Never underestimate the ability of a few men to change the pattern of life in a farming area.
Sometimes these men are investors. Witness what happened when the mechanical reaper first was rolled into the wheat fields of the United States! Or when the gasoline tractor was perfected to make horse drawn equipment obsolete!
Other men who reshaped rural life worked with an idea for making farm life easier and more pleasant. They seized upon a vision and converted it into reality.
Such was the case back in 1935 when rural electrification for Nobles and Murray counties was only a dream in the minds of a few progressive men in those two counties. It was still the era of kerosene lamps and lanterns. Refrigerators, running water in the kitchen and bathroom, electric lights in the house and barn — these were luxuries which only a very small percentage of farm families were enjoying.
Then came 1935 — an exciting year for it saw the preliminary plans being drawn for what today is a prosperous and flourishing cooperative serving approximately 6,800 members. For months the men responsible for introducing rural electricity met to lay the foundation for a new kind of cooperative undertaking. It was a new and dramatically different concept for a cooperative organization and the jeers and laughter of skeptics could be heard. There always will be those who deride the efforts of dedicated men to change the old order of life.
These men were not discouraged by temporary setbacks or the apathy of their neighbors and friends. Deep in their hearts was a strong belief that rural electrification could succeed.
It wasn't too hard to understand why the skeptics shook their heads in disbelief when the idea of organization of a rural electric system first materialized. Prior to 1935, only 13,783 of all Minnesota farmers were receiving central station electric service. The power companies had conducted survey after survey to justify their position that it would not be profitable to extend their lines into rural areas. The few farmers who were getting electricity from the power firms had been compelled to pay the high cost of building the power line to their farms. Moreover, after paying the installation cost, the farmers turned the title to the line over to the power company.
Those were "times to try men's souls"—or at least their patience. But they kept calling on their neighbors and friends hoping to get enough signed up to make it possible for an application to be sent to REA offices in Washington for a loan. In the end they succeeded—and today the long miles of power line stretching across the farmlands of Nobles and Murray counties stand as monuments to their enthusiasm and perseverance.
At the time the drive to get an electric cooperative was taking place, Jay H. Seymour, who became the first manager of the cooperative, was stationed in Worthington as the emergency county agent. He became interested in the possibility of organizing an electric cooperative in Nobles County and began talking to key farmers throughout the county. His enthusiasm was boundless and he circulated throughout the county urging people to join in the movement to organize the rural electric system. He not only talked about rural electrification but he wrote many articles supporting the project. An excerpt from one of his articles indicates his glowing enthusiasm.
"It will be a new way when the family listens to the new radio bringing in reception from thousands and thousands of miles away. Gone forever are those expensive, short-lived 'A' and 'B' batteries so necessary in the past. As the plug of the new radio is connected to the new outlet, insuring constant service and eliminating the periodic expense of dry cells and storage batteries, the farm home can for the first time enjoy the privileges common to the most humble homes of our cities."
As Mr. Seymour kept urging the formation of an electric cooperative, his friends became infected with his enthusiasm. Tentative meetings were held throughout Nobles County to discuss formation of the electric system. By spring, it was apparent there was enough interest in the proposed cooperative to warrant calling a general meeting in Worthington on May 6, 1936. This meeting was well attended and a skeleton organization was set up and a slate of directors chosen to represent every township in the county.
June 2, 1936, is an important date in the history of this rural electric system for it found the articles and bylaws being adopted and a name selected. The meeting had been arranged through the Nobles County Extension Service office.
By this time, however, farmers were busily at work in the fields and the solicitation of memberships slowed down considerably. Once the harvest season ended, the directors intensified their efforts and before long they could proudly point to a list of 700 members. These were largely centered in a few townships, but the number of members more than justified the decision to go ahead with application for a loan to build the line.
In the meantime, farm leaders had been working in neighboring Murray County. The Ellsborough Township Farm Bureau unit, working in cooperation with County Agent C. H. Schrader, did a survey of Ellsborough Township in the fall of 1935. This was a farm-to-farm canvass to determine sentiment regarding rural electrification. The survey indicated people in this township were intensely interested in securing electric service.
The Slayton unit of the Farm Bureau was the second one in Murray County to display interest in rural electrification. In 1936, the Slayton unit conducted a systematic survey which showed most farmers were very much interested in information of a rural electric system. Speakers were secured to explain the REA act at meetings of the Slayton unit.
In the fall of 1935 J. H. Hay, the deputy commissioner of agriculture, appeared at a county-wide meeting called by the county agent. At this meeting, Mr. Hay discussed the Rural Electrification Act and also explained the procedure in setting up an electric cooperative. However, the people attending this meeting from Murray County's 20 townships did not see fit to organize at that time.
Another organized effort to set up an electric cooperative was made in October 1936 at a meeting held at the Wirock school. Directors of the Wirock elevator and farmers living in that area met with Assistant County Agent Hagen and Mr. Seymour, the county agent for Nobles County. The possibility of the Wirock area being added as a part of Nobles Cooperative Electric was explored at length. Eleven farms and the Wirock Elevator were included in this section.
The Murray County group had done some serious thinking about the advisability of merging their efforts with those of the Nobles County people. In the early part of 1937, a delegation headed by Frank Keller of Slayton met with the directors of Nobles Cooperative Electric and proposed a merger. Since the merger would strengthen the cooperative's chances of getting a REA loan, the Nobles County group was agreeable to the proposition.
The consolidation took place January 15, 1937. It banded the two groups into a single system and was the basis of a compact, well-integrated cooperative which has become one of the most successful enterprises in the history of the two counties. The first stock share was issued on June 15, 1937, to Charles A. Barnes. The cost of each share was $5.
REA granted the first loan for nearly a quarter of a million dollars. This came as a stunning blow to the skeptics who had been freely prophesying "that bunch of farmers will never get to first base."
Today, Nobles Cooperative Electric is serving approximately 6,300 members from the original 596 members at the end of 1938. The cooperative's original staff of three now has 24 full- time employees.
The success of Nobles Cooperative Electric was made possible through the patience, determination and hard work of a handful of men.