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Monday, February 2, 2015

History of Bates County: And Then There Was Light

Some of our older folks will gladly tell you about country living in the early part of the 20th century. In Winter, living in a cold, dark house was punctuated with trips to 'the little shack out back', sometimes under the worst of weather conditions. In Summer, some nights were so hot, a person couldn't rest comfortably and often, would sleep on a porch or anywhere they could catch a breeze. Ice in your drink? A rarity.

This was a time before electric lights, electric heaters and air conditioning that now make up a necessary part of our modern day lifestyle. Some of these things did exist; however there was no rural power grid and country folks were left in the dark.

At the time, the only alternative was a battery system- batteries in glass containers, often stored in a cellar. Charging of batteries would be by what ever means possible, often with windmill type generator. The system wasn't real efficient. The batteries needed constant maintenance and would only run a few items such as a light or two and maybe the family radio. Sellers of the battery systems would sometimes offer a 'deal' if the farmer would put a large sign on his barn advertising their battery system.


However, things were about to change. On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order that created the Rural Electrification Administration in a time that the nation’s farms needed electric power, and the nation’s workers needed work desperately. This program, born during the Great Depression, brought electric lights and power to millions of Americans, including Bates Countians, who were literally living in the dark - only a half-century ago. By 1935, electric power had been confined to the town and city areas because the power companies thought it would cost too much to bring electric power to the country- they believed that rural people could not afford the costs involved in getting electricity to them.

Later that year, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act, setting up a long-term loan program, which made it possible for rural people to work together to serve themselves with electricity.

While the idea of lights at the flip-of-a-switch for country folks was welcomed, there was uncertainty. Group meetings were held to explain the program and get people to sign up for a $5 fee. During this time, $5 was a sum not to be taken lightly; and there were some who were not sure that electricity was worth the expense. After all, we've never had lights, so who needs 'em?

But many did want it, and there was a lot of work to do- make maps, hire people and get right of way permission everywhere there would be poles. In itself, getting right-of-way permission alone was a monumental task, but the project pushed forward.

Bates, Cass and Henry Counties officially got skin in the game August 9, 1938, when Osage Valley Electric Cooperative Association was incorporated. The original local incorporators were:
Helen Murphy-Butler, C.K. Hendrickson-Butler,
Jas. W. Maxey-Butler, Chas. A. Keirsey-Butler,
Byron Pipes-Butler, J.D. Beatty-Butler,
W.E. Blayney-Butler, John Mayer-Harrisonville,
H.W. Houston-Horton, Ed Sheehy-Hume,
J. Kenny Franks-Rich Hill, George C. Newell-Rockville,
Oscar Fix-Rockville, Ervin R. Ewing-Urich

Things were buzzing right along. By 1941, 524 miles of power lines were serving 779 rural customers and despite the war, Osage Valley was still growing.

Since there were no single generating facilities to feed Osage Valley REA, the company had to purchase electric power to furnish its members. Originally, wholesale power was purchased from the City of Butler, the City of Harrisonville, and the Missouri Public Service Co.
As rural Bates County got electricity, with
it came a new responsibility- jotting down
the numbers on the meter each month and
mailing it in for proper billing. By contrast,
today's meters are read remotely by using
signals that are sent over the power lines.

In 1948, Osage Valley entered into a contract to purchase all of its wholesale power from KAMO Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Vinita, Oklahoma. Today, KAMO still supplies the wholesale power for the Cooperative.

Moving ahead to 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was reorganized and the traditional REA was eliminated and made part of the new Rural Utilities Service (RUS). RUS is now responsible for the U.S. Government’s rural electric loan program. To construct the electric lines necessary to serve their members all throughout, Osage Valley Electric has borrowed over 28 million dollars from the REA/RUS and CFC. The Cooperative has repaid a large amount borrowed. Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, along with more than nine hundred electric cooperatives in this country, has made the REA/RUS program one of the best investments the U.S. Government has ever made.

Today, Osage Valley Electric Cooperative serves over 15,000 members on over 3,700 miles of rural distribution lines. The Cooperative has fifty-two employees dedicated to serving the Cooperative’s members with the most economical and reliable electric power possible.

Presently, the officers of Osage Valley Electric are: President, P.D. Kircher, Harrisonville; First Vice President, Kenneth Knight, Appleton City; Second Vice President, David Rapp, Rockville; and Secretary-Treasurer, Ron Steuck, Rich Hill. The other members of the board are: Jack Baker, Butler; Paul Ross, Urich; Chelle Black, Butler; Richard Wirsig, Clinton; and Ray Heuser, Harrisonville.