could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers

Today is:

Irrigation – Electricity

Introduction –
        Stages of development – Ditch - Well - Pivot
        Irrigation closely tied to electricity in Buffalo County

A – Kearney Canal – (construction)
        1873 – May have been talk of it, no records.

        1875 – Definite discussions, possibly because of drought and grasshoppers in mid-70’s.

        1876, January – Group appeared before the County Board asking for survey of a route from 12 miles west of Kearney to the bluffs north of Kearney. Survey done and apparently dropped.

        1881, April – New Kearney Board of Trade [C of C] discussed a canal for water power for manufacturing. Apparently “vigorous” discussion followed.
                Canal was to be for:
                    Water power
                    Fire protection
                    [Electricity production came after completion]

        1882, fall – Kearney Canal and Water Supply Company formed & construction began

        1883, spring & summer – Construction continued, did 12 miles. $$ gone.

        1885, July – George W Frank bought controlling interest in the Kearney Canal and Water Supply Company.
                Work resumed in the fall

        1886, August – Canal completed

        1888, April – Canal began producing electricity

B. REA –
        1929 – In all of Nebraska only 5,278 farmers had electricity. Must have had generators because municipalities could not sell electricity beyond city limits,

        1930, November – State ballot issue past allowing cities to sell electricity 25 miles beyond city limits. Private power groups were against.

            500 Irrigation wells in Buffalo County in this year. Before electricity, farmers with pump irrigation ran their pumps with tractors or some other gas-powered engine belted to the pump.

        1931-1936 – Electricity did not spread to rural areas
            1. Cities owning generating plants were unable or unwilling to finance rural projects; additional generating capacity and new equipment was necessary
            2. The depression
            3. Rates charged by private power companies were so high the small farmer could never afford it.

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

        1935, May – President Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration by executive order.

        1935, November – Buffalo County farmers had a conference where they planned a temporary rural electrification organization & discussed pump irrigation.

        1936 – Rural Electrification Act was adopted
            1. Authorized a loan program to co-operatives and public power districts for construction of rural lines.
            2. To encourage the first customers, installation loans were made to individual farmers.”
            3. Not welcomed by the private power companies
            4. Not all farmers endorsed the program. a) Republicans who didn't want anything to do with a New Deal proposition, b) others felt that electricity generated by water was inferior to that generated by steam.

        1937, January 23, the first REA board in Buffalo County was organized called the Buffalo County Public Power District [later merged with Dawson County Public Power District]
            1. The first construction contract covered 142 miles of line and 328 farmsteads with an estimated 202 irrigation wells.
            2. First phase Elm Creek east to Gibbon
            3. Second phase east to the Hall County line. Included Gibbon, Shelton & Sharon townships

        1938, May 15 – Setting of the first pole on the John Hammans farm near Gibbon. The first section of lines was energized in December, 1938.

        1939, June – Charles A. Palmer of North Platte was appointed 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.

        1939, August 8 – A meeting to help members and prospective members of the Buffalo County Public Power District plan their wiring was to be held 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 who were not wired or did not have wiring contracts.
            People had to be convinced electricity was a good thing:
                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 baby chicks kept warm.
                The whole family will be happy, with electricity on the farm.
                                                                                    --Author Unknown

C. Pump Irrigation –
        Major incentive for development of REA

        1939, March 16 – The first water for irrigation was pumped with REA power (at the McConnell Bros. well)

        1940, July 30 – (16 ½ mo. later) 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. [photo in BCHS Archives]

        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 served remaining portions of Sartoria, Armada, Scott and Harrison townships.

        1950’s – Howard Mefford wrote about IH machinery business - 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.

D. Margaret Palmer’s Scrapbook [located in BCHS Archives] –

Apr-May 1940 – 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 – article about use of radio in dairy barns
July, 1940 – article about moths & decision to light school

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Revised: 05/03/2018