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History of the Cooperative

 

We have come a long way from kerosene lanterns providing light for homes and barns, laundry being done by hand, milking cows by hand, pumping water for our family, cooking and baking on hot wood cookstoves, and the tradition of filling that old metal tub close to that wood stove for Saturday night bath time!

As time marched on some farmers installed their own Delco power-generating units, which provided only enough power for a few light bulbs. Others were lucky enough to live along the main power lines of the giant utilities and were "allowed" to purchase electricity.

On May 11, 1935, in the middle of the depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order number 7037 - Rural Electrification Administration was born. The Norris-Rayburn Bill, known as the REA Act, was signed into law on May 20, 1936.

On Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 1938, the first energy substation in south Lancaster was energized, sending the first electricity surging through the wires of the Grant County Cooperative which allowed their first customer, the Clinton Baker family, to flip that switch for the first time!

A poem in the March 1941 issue of the Wisconsin REA News captures some of the wonder and excitement of "the day the lights came on." (Author identified only as F.W.Y.)

 

No ifs, no ands, no ohs, no buts,
Ma and sis went almost nuts.
They jumped and tore around the house;
Ma almost crushed her poor old spouse.
Sis turned the lights both off and on;
I really thought her mind had gone.

The hired man came out of wind,
He bumped his head, his nose was skinned.
He jumped and tore, he almost swore.
I'm through with lanterns forever more.


 

Growth and change have been the hallmark of the electric co-op movement in southwest Wisconsin. There was a slow but steady growth of members. By 1944 there were 2,061 members on 908 miles of line with an average power consumption per member of 108 kWh per month. In 1951 Grant Electric Co-op was serving 3,410 members on 1,382 miles of line. Average consumption per member in the early 50s was 296 kWh per month. By the end of 1984 there were 5,031 meters in service with 1,600 miles of line.

The co-op's history is filled with events that mirror our times. Candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, who visited the 1960 annual meeting, are among many distinguished guests who have spoken to members.

The co-op's story is also filled with challenges, which include an ice storm in 1976 and employees' efforts as they worked day and night to restore power. Tornadoes and windstorm damage, including the widespread damage during the summer of 1998, all require the co-op's readiness to supply and restore power to members whenever natural disasters occur.

The past two decades have seen major changes in electric co-op services in southwestern Wisconsin. The merger of the Grant and Lafayette electric cooperatives to form Grant-Lafayette Electric Cooperative in 1990, and the July 1, 1999 merger of Grant-Lafayette and Crawford cooperatives to form the current Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative are changes that help support quality electric service to members.

The growth of the electric co-op movement in southwestern Wisconsin will continue to create opportunities and challenges. The current 3,370 miles of line and 16,451 kWh per year per consumer is a huge increase from the co-op's early years. Through all the changes, what remains constant is the need to keep focused on the wise use of resources and to provide the best service possible for our members. 

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