OUR IN-DEPTH STORY
In the late 1930s, rural residents of the area were unlike their cousins who lived in cities, towns and villages nearby. They had no electrical power to provide them with lights, heating and other advantages that their city relatives enjoyed. During the spring of 1939, a group of residents of the Sinclair-Prairie oilfield camp and farmers from the surrounding area met one night at the Scrapping’ Ridge schoolhouse 5 miles south of Cleveland to see what could be done about bringing electricity to their area.
They attempted to solve the problem by turning to public utility firms, but it did not provide the answer as they were told they were too far out to be reached by the nearest private-owned power company’s lines. The group was forced to look elsewhere.
An alert Cleveland Chamber of Commerce quickly saw the benefits that could be achieved by extending central station electric service in the rural areas. It offered assistance and started the ball rolling at the Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday evening, April 10, 1939.
Homer Richards, a resident of Cleveland who had worked on construction of lines for newly organized rural electric cooperatives in other parts of Oklahoma, was the speaker at the meeting and suggested the possibility of organizing a cooperative. The Chamber agreed to consider and Bob Breeden, editor of the Cleveland American, was chosen to head a committee to determine interest.
Four days after the meeting, on April 14, 1939, Oklahoma’s Seventeenth Legislature approved Senate Bill 14. The bill was known as the “Rural Electric Cooperative Act” and was an act providing for the organization of electric cooperative, non-profit, membership corporations to engage in rural electrification in the state of Oklahoma.
As a result of the Chamber of Commerce investigation, a meeting of interested farmers in the Cleveland area was held at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, 1939 in the Arlington. Those in attendance were Lester Findley, W.J. Comer, J.O. Bunch, J.C. Byers, Neil Swan, Len Callison, W.N. Kenny, E.L. Kelso, M. L. Gibbons, B.O. Moore, N.V. Wilcoxson, Roy Brodell, J.M. Hamilton, A.G. Monforte, Frank Smith, E.G. Findley, D.A. Bunch, E.M. Findley and A.C. Gibbons.
Speaking at the meeting was F.E. Stanley of Tulsa who assisted other cooperatives in getting started. A second meeting was called June 3 at the hotel. C.C. Bledsoe, of a Tulsa engineering firm, was the speaker. Bledsoe was in charge of several Oklahoma projects financed by the Rural Electrification Administration in Washington, D.C.
Farmers and landowners in eastern Pawnee County were invited to a special meeting at Cleveland High School on Saturday, June 24. About 50 people attended. Mrs. Roy Brodeu of Keystone and B.O. Moore of Southfield were instrumental in organizing the meeting. Speakers were Richards, Bledsoe, County Agent A.R. Garlington and Wilbur L. Morse, a Vinita attorney who was assisting with the organization of cooperatives in Rogers and Craig counties.
Another meeting was held on July 2 for the purpose of making plans for formal incorporation of the cooperative and selection of nine incorporators who would have the responsibility of carrying the project through to its completion. About 30 people attended and the name Consumers Electric Cooperative was chosen. The incorporators were chosen, and Morse was named as legal counsel to assist them in organizing the cooperative.
On July 7, a pre-allotment survey was approved by the R.E.A. (Rural Electrification Administration in Washington, D.C.) for a 60-day period to determine how many rural residents wanted electricity to their homes. The area assigned to the new cooperative was the unincorporated area lying between three other cooperatives located in Collinsville (Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative), Stillwater (Central Rural Electric Cooperative), and Blackwell (Kay Electric Cooperative). This area included portions of Pawnee, Osage, Creek, Payne, Noble and Tulsa counties. Several years later, a small corner of Kay County would be added to the territory served.
On July 22, those selected as incorporators met to complete plans for the survey and incorporation. By this time, it was discovered that there already was a cooperative with the name Consumers Electric Cooperative, so the group had to select another name. Mrs. Jack (Ida) McCollom suggested the name Indian Electric Cooperative, since the area to be covered was in the heart of what was once known as Indian Territory. The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce made arrangement to provide office space and Cleveland was designated as headquarters.
Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State at 4 p.m. on August 1, 1939. Charter members who read the Articles of Incorporation were Ben O. Moore of Cleveland, Mrs. Roy (Marie) Brodell of Keystone, A.L. Bishop of Cleveland, Mrs. Jack (Ida) McCollom of Keystone; Mrs. Jake (Pauline) Smedley of Cleveland, J.O. Bunch of Cleveland, Charles Green of Mararmec and W.H. Rogers of Pawnee.
Formal and official organization was completed at a meeting held in the Arlington Hotel at 8 p.m. on August 5, 1939. The first Board of Trustees consisted of the nine original incorporators. All of the trustees, with the exception of A.L. Bishop and Ida McCollom, were present at the first meeting. Original officers elected at the first meeting were Charles Green, president; B.O. Moore, vice president; and Pauline Smedley, secretary-treasurer. Other business conducted at the organizational meeting included adoption of bylaws and a corporate seal in addition to other necessary business, which included the selection of Midwestern Engineering and Construction Co. of Tulsa as the project engineering firm. Wilbur L. Morse of Vinita was confirmed as project counsel.
At the end of the first board meeting, W.H. Rogers became the first member to resign. In submitting his resignation, he explained that his father had been critically injured in an automobile accident and that he would not be able to devote the time necessary to serving on the board. In a subsequent meeting on September 15, 1939, the board discussed the need for having representation on the board from other communities of the large area to be served in Indian Electric. As a result of the discussion, several trustees expressed their willingness to resign in order to make room for representation from outlying districts by persons selected by residents of the outlying communities. First board member to do so was Marie Brodell who resigned at the following meeting on Sept.23. At the same meeting, E.C. Bryson of Pawnee was named to replace W.H. Rogers and H.G. Matherly of Olive was chosen to fill the vacancy created when Mrs. Brodell resigned. The board also accepted the resignation of A.L. Bishop at the Nov. 18 meeting and named H.P. Laird of Morrison to replace him.
Over months, an intensive effort had been made to obtain 600 signatures of people who wanted electricity. The goal was to build 200 miles of line to serve at least three families per mile. To sign up, the farmers would agree to purchase power from the cooperative for a period of one year and pay a minimum charge of $3.25 per month once the lines were extended to their residence. It seemed like an almost impossible task and several methods were used in getting signatures. Several were hired as coordinators and survey workers to reach people in the area. In addition, the board members and others would go from farm to farm registering people for membership. The fee for membership in Indian Electric was $5, which was hard to come by in those days.
In order to meet a deadline of the R.E.A., the board at its Dec. 9 meeting instructed the project engineering to prepare maps and data necessary for a loan application to the R.E.A. for sufficient funds to construct whatever distribution system the engineers found to be feasible on the basis of applications completed in the consumer survey as of December 13, 1939.
At the following board meeting on January 20, 1940, the board was advised that R.E.A. had received the application and approved of any effort on the part of Indian Electric to secure additional applicants who could be served by the proposed distribution system as presently designed, and that the cooperative could submit a supplement to its present application to cover any extension of the lines which might be worked out in the immediate future.
The resignation of E.C. Bryson from the board was also accepted at the Jan. 20 meeting and Cleo Eaton of Marland was named as his replacement at a meeting held Feb. 10 after he was selected by those in Noble County to be their delegate.
On June 1, 1940, the board passed a resolution to update the loan application with the R.E.A. by the addition of several more miles of line to serve families eager to receive central station electric service. The addition to the loan application completed the Project “A” application and was for approximately 178 miles of line to serve 491 families. It consisted of line territory – the Morrison-Watchhorn-Lela area in Western Pawnee County, the Drumright-Olive area in Creek County, and the Cleveland- Keystone area in eastern Pawnee County. Many scattered applications had been received, but much more work needed to be done in order to achieve the desired density of three residences per mile. As soon as possible, those areas would be worked in an attempt to submit an additional loan application for a Project “B” whenever it proved feasible.
When the loan application was being processed, workers turned their attention to obtaining right-of-way easements for the lines and other important matters. The project engineering firm, Midwestern Engineering and Construction Co. of Tulsa, assigned C.D. Drake as their resident engineer to plan where the lines would go and in what order. Surveying and staking began near Morrison on August 5, 1940 and moved into the Cleveland areas on Monday, Sept. 16.
The big news came in early August and President Green advised the board at the August 10, 1940 meeting that an allotment of $140,000 had been granted by the R.E.A. for a period of 25 years at 2.46 percent interest to be used in construction of power lines and related facilities on Project “A.” The dream, which began 18 months earlier, was nearing reality.
Things really began moving fast as the board turned attention to setting up an office and hiring personnel. Offices were set up in the Thorne Building at 117 North Broadway in Cleveland with rent for the first year paid by the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. The board employed Carl A. Zink of Barnsdall as the first project superintendent, and he began his full-time duties on August 12, 1940. His salary was $150 per month. Bert R. Ness of Cleveland was chosen as bookkeeper-stenographer and also began working August 12.
Five contractors submitted bids for construction of the “X” section of the line with bids being opened in a meeting at Arlington Hotel on August 20, 1940. The Reinhart and Donovan Company of Oklahoma City was awarded the contract on its bid of $95,307.31.
Loan papers on the $140,000 allotment were prepared by the R.E.A. on Sept. 5 and forwarded to Indian Electric for signing. Officials of Indian Electric affixed their signatures on September 21, 1940. At this time, a debt ceiling of $150,000 was established.
Arrangements were made by the board on Sept. 28 for obtaining a truck and purchasing hand tools for use by crews in connection with right-of-way clearing. The first truck was a second-hand 1930 Model “A” Ford ½-ton pickup, Motor No. 906255, which was initially rented at the rate of .04 cents per mile and later purchased by the cooperative for use in right-of-way clearing. A few months after, a second vehicle was purchased for use as a maintenance truck. The new GMC ½-ton pickup and related equipment was purchased in 1940 from Alexander Motor Company of Cleveland at a cost of $585.65 and a custom-built body complete with extension ladder was added to properly equip it for its job.
Retail rates for electric service were adopted by the Board of Trustees on October 19, 1940. The rate for farm and home use was:
($3.25 Minimum Bill)
First 40 KWH 8 1/2cents $3.25
Second 40 KWH 4 1/2cents $1.80
Next 120 KWH 2 ½ Cents $3.00
All over 200 KWH 1 3/4 cents
A special meeting of members was held on October 26, 1940 for the purpose of approving action of the board on Sept. 21 in connection with the loan and establishment of a debt ceiling. A quorum of the members was present with a majority approving the board action.
Coordinators and survey workers continued signing up persons interested in receiving service with the goal of obtaining enough applicants to submit a loan application of 225 more miles of line as Project “B.” At the same time, work progressed on clearing right-of-way, which began in early October on the west segment with many members working on the crews to pay for their houses to be wired. Line construction was started on November 11, 1940, and by late December 1940, the contractor reported 61 miles of poles had been strung on the ground and 45 miles of poles had been erected.
On December 7, 1940, the board signed loan papers for $5,000 from the R.E.A. for the purpose of making loans to members to finance the wiring of premises to be served with electric energy by the cooperative and for the purchase and installation of electrical appliances and equipment.
Two more board members were named on December 21, 1940 with the appointment of F.E. Arb from the Pleasant Valley area around Yale and L.M. Wetzel from the Prairie Center district near Morrison to fill the vacancies created by the September 28 resignation of J.O. Bunch and the replacement of H.P. Laird who was unable to serve because of duty with the Armed Forces. These new board members were nominated for the positions by their friends and neighbors at community meetings held for the purpose of selecting a representative for the board.
Arthur R. Schornick was employed by the cooperative as a maintenance man in December. Other regular employees included Zink, Ness, and Ester Warren who was employed on a temporary basis as a clerk. There also were others employed temporarily as coordinators, survey workers, easement workers, right of way clearing crews, etc.
A membership certificate was approved for use by the cooperative on Dec. 21 for issuance to all members as their applications were accepted by the board. In their previous meeting on Dec. 7, the board accepted into membership all applicants who could be served by the Project “X,” provided they had paid their membership fee of $5 and complied with cooperative bylaws.
The new year also brought a change in resident engineers on the project with H.A. Brock replacing C.D. Drake. In their January 18, 1941 meeting, the trustees opened three bids for construction of member service installations (meter loops) on Project “N,” and accepted the low bid of $3,730.69 made by the Westgate Electric Co. of Columbus, Ohio.
Two new trustees joined the board on Feb. 15 with the naming of M.V. Covey of the Big Bend area and Paul Guinn of Blackburn to fill vacancies which were created on January 18 with the resignations of E.M. Findley and Ben O. Moore. A 60-day extension was also granted to the general contractor on Project “N” because of bad weather experienced in the winter months and because of delays in obtaining some line materials.
Because of the extra office work involved as the date for energization of the lines became nearer, an additional worker was needed in the office. Faye Milstead was hired temporarily as a clerk-typist on Jan. 23.
On March 15, survey work on the proposed Project “S” had reached the stage that the board authorized mapping of the project and submission to the R.E.A. for an allotment. The survey indicated that at least 103 miles of line could be built with a density of two members per mile.
H.G. Matherly was elected by fellow board members as vice-president to replace Ben O. Moore. The board was advised that a petition had been received by the president and signed by 77 people, 74 of which were bonafide members which would be served by Project “A” and calling for a full membership meeting to be held in the Pawnee County Courthouse at the same date in March 1941. Acting on the petition, the board set the date of April 7, 1941 at 1 p.m. for the meeting, instructing the secretary to mail proper notice of the meeting to the full membership in accordance with the bylaws.
Construction of the distribution system of Project “A” was nearing completion and a dedication service was scheduled for 1 p.m. following the full membership meeting on April 7.
April 7, 1941 was a big red-letter day in the history of Indian Electric as it marked two important events – the first full membership meeting and the first energization of lines of the infant cooperative. The membership meeting was held as scheduled and questions of many members were answered by officials and employees of the cooperative. The meeting was closed with 95 percent of those in attendance rising to their feet as a vote of confidence for the management of the cooperative.
In spite of overcast skies which cut attendance and a downpour in which crews had to work to make last minute preparations for the event, a dedication service was held at the cooperative’s sub-station located ¼ mile east and two miles south of Morrison. It was a big day, indeed, for those rural families to be served with electricity by the 90 miles of line in the west segment. The first outlet to be energized was for a loudspeaker which carried the voices of those appearing on the program. When the switch was thrown at approximately 2:15 p.m., the first residence to be served was that of the J.D. Reaves family and following the dedication service, those present visited the Reaves’ home to see their many appliances.
That was only the beginning though, as other areas had to be served with electricity. The east segment near Cleveland was nearing completion, as was the south segment of Project “A” near Olive. In addition, many more homes would be served when approval was given on the proposed Project “B,” and there was even talk of extending the lines even further through a Project “C” if enough signers could be obtained.
Saturday, April 19, 1941 was the big day for those members in the Cleveland area as a dedication service was conducted in front of the cooperative offices beginning at 1:30 p.m. with a band concert. The energization ceremony took place at approximately 2 p.m. with the switch being thrown at the substation near the entrance of the Johnson Refinery. Following that ceremony, the group returned to the main street location for the remainder of the program which featured M.V. Covey as master of ceremonies.
Energization of the third and final segment of the Project “A” took place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 15 near Olive. The event was commemorated with a program on Friday night at the Olive School House with board member H.G. Matherly serving as master of ceremonies.
Energizing those first lines set off a chain reaction and it readily became apparent the job was just beginning as others in the area wanted electricity in their homes, too.
The completion of Project “W” completed the dream of many rural residents who wanted electricity in their homes and brought Indian Electric Cooperative off the drawing board and into reality. From that beginning it has grown into what it is today.