the "whole family" nature of 4-H participation means that she has been learning a lot about geology too, thanks to Evan's interest in the project.
"Our project leaders have a lot of education and experience in geology," she said. "It is fascinating to learn from them."
She said she wanted her children to be involved in 4-H because it was important to her in her own childhood, growing up in Pratt where she and all her siblings were involved in 4-H, just as their parents had been. The kids get to pick what projects they do each year as long as one of them is Citizenship. “One of the strongest parts of 4-H is all the citizenship and leadership the kids learn”, she said. “So they will also be in leadership and help out as junior leaders once they turn 13 years old.”
She now works as an accountant for the same company she worked for in Colorado Springs before the family moved to Wichita.
"I am lucky enough to get to be an internet employee, working from home," she said.
During his four years in 4-H, Evan has done projects in photography, woodworking, citizenship, visual arts, dog obedience, and backpacking and he has given project talks at the County 4-H Day each year. Last year he took his illustrated demonstration to the State Fair where he explained the components that should be included in a survival kit. Last year he also earned a purple ribbon at the State Fair on his photo and he gets to take his photo of a humming bird to the State Fair this year.
His little sister, McKenzie, is 7 and in her first year of 4-H this year. She also did a wind energy poster on the theme "What I want for Christmas is a wind farm," that outlined the advantages of wind energy and showed wind towers decorated for Christmas; an effort that earned her a purple ribbon in her age group.