'The cheapest hired hand we ever
Electricity made life brighter,
easier down on the farm
By BOB GAGEN
In what was probably the most
constructive act of his many years in the White House, on May
11, 1935, by executive order, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
created the Rural Electrification Administration.
Just four months later "at an enthusiastic meeting of
farmers in Albion," the Noble County Rural Electrification
Membership Corporation was organized in anticipation of federal
funds becoming available for construction of electric power lines
into the countryside.
Named as Noble County REMC directors at this inaugural meeting
were: O.V. Borger, Perry Township; Anson Huntsman, Green; George
Gilbert, Elkhart; M.E. Black, Orange; Morton Wible, Wayne; John
Beck, Sparta; R.H. Buckles, York; Frank Bell, Jefferson; Roy
Barhan, Allen; Ray Foster, Swan; A.E. Young, Noble, and Oscar
The following year their hopes became a reality as Congress
passed the Rural Electrification Act. It established a long program
which would enable rural electric cooperatives such as theirs
to borrow federal funds at a low rate of interest to build and
manage service in their rural communities.
This had become necessary since municipal electric plants
had refused to extend their lines into the country, declaring
that serving three farmhouses a mile, each perhaps with one or
two electric lights, would be unprofitable.
In 1937 and 1938 meetings were held around the county at which
wiring and different uses of electricity and its costs were explained.
In June 1937 it was announced that a federal loan of $75,000
had been approved for Noble County to finance construction of
approximately 66 miles of rural power line to served 204 homes
and buildings in Noble and nearby counties.
At the same time Edmund Fritz, project superintendent of the
Noble County REMC, announced that development work had begun
on some 100 miles of extension of its lines, most of it into
DeKalb County, which did not have an REMC.
By February 1939, Fritz was able to report that more than
1,100 rural homes were "enjoying the benefits of the economical
servant, electricity," with more customers being connected
every day after paying a $5 membership fee.
In August 1939 Noble REMC signed a contract with Miller Construction
Co. of Indianapolis to construct an additional 55 miles of power
line to serve 177 farms at a cost of $44,000, including meters.
This growth was reflected throughout the country. While in
1935 only about 10 percent of American farms were electrified,
by 1950 more than 85 percent were and today it is very close
to 100 percent.
As the high lines reached farm homes, electric lights were,
most naturally, the first use. They freed the housekeeper from
the daily chores of washing fragile glass chimneys, trimming
wicks and refilling the old kerosene lamps.
For those who already had electricity provided by a 32-volt
gas-powered Delco plant, such as that remembered by Jack McConnell
of Green Township, the new form of electricity was safer. This
was tragically made evident by a story in an Albion newspaper,
telling of how in April 1937 Burnell Campbell, also of Green
Township, was killed while visiting friends in Lawton, Mich.,
when a Delco gas engine exploded while he was attempting to light
Outside the home the electric current could shell corn, grind
grain for feed, turn mixers and grindstones, operate conveyors,
blowers, elevators, run crop driers, chop roughage and perform
numerous other tasks.
Perhaps the benefits of rural electrification were best characterized
by the late Junior DeCamp, whose wife, Virginia, remembers him
saying about electricity - "The cheapest hired hand we ever