ONE OF MY EARLY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES is watching a lineworker from Inter-County Energy climb the “light pole” that stood near our farmhouse, and being fascinated by his climbing gear. We knew him as “the REA man.”
I didn’t know at the time that REA stood for Rural Electrification Administration—the agency created in the mid-1930s to help provide electrical service to rural areas not served by private utilities—but I knew that “the REA man” kept the lights on at our place.
In those days most members took their own meter readings on a card provided by the cooperative, then mailed the card back to the office along with their payment for the previous month.
Many rural members had no phones at that time and Mike Cobb, president of Owen Electric Cooperative, says he’s heard stories that customers would occasionally write a note on one of the cards, notifying the cooperative that their power was out. It wasn’t uncommon back then for farmers to invite line crews to a meal, or to offer their work horses or mules for pulling lines or dragging poles.
Phyllis Oliver, manager of office services at Salt River Electric, recalls some years ago a Spencer County member who always maintained a credit of about $1,000 when paying her electric bill, despite not having much money. When asked about it, the woman explained that she had a terminal illness and wanted to make sure everything was taken care of for her husband who did not read well and would struggle with handling bills when she was gone. Phyllis was able to help.
Another woman had lost her only son to cancer, then had lost his beloved dog, Rusty, which she buried near him. Later, when another member was in the office and mentioned that he could no longer care for his dog and was hoping to find a new home for the animal, Phyllis put him in touch with the woman who had lost her son’s dog. She was happy to adopt the new dog, and even happier when she learned his name was Rusty.
In the summer of 1992, when I was writing for a newspaper, I visited the rural Butler County community of Quality when 83-year-old Rachel Hudnall got electricity for the first time in the home that her father-in-law had built upon his return from the Civil War. It was there I first met Eston Glover, then the communications officer with the Hopkinsville-based Pennyrile Electric. We both came to see how Mrs. Hudnall liked electricity.
“It’s all right,” she told us. “I turned it on yesterday and heated some water. It was red hot in a second.”
Now a retired president of Pennyrile Electric, Glover counts as one of many memorable moments the day Rachel Hudnall put aside her kerosene lamps after 83 years, and turned on the electric lights.
“I might get an electric skillet or something like that,” she told us as we were leaving.