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Pulleys solidly attached ("fast") to the shaft could be combined with adjacent pulleys that turned freely ("loose") on the shaft (idlers).

In this configuration the belt could be maneuvered onto the idler to stop power transmission or onto the solid pulley to convey the power.

The central power source could be a water wheel, turbine, windmill, animal power or a steam engine.

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Usually at the last belt feeding power to a machine, a pair of stepped pulleys could be used to give a variety of speed settings for the machine.

In other applications such as machine and wood shops where there was a variety of machines with different orientations and power requirements, the system would appear erratic and inconsistent with many different shafting directions and pulley sizes.

Shafts were usually horizontal and overhead but occasionally were vertical and could be underground.

In the earliest applications power was transmitted between pulleys using loops of rope on grooved pulleys.

This method is extremely rare today, dating mostly from the 18th century.

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