could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers


Today is:

Electricity – Irrigation

From Margaret Palmer’s scrapbook of REA articles in the Buffalo County Historical Society's Archives:

REA – Rural Electrification Administration

July 11, 1930 – In Buffalo County 500 irrigation pumps have been installed.

July 13, 1939 – Reports of 40 bushels to the acre wheat in the Elm Creek area. (“Hoppers Stop Combine”)

October 1939 – Nebr. Had 29 REA districts. Used electricity for pump irrigation, refrigerators, lights, washing machines and other small appliances. Not for heavy farm work like grinding.

1939 – The first electric power and irrigation district in the county was along the Platte valley between Gibbon and Kearney. The second one was in the Shelton area. It had 60 miles of line serving 135 consumers in Gibbon, Shelton and Sharon townships. People were to sign up and then a plan would be made of where the lines would be constructed.

Before electricity, farmers with pump irrigation ran their pumps with tractors or some other gas-powered engine belted to the pump.

August 8, 1939 – A meeting to help members and prospective members of the Buffalo County Public Power District plan their wiring was to be held at the IOOF Hall in Gibbon. REA loans were obtained to pay for the lines and farmers could get loans to wire their homes. Farmers were urged to get their wiring contracts as soon as possible because lines would not be built to farms which were not wired or did not have wiring contracts. (see copy of program with poem)

and brooders Apr-May 1940 – A survey of use of electrical appliances used in first electric district in first 13 months of operation. 90 consumers reported using
iron – 91%
radio – 88.5%
washing machine – 85%
refrigerator – 40%
poultry lighting were becoming increasingly popular
farm wives beginning to use electric brooders

REA Newsletter

First issue – April, 1940 – (see copy of radio in dairy barns)
July, 1940 – (see copy about moths & crops irrigated)
(see copy for how to get new members)

Buffalo Tales, Volume 1, No. 6 & 7, June & July, 1978, PART I. THE KEARNEY CANAL 1875-1886, & Part II. THE KEARNEY CANAL 1887 AND AFTER by Gene E. Hamaker

“Two possible conclusions about the canal's origins have been suggested by this review of the story.  First, that the original proposals were for the development of water power, with irrigation being of secondary, even incidental, importance.  Second, that the production of electric power was not a factor before 1887…. 

“When the idea of such a canal was first formed is unknown, some would say as early as 1873.  There is no clear evidence, however, that a need for a canal was recognized until 1875.  The hard times and grasshoppers of the mid-seventies may have inspired the appearance of supporters before the Buffalo County Commissioners in January of 1876.  Eight-seven persons signed a petition asking for a survey of a canal from a point about twelve miles west of Kearney eastwards to the bluffs north of the city.  An estimate of the practicability and cost of the canal was to be made by the surveyor.  Simon Murphy, the county surveyor, was given the task.  His report, presented in February of 1876, estimated that a canal twelve feet wide on the bottom and three feet deep would cost $57,660 for diversion dam, flumes and excavation.  The purpose of the canal does not appear in the petition or the survey report….

“The first Board of Trade in Kearney, organized April 2, 1881, took up the scheme to build a canal from the Platte river to the hills north of the city at its second meeting on the 7th of April.  The canal was to supply water for the city and to provide power for milling and other manufacturing purposes….

“Indications of vigorous disputes appear in the records that remain.  Probably as a result of these, it was decided the canal should have a capacity adequate to provide water for power, fire protection, irrigation along the line of the canal and, from the wasteway, "for a number of miles" below the city….

Work on constructing the canal began in the fall of 1882 and was continued the following spring.  “…twelve miles completed by the summer, when available funds were exhausted….There seems to have been some experimentation with irrigation on the Barney place west of Deep Creek and, perhaps, at another farm in 1883.”

George Frank purchased controlling interest in the canal in July 1885 and further work began that fall.  The canal was finally completed in August 1886.


            “Kearney probably received its first electric lights with the establishment of the Pilcher Electric Light Company in 1885.  The company provided at least some street lights before it, or its successor, expired perhaps late in 1886. 

          “The Kearney Canal and Water Supply Company was granted a franchise in June of 1887 to erect an electric plant and distribute electricity and power.”

            “A test run was made on the turbines in March of 1888 and in early April electric power was being produced from the canal for the first time.”


Buffalo Tales, Volume 18, No. 2, March - April, 1995, "FURNITURE THAT TALKS:" A history of KGFW and early radio in Buffalo County by Tom Frasier

 “As a charter member of the Nebraska Reclamation Association [Lloyd] Thomas committed his personal energy and the voice of KGFW to bringing irrigation to the farmers of Buffalo County and the Tri-County area.”


Buffalo Tales, Volume 26, No. 5, September - October, 2003, Fifty Years of International Harvester Company in Buffalo County by Howard L. Mefferd

 “The 1950's witnessed a major change in the equipment used by the Buffalo County farmer. The family farms were declining in number and changing in character. The demand for larger machines came at an accelerating rate, and along with the increase in size came an even greater increase in complexity. Crops were changing and labor intensive crops such as sugar beets and potatoes had all but vanished from the scene. Irrigation became a major player in the productivity of the area and the resulting increase in crop yield demanded more advanced machines with different methods and larger capacities.”


Buffalo Tales, Volume 13, No. 4,  April, 1990, RURAL ELECTRIFICATION 1929-1953 by Alice Shaneyfelt Howell

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.
                                                             --Author Unknown

“In 1929 in all of Nebraska only 5,278 farmers were served with electricity.”

“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.

“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….”

1933 federal legislation allowed for the creation of “three hydroelectric districts in Nebraska: Loup River, Platte Valley [which included Buffalo County] and Central Nebraska (Tri-County).”

“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.”

“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.”

“As early as November of 1935, before the federal REA loan program was adopted, a group of farmers in Buffalo County met to plan a temporary rural electrification organization.”  At a 2-day meeting participants discussed rural electrification and pump irrigation.

“On January 23, 1937, the first REA board in Buffalo County was organized….The organization was known as Buffalo County Public Power District….The first construction contract covered 142 miles of line and 328 farmsteads. It was estimated that there were 202 irrigation wells on these farmsteads….The first phase of the project was intended to provide power from Elm Creek east to Gibbon, and the second phase east to the Hall County line.  The setting of the first pole was a special event. It took place on May 15, 1938 on the John Hammans farm near Gibbon. The first section of lines was energized in December, 1938. A second contract was signed on November 9, 1938, for $130,000 for construction of 60.5 miles of line to 132 customers. Bids were let on April 11, 1939. Another 70 miles of line was contracted for in May, 1941.” 

“Charles A. Palmer of North Platte was appointed in June, 1939, to succeed Frank H. Wheeler as project superintendent in the Kearney office. He headed the REA in Kearney from that time until his retirement. It can be said without a doubt that the success and achievements of REA in Buffalo County were in a large part due to Charlie's guidance and supervision.”

“Electricity for pump irrigation was a major incentive in the development of rural electrification in Buffalo County, and irrigation was closely tied in with REA projects….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….Over 200 people attended. REA officials spoke, and a transcription of the ceremony was broadcast over KGFW Radio, recording the hum of the pump….”

“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,…”


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