Electricity is a servant, make it work for you.
Then baking days won't be so hot, or washdays be so blue.
Your cows will be contented, with a milker fine and bright.
The kids will like the music, from the radio at night.
Your feed will be ground easily, your babychicks kept warm.
The whole family will be happy, with electricity on the farm.
Legislation had been sought in the state legislature by the League of Nebraska Municipalities to grant municipal light and power systems permission to sell electric energy within a radius of 25 miles of their municipal boundaries, but the politically-powerful private power groups seemed to control the legislature and no progress was made. Finally, in the general election in November, 1930, legislative proposals to free cities and villages from their legal chains were submitted to the people, and a measure providing for farm electricity from municipal plants carried by a vote of 204,579 to 89,205 (Nebraska Blue Book, 1932).
However, the problem of serving rural areas was still not solved. In the six years following the legislation permitting rural electrification, lines were constructed to serve only 5,000 additional Nebraska farms. The cities owning generating plants were unable or unwilling to finance rural projects; additional generating capacity and new equipment was necessary, the state was in the throes of a depression, and rates charged by private power companies were so high the small farmer could never afford it. So life in the farm home continued to be very simple; the farm wife’s activities centered around the coal stove and the washboard, and the children studied by kerosene lamps.
The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President in 1932 and the passage of Senate File No. 310 in 1933 opened the way for development of rural electrification in Nebraska, thus removing the first obstacle of rural districts. The same measure provided for organization of three hydroelectric districts in Nebraska: Loup River, Platte Valley and Central Nebraska (Tri-County). These three districts would supply power at low cost, thus removing the second obstacle to rural electrification.
On May 11, 1935, President Roosevelt, by executive order, created the Rural Electrification Administration. One year later the Rural Electrification Act was adopted, authorizing a loan program to co-operatives and public power districts for construction of rural lines. In order to encourage the first customers, installation loans were made to individual farmers.
Even though the path was smoothed by the availability of the federal programs, the progress of rural electrification continued to be an uphill pull. The REA districts had to overcome many difficulties. They were not welcomed by the private power companies, and in truth, it must be said that all farmers did not endorse the program. There were stand-pat Republicans who didn't want anything to do with a New Deal proposition, and others who felt that electricity generated by water was inferior to that generated by steam.
The matter of rates was also of vital interest to the successful operation
of REA districts. Nebraska districts were prepared to make their charges
reasonable. In most cases the monthly rates were approximately as follows:
$3.50 minimum charge for the first 50 kilowatt-hours.4 or 5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 50 kilowatt-hours,3 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 100 kilowatt-hours
1 1/2 to 2 cents for all additional kilowatt-hours purchased.
On January 23, 1937, the first REA board in Buffalo County was organized with Alvah Zimmerman of Gibbon, president; Earl Snyder of Kearney, vice-president; Justus Johnson of Kearney, secretary and C. R. Arbuckle of Kearney, treasurer. Other directors were Harry Oliver, Mark McConnell and Earl Hammans. The organization was known as Buffalo County Public Power District. The board first met on March 13, 1937 and six days later signed a 20-year note for $212,000, with interest at 2.77 percent per annum.
At the time the final hook-up of the Buffalo County District's eastern
line extension was completed, 51 farmsteads and 50 irrigation pumps were
being served, and a potential for 31 more farmsteads and 25 wells in this
The first water for irrigation was pumped with REA power on March 16, 1939 at the McConnell Bros. well. Sixteen and a half months later, on July 30, 1940, the 100th pump was installed on the Warren Reynolds farm east of Kearney. Buffalo County farmers felt so good about this that they held a celebration at the Reynolds farm. Ruby Snyder, daughter of Earl Snyder, president of the board, christened the well as Dorothy Oliver, daughter of board member Harry Oliver, looked on. Over 200 people attended. REA officials spoke, and a transcription of the ceremony was broadcast over KGFW Radio, recording the hum of the pump, and an REA speaker's forecast that "next year's pump crop will double this."
By October 16, 1941, as reported in the Kearney Daily Hub of
that date, the District was servicing "165 irrigation wells and 49 installations
or contracts awaiting service. 65 miles of poles with hardware installed
are awaiting shipment of conductors. This construction is located in Sharon
Township and in the Wood River valley from Kearney to Miller."
Around 1940 a movement was started in central Nebraska to coordinate the
activities of several rural electrification districts. Proponents felt
it would enable the service to be carried on more economically, and would
result in better service. In May, 1941 the Dawson and Buffalo County districts
merged, with the head office at Lexington. Palmer remained in Kearney along
with some employees, but there was no representation of Buffalo County
on the board. Because of the nation's involvement in World War II, and
as a consequence, a lack of REA funds, all projects, the planned merger,
and most activities were put on hold until the war ended. In 1946 the local
board and others interested in REA started action to either get the old
Buffalo County district back, or have equal representation on the board
with Dawson County. Five years and some months later, in April, 1952, they
reached their objective, when Sam Spahr of Kearney, Lester Gross of St.
Michael, Dale Stubblefield of Shelton, and Justus Johnson of Gibbon were
named to the Dawson County Public Power Board. Buffalo County was also
assured that an REA office and warehouse would be built at 801 East 25th
Street. The district then had 6,200 customers, including over 900 irrigation
wells on 3200 miles of line.
By the early 50s, most of the farms in Buffalo County had REA service.
The last portion of the county was the northwest section, where a sub-station
at Miller would serve remaining portions of Sartoria, Armada, Scott and
Harrison townships, and lines westward into Dawson County. Many individuals,
such as Cecil Wolford, Fred Wallace, H. W. Kendall, Howard Mercer, M. H.
Webb and many other farmers and businessmen played a big part in gaining
the present position of REA in Buffalo County. Rural electrification has
brought the farmer from the days of basic tools - the wheel, the block
and tackle, the lever and the plow - and energy, which came from himself,
the horse and the oxen, to Nebraska's Good Life on the farm.
Sorensen, Rural Electrification, Nebraska History Magazine Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 257-270; Kearney Daily Hub, July 26, 1937, October 16, 1941, January 27, 1950, May 15, 1951, April 29, 1952, 1973 centennial edition; Shelton Clipper, December 22, 1938; Dawson Dynamo, May, 1961; Scrapbooks of Margaret Palmer and Ruby Snyder Wolford.
Back to: Buffalo Tales Homepage
to: Buffalo County Historical Society home page