SOUTH PARIS — It's hard to call Scott Currie's first experience building an electricity-generating wind turbine a resounding success, since the thing literally shook itself to pieces on its first windy day.
"That thing was proppin'," Currie said. "It sounded like a plane getting ready to take off. I stood there and watched the thing, but I didn't want to stand too close."
But as a proof of concept, it was a resounding success. It actually generated a measurable amount of power — until it blew to smithereens.
As a community project, it inspired some of the students that helped design and build the turbine to study green power in college.
Currie is convinced that the idea itself is a still a good one. He's pushing it today, hoping to interest a Maine entrepreneur into taking over and manufacturing a household appliance based on what Currie and the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School's Team Green learned in 2010.
"You have appliances for everything else, why not one that makes power?" he said. "It's going to happen at some point. It's a no-brainer. Why not be the one to build it?"
But it won't be him.
"I've had my experience in business," he said. " I don't need to do that again."
As a studio-trained potter, Currie acknowledges he has no special expertise in making power-generating wind turbines.
"But I've always been good at looking at things and figuring out how they work," Currie said.
It's what led him to his almost-30-year-old creation and his most resounding success — the Christian Ridge Pottery Apple Baker. It's basically a small pot the size of a large coffee mug with a ceramic spike up the middle.
A cored apple is skewered on top of the spike and put into a hot oven or microwave to cook. The result is a tender, hot and healthy dessert treat.
He first came up with the idea in 1979 and made a prototype as a gift for a girlfriend. Currie had just moved to South Paris to work at the Celebration Barn Theater.
"Apples are a big Maine product," he said. "There are orchards everywhere, hundreds of acres, and here we are, making these. So it seemed logical to combine the two."
The original design was based on a candlestick, with a spike to hold the apple instead of a column to hold the candle.
They've been a straight-out commercial success, from the first ones he made for local craft fairs to the thousands he's sold through L.L. Bean and other catalogs.
He's expanded his line to include similar dishes for potatoes and coffee carafes, but the apple baker has been the mainstay.
"Here I was, moving up here in Maine to make all kind of pots," he said. "And all anyone wanted was apple bakers."
The design has evolved over time, with a narrower apple spike and taller sides.
"Nobody made these before me," he said. "If you see someone else selling one, it's a knockoff and it's inferior. The design has changed and grown so much over time — it's very different and much better. The knock-offs are all based on our old, flawed designs. It makes me feel a little smug to say, 'Copy our mistakes. I love it, because you are going to lose money stealing my idea.'"
As demand increased, Currie's process had to evolve. The first thousand or so were thrown by hand, but there was no way he could meet L.L. Bean's demand by doing it that way. He added a pottery press in 1987 and hired people to help make the pots.
"We had one guy who could put out seven racks of pieces to go," he said. "Then we had to finish them and decorate them, glaze them and fire them. It was a minimum of seven steps for each apple baker."
They got to the point that they manufactured 1,000 apple bakers a month and shipped them L.L. Bean and to other catalog stores.
But it was a long way to go for a guy who just wanted to throw clay, and he grew tired of the pace. He found himself struggling to make payroll as retailers became slower and slower to pay.
"It was just such a hassle to make them in mass," he said. "I decided to just sell them retail."
Today, he only sells them online and through a select number of Maine stores.
He wound up taking a second job to make ends meet, working as an education tech for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.
"It was a job I absolutely loved," he said. "I could never be a teacher, but I loved working with the kids."
He volunteered as an advisor to Team Green in 2009, the high school's engineering and environmental club. They ended up building their wind-generating turbine out of scrap. PVC tubes were sliced and shaped to become the turbine's blades, an old Harley-Davidson gas tank formed its body, and other mechanical bits and pieces, scrounged from area landfills, made up the inner workings.
"Part of the point early on was to make it from recycled materials, and do it as inexpensively as possible," he said.
The turbine was completed and installed in front of the high school in 2010. It was meant to power the school's informational entrance sign, but it didn't do much of anything until one windy day in March.
That's when Currie and the rest of the green team discovered their turbine had one teensy little flaw.
"It was a bearing, part of an assembly we got from a scrapyard," Currie said. "Looking back, it's probably the reason the assembly was in the scrapyard to begin with. But we learned a lot about what not to do and about the awesome amount of power that's available in wind."
It generated electricity, all right, but it also generated a lot of noise. The faulty bearing got worse and worse, even as the blades turned faster. The entire contraption began to shake until it finally flew apart, shedding its blades and burying them deep in the grass around the turbine's tower.
"If anybody had been standing there, it could have been a liability," Currie said. "But it was really cool to see it working."
The team fixed their turbine and replaced the bad bearing, but nobody would let them put it back up. It's still sitting in the a storage shed behind his shop.
"It was a fabulous, fabulous exercise in getting kids excited about making things," Currie said. "The school was not saying no to putting it back up, but they were not saying yes either."
Nevertheless, the experience convinced Currie that wind is the wave of the future.
He imagines manufacturing a household appliance that would store wind- and solar-power-generated electricity and hot water.
"The point is, everything would be in a single cabinet, all self-contained and connected to the rest of the house," he said. "You could use it to power your other appliances and provide hot water. All the consumer would have to do is put up the turbine and the solar cells and plug it in."
He displayed a model of the idea last year at Lewiston-Auburn's Mini Maker Faire at Museum L-A and said he'd like to see someone take the idea to market.
"That's as far as I've taken it," he said. "I ran out of money, and I need someone else to take it to the next step. I don't want to do it, but I'd be happy to help."
Do you know a creative person with a technological bent? We'd love to talk to them. Contact Staff Writer Scott Taylor at email@example.com, on Twitter as Orange_me or call 207-689-2846.