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Highline Electric to celebrate 75 years Tuesday PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

It’s been 75 years of history in the making, and Highline Electric Association is set to celebrate its anniversary at the annual meeting Tuesday, March 26 at Phillips County Event Center in Holyoke.

The celebration kicks off with a meal at 5 p.m., allowing plenty of time for members to view an impressive display of photos highlighting the history of the rural electric company.

It’ll be a fun night to reminisce, said event organizers Nancy Berges, Highline member services director, and Dixie Fagerlin, member services specialist.

“It’s a good way to capture the history and not let it be forgotten,” said Fagerlin, noting the fun they’ve had looking through old photos and having former employees help identify just who and what those photos contained.


Boyce Wernet and Ron Morgan demonstrate at a Highline display during the 1971 annual meeting.

In addition to the display, a history booklet will be handed out, and a video will showcase interviews about how far Highline has come in the past 75 years.

The business meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. when 2012 will be reviewed and members will be updated on the issues Highline sees for 2013 and beyond.

There will be an election for one director from Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4. The four incumbents seeking election are Leo Brekel, District 1; Steve Oestman, District 2; Ted Carter, District 3; and Merl Miller, District 4. The election will be by voice vote, as allowed in the bylaws, if there is not competition for the office to be filled.

The celebration evening will be completed with lots of door prizes as well as some entertainment. Child-sitting services will be provided during the business portion of the meeting.


Johnson, Nelson first consider rural electrification in 1930s

Today, Highline Electric Association serves 11 counties in northeast Colorado and southwest Nebraska, with over 50 employees out of offices in Holyoke, Sterling and Ovid.

Highline serves 10,751 meters and covers 5,141 miles of line, with total revenue for 2012 at $53,981,243.

Through 2012, Highline’s accrued patronage capital was $92,062,159, including $45,579,987 of equity in Tri-State. Refunds total $35,004,505, leaving $57,057,654 of unrefunded capital credits.

“What a world we live in, and with that, how things have changed since the first farmsteads of our communities were electrified,” said board president Mike Bennett. It took many years for the invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1879 and the first central power station in 1881 to become useful tools for rural communities.

The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided federal loans for electrical distribution systems in rural areas, said Bennett, but this was only the beginning. “The hard work of our predecessors at Highline Electric Association and the many farmers and ranchers who helped string the wire and install the poles greatly improved the lifestyle we now take for granted on a daily basis.”


A Highline Electric Association employee does hot line work in 1953.

According to the Highline history book, it all began the spring of 1937 in the office of the Paoli Cooperative Oil Company with Eph Johnson, the manager of the cooperative, and Earle Nelson, manager of the Harris Grain Elevator in Paoli. (Earle is the grandfather of Elon Nelson, current Highline metering superintendent and a 36-year employee of the cooperative.)

As Paoli was emerging from the Depression, the town needed a larger generator to cope with increasing demand.

Johnson and Nelson sought financing from the Rural Electrification Administration to build a transmission line from the electric plant at Haxtun 10 miles away, only to find out REA wouldn’t consider a distribution line less than 100 miles long.

Despite the huge obstacle they faced, the first meeting for those interested in rural electrification was held April 10, 1937, in Paoli. However, even though the many advantages of electricity on a farm had been cited in the meeting, more than a year passed before anything substantial happened.

Finally in November 1938, the history book said the Holyoke newspaper reported the REA had given “preliminary consideration” to an application for an $80,000 loan to construct 75 miles of rural lines for serving 190 farms in Phillips and Sedgwick counties.


Highline is incorporated

Highline Electric Association was incorporated Dec. 19, 1938. A contract was signed between the town of Holyoke, which would be the wholesale power supplier, and the new cooperative for the proposed rural electrification project, to serve Amherst, Paoli and Fairfield in Colorado as well as Lamar, Neb. Should the project be approved by REA, 205 patrons had signed for the service.

Officers elected for the association that evening were Eph C. Johnson of Paoli, chairman; Martinus Olsen of Amherst, vice chairman; Keith Craig of Paoli, secretary; and Otto C. Nierman of Amherst, treasurer.

Another setback occurred three months later when they received word from the REA that the number of patrons needed to increase.


Bob Goldenstein serves as the Highline general manager from 1967-85. Others in that position include Thomas Puryear, 1939-44; Earl Clark (interim), 1944-45; J.J. Curtis, 1945-48; Fred Cooper, 1948-67; Don Johnson, 1985-2001; and Mark Farnsworth, 2001 to present.

Good news came Nov. 16, 1939, when REA approved the sum of $122,000 to build 100 miles of line to serve 259 members.

An announcement was made Aug. 10, 1939, by T.G. Puryear, the first manager of Highline, that engineers had begun staking the lines. A Nebraska company was awarded the contract on its bid of $585 per mile for a total of $59,084 for the 101 miles. Construction began Oct. 28, 1939, with the digging of the holes completed by Nov. 14.

The Holyoke newspaper reported Feb. 22, 1940, that energizing of the lines had begun two days earlier, with the first service provided in an area five miles west of Holyoke.

“The first farm to receive power was the Ed Owens place, five miles west and one half mile south of Holyoke. Over a period of several days electric power was provided throughout the territory,” said the history book.


Others join cooperative

In December 1939, meetings began in Sterling as farmers and ranchers in that region saw the need for electricity, including David Hamil, who went on to work as the well-known national REA administrator for many years.

REA planned to unite Sterling and Holyoke into one organization, and on Aug. 22, 1940, the newspaper reported funds would pay for 203 miles of line in Logan County, serving 490 members of Highline. A Minnesota company was awarded the construction contract for $126,000.

Even though the two groups did not want to join, the REA was persistent that neither Logan County nor the Holyoke association had sufficient potential to operate successfully. They had to merge to qualify for REA financing.

The Holyoke group did win on one issue though, to keep headquarters located in Holyoke, which has remained true to this day.

The three sections of Highline included 100 miles of line serving 186 consumers from Haxtun to Lamar, 203 miles supplying 482 meters from Merino to Crook and the final section of Julesburg and Sedgwick as well as Lamar to Champion, Neb. In 1943, that section not only served the rural areas but also took on the towns of Ovid and Sedgwick.


A load of poles arrives on a railcar in 1950, the beginning of a decade where Highline’s distribution system became accessible to virtually every rural resident in the territory.

While Holyoke supplied power to the first section, Public Service Company of Colorado through a substation at Sterling served that western section, and the town of Julesburg provided power to the third section.

In the early years, Highline found itself in financial troubles, as it had not generated enough revenue to prevent serious operating losses.

Some financial relief came in the late 1940s when hydroelectric power, which did not cost as much, became available through the United States Bureau of Reclamation system.

According to the history book, in the early 1950s, Highline’s distribution system was accessible to “virtually every rural resident in the territory.” Electric demand increased constantly with people learning the vast potential of electricity and making the most of it.

“The process of development required bigger power lines, extensions and interlacing of distribution lines into a network or grid to reduce the number of consumers affected by outages, more substations throughout the system, more sources of power and, above all else, more and more electric power,” said the book. The use of oil circuit reclosers instead of fuses was an important innovation during this time.


Tri-State launches in 1952

Because of the rate rural electricity was developing and the limits of bureau allocations, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association was incorporated May 19, 1952, by the rural electrics of northeastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska and Wyoming.

Five years later, according to the history book, Tri-State consolidated all contracts which the member cooperatives held into a master contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, calling for a firm 95,000 kilowatts and 30,000 kilowatts for seasonal pumping.

Again in 1964, the demand approached the limits, so Tri-State entered a contract with Basin Electric to supply supplemental power above the Missouri River Basin allocation in western Nebraska. The association then made a contract with the Bureau in 1966 for combined purchase of Missouri River Basin and Colorado River Storage projects.


Highline employees pose for a photo in 1961. They are pictured from left, front row, Alan Kropp, Kayle Russell, Kenny Ross and George Ray; and back row, Howard Hagemann, Bob Fisher, Merle King, Bob Conklin, Frank Linnenbrink and Mac McCormick.

Federal hydropower currently makes up 10 percent of the electricity Tri-State sells to members.

Highline is still a part of Tri-State, which purchases power from the federal agency Western Area Power Administration and the large cooperative Basin Electric. Highline gets federal power from Western at four substations in Holyoke, Fleming, Julesburg and Sterling.

Highline now has 30 substations, a big change from their one small 7,200-volt substation in 1940.

 

Growth continues

Serving agricultural communities, the development and increase of irrigation has impacted Highline. In 1960, the cooperative provided power for 284 irrigation pumps, using 3,594,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 16 percent of the total that year.

Fifty years later in 2010, Highline served over 3,000 pumps, and in 2012 the kilowatt-hours for irrigation were 58 percent of the total.

Other industries affecting Highline’s load profile have been the addition of large gas compressor stations, confinement hog operations, cattle feedlots and natural gas services.

Over the years, Highline’s linemen have tirelessly worked to repair damages caused by blizzards, tornadoes, hail, wind, floods and lightning.

The greatest disaster in Highline history was the blizzard of March 10-11, 1977, which caused $43 million in damages in northeastern Colorado and a loss of nearly $3.5 million to Highline alone.

Nearly 9,000 poles were lost in Highline’s territory because of wind gusts up to 100 m.p.h., ice-coated lines and snow drifts up to 18 feet high. Over 4,000 meters were without service—half of all of Highline’s consumers.


Highline’s office in 1950 is located at the southwest corner of the stoplight at Denver Street and Interocean Avenue (currently Viaero Wireless).

Helicopters were used to transport crewmen into Highline headquarters as three two-men crews were trapped in their pickups for a few days, luckily with enough fuel to run the trucks but without food or water.

A unified effort with other crews in the state used 250 men to bring electricity back to northeastern Colorado, but it was five weeks before everyone had power restored.

“We look at our first 75 years as a great foundation on which to build,” said Mark Farnsworth, general manager.

“Highline Electric is going strong, thanks to those pioneers that forged the way for us to have electricity at the touch of a switch. In the beginning, our co-op founders merely wanted the convenience of electricity to their farms and homes so their lives could become more productive,” he said.

“With dedication and determination, they overcame many difficulties to make their dream of energizing northeastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska a reality. Little did they know at that time how important electricity would become in our everyday lives.”


Holyoke Enterprise March 21, 2013