CELEBRATING OVER 75 YEARS (1938-2016)
By the mid-1930’s, ninety-eight percent of the farmers and ranchers of rural Texas were still pumping water by hand, lighting their houses with kerosene lamps, burning wood for warmth, and cooking and working by dint of muscle and grit, while people in the cities enjoyed the labor saving benefits of electricity.
As part of the New Deal, in 1935 President Franklin D Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act (REA), which provided federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems to serve rural areas of the United States.
The Articles of Incorporation for Hamilton County Electric Cooperative Association were signed July 6, 1938. The first board of directors and roster of officers included Van Wisdom of Hamilton, president; W.M. Horsley of Fairy, vice-president; Shade Register of Gentrys Mill, secretary; Troy Dutton, Walter Marwitz, Jack Billingsley, and A.T. Jones, directors. The first ten years marked much progress for the Cooperative. By 1949, the five county area, including Hamilton, Coryell, Lampasas, Mills and San Saba, had been covered by the power lines of the Cooperative. It was a far cry from the days when the first solicitors would be told “heck no, I don’t want poles scattered all over my land,” to the average farm home, lighted by REA electricity, with running water provided by electric pumps, and with electric powered feed mills, freezers, radios, electric irons, in fact all the conveniences ordinarily only associated with the city home.
T.D. Craddock, county agricultural agent at the time, was perhaps the prime mover in the agitation to secure rural electricity for the farmers of this area. It took considerable talk and planning to get things started. After a number of prominent farmers and others had become interested, a meeting was held at the court house at 3 p.m., July 19, 1938. At this meeting E.H. Stone of Washington, D.C. and W.M. Morrison of the Waco REA office explained the REA procedure. Piloted by Ardell Williams, Hamilton attorney, procedures were instituted and a charter for the Hamilton County Rural Electric Cooperative Association was granted in July 1938.
In the language of the initial petition, the first line was laid out as follows: “The project starts at Purmela in Coryell County with the line to Evant, Aleman, Blue Ridge, Fairy, Lanham, Indian Gap and Priddy, with Hamilton in the center.”
November 4, 1938 approval by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) had been obtained for 350 miles of line to serve 867 families in five counties and a Federal loan of $286,000 made to the new enterprise. Securing the loan was just the beginning of the work to be done. Right-of-ways had to be cleared, easements had to be secured, and applications for service had to be obtained from each applicant along with a $5.00 membership fee. Lines had to be designed, staked and bids taken for actual construction.
Bids for construction of the line were issued December 12, 1938 with 385? miles to be built. Section No. 1 was awarded to O.O. Fuller Construction Company, Nevada, Mo., for $99,530.27. Low bidder on Section No. 2 was J.E. Morgan and Son, El Paso for $114,232.59. Engineers started staking the lines January 3, 1939 and the project was under way.
A work order was issued on 120 miles of line and clearing of the right-of-way started at Pottsville February 27, 1939. One of the most momentous occasions in the progress of the Cooperative was the formal celebration staged at the setting of the first high line pole near Evant, on Wednesday afternoon, March 22 at 2 p.m. A large crowd of people gathered around to witness Frank Turrentine, construction superintendent of Section 2 of the line, operate the big hole-digging machine and pole hoist in placing the pole in the ground, which was accomplished in four minutes. Preceding the mechanical demonstrations, addresses were made over a loud speaker system by Cooperative and REA representatives and bank presidents. The Evant Concert Band furnished peppy music at intervals, adding enthusiasm to the entertainment feature of the occasion. With 800 houses wired and 200 houses connected, the line was energized Monday May 22, 1939 and 200 farm homes, a few churches and a school or two abandoned their oil lamps and portable light plants, for the light and power service of the REA. By July 21, 1939, seven hundred farm homes were connected.
World War II was a time of waiting for the REA. With key staff serving in the military, and with shortages of copper wire, wood poles and transformers, electric cooperative line construction slowed to a crawl. With the end of the war in 1945, line construction and implementation of new technology could begin to progress at a steady rate. A license for a two-way radio system was secured by the REA and the equipment was installed in December 1948. To insure complete coverage of the areas served by power lines, five trucks were equipped with radios. Many man hours of time were saved by this system which enabled a truck driver to report any damage to lines to their home office or to receive reports from the office locating trouble without coming in to the office after each trip.
In August 1949, the Cooperative erected its new home, the current office located at 420 North Rice Street in Hamilton. The building was built of Austin stone and brick. The front office double doors of inch thick plate glass have endured the past 65 years. Garner-Alvis Co. published these words in the special edition of the Hamilton Herald News dedicated to the Hamilton County Electric Co-op: “Upon the completion of your modern, spacious, beautiful office building….Congratulations! We think rural electrification is the greatest project; is the best thing that has ever happened to farm communities. Every modern wonder of electricity is yours at the turn of a switch. We are proud of your building and of your organization and of the fact that ultimately at least 6000 families will enjoy REA benefits.”
(The above portion of this article was obtained from an excerpt of Hamilton Herald-News, dated August 5, 1949, a Special Edition in honor of Hamilton County R.E.A.’s 10th anniversary and completion of their new office building.)
Hamilton County Electric Cooperative Association continues to make improvements in technology during this twenty-first century. In 2000 the Cooperative’s board of directors approved a $7.4 million construction work plan. HCEC which services members in Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Mills, San Saba, Comanche and Llano counties developed a plan for system improvements, conductor replacement projects, new equipment installations or phase balancing in every service area so that the Cooperative can provide adequate, reliable service during the peak demand periods.
During 2000-2001 the Cooperative initiated an automated meter reading program utilizing Turtle meters offered by Hunt Technologies, Inc. By 2004 the automated meter reading system was installed throughout the cooperative’s entire service area. The new Turtle meters eliminated the need for Members to read their own meters. Quick location and correction of service problems and timely power usage information are an additional benefit of the system.
From an initial list of 692 meters to be served by the system, the register has climbed to 17,359 connected meters. The original 385? miles of line has increased to 3,928 miles serving five counties. The Cooperative’s Total Utility Plant has grown from $ 814 in 1939 to $71,222,274 today. Hamilton County Electric Cooperative purchases its wholesale power from Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. Brazos Electric, founded in 1941, generates and transmits wholesale power to sixteen member-owner distribution cooperatives like HCEC. Brazos Electric uses energy risk management programs to reduce natural gas and energy price volatility for its members. Brazos Electric currently operates various generation resources that use natural gas, hydro electric and solid fuel (lignite coal) as a fuel source.
Hamilton County Electric Cooperative is also a member of Texas Electric Cooperatives (TEC), a statewide organization founded in 1941 located in Austin, Texas. TEC was created and supported by most cooperatives in the state to obtain the fairest possible treatment from state government, through acquainting legislators and other officials with the rural electric co-op’s plans, activities and problems.
Additionally, HCEC is an active member of the National Rural Electric Cooperative (NRECA), which organized in 1942. NRECA is located in Washington, D.C. and was organized to unite all of the rural electric systems under one banner to protect their interests, and provide support to help them serve rural America.
Today, Hamilton County Electric Cooperative Association is one of more than 60 electric cooperatives in Texas and one of more than 900 electric cooperatives across the country. We now serve a very diverse membership in five counties. That’s a big change from 75 years ago. But in all the important ways, Hamilton County Electric hasn’t changed at all. We’re still committed to the communities we serve, to quality service, personal attention, technology, reliability and to providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to the people we work for: our Members.