The Crew Of 1953
The boys above, left to right kneeling, Sidney Coleman, Wade Hartley, E.S. Webster, Henry Geter; left to right standing, Forest Fields, Walter Riddle, F.M. Whitehead, A.F. Gibbs and Woodrow Gillis are the ones you must depend upon to restore service when outages occur. They always respond in good fashion day or night in wind storms, lightning and thunder, or what have you. They must brave the storms and encounter the dangers; they often have to rise out of bed at night; often they are called to break up their own plans for personal pleasure or entertainment, but they never offer a word of complaint. Their job is necessarily dangerous, regardless of all safety precautions. The lineman are never satisfied when the lines are not carrying juice to the members, and they do not rest until service is restored.
From 1937 to 1986
By Normaline Hartley
The late Normaline Hartley, wife of former Manager Wade Hartley, wrote this history of Little Ocmulgee EMC around 1986.
May 9th should be a red-letter day to the people of Telfair, Wheeler, and Laurens counties. On that date in 1938, the first board of directors of The Little Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation began their work for rural electric service in this area, an event which changed forever the lifestyle of this rural area.
Their task of laying the foundation for rural electrification covered months of preparation and miles of red tape. From this solid foundation they laid, the Co-op has grown into a flourishing source of power for its members, its employees, and the communities it serves.
R. F. Jordon, of the Shiloh Community in Wheeler County, was elected president of the first board and W. F. Whatley, of McRae, was named as vice president. L. E. Tanner Sr., of Alamo, served as secretary and treasurer and G. L. Hattaway handled the legal matters. Other board members were: B. M. Pope and Mrs. H. R. Hill, of Wheeler County; E. L. Evans, of Laurens; Hugh Jones, J. M. Cook, and Mrs. W. F. McEachin, of Telfair. Mrs. McEachin died July 31, 1971. She was the last charter board member and at that time one of the very few women EMC Directors in the nation.
The labors of the directors first began paying off when the charter was granted on June 20th, 1938. It specified that there were to be four directors each from Telfair and Wheeler counties and one from Laurens County. This was due to the majority of the lines lying in Wheeler and Telfair.
The headquarters for the Little Ocmulgee EMC were established in Alamo in a vacant store building. J. W. Simmons Jr. became the first manager, Mrs. Mary H. Martin was employed as bookkeeper and stenographer, and Charlie Morrison was the first lineman.
Business got into full swing in November, 1938, when a federal loan for $197,000 was approved and L. M. Hartley Construction Company began building the lines. April 7, 1939 was a bright day for 125 families living on the 52 miles of new lines. Their lights were turned on! Although there were not special ceremonies, it was an exciting time and created quite a stir. A month latter, the second series of lines were energized. The first contract called for 202.75 miles of line.
The fall of 1939 brought the resignation of Manager Simmons and L. F. Jones was appointed in his stead. The bylaws governing the Co-op were drawn and adopted.
The forties brought changes and expansion of the Co-op. Besides the miles of lines being built daily, thirty miles of line values at $29,687 was transferred from the neighboring co-op in Lyons, Altamaha EMC. This was done because the lines were located in Wheeler County and could be serviced more efficiently from the Alamo Co-op.
The first annual meeting was held February 7, 1940 and was quite different from the meetings held now. It was held at the Wheeler County courthouse and few people attended. In fact, so few people came that, at voting time, it was necessary to hold up the meeting until a sufficient number of members for a quorum could be brought in from in and around Alamo. In sharp contrast, at the 1959 annual meeting there were 936 members registered and some 600 other visitors present.
The forties brought changes in the leaders also. B. M. Pope was replaced by L. B. Chambers in 1940. Then, in 1941, L. E. Tanner and J. M. Cook moved off the lines and resigned according to the rules. Their vacancies were filled by W. C. Brown and A. O. Cook. Mrs. Hill was elected secretary. In June of 1941 J. R. Chambless assumed the duties of manager upon the resignation of Jones.
It was in 1941 that the General Assembly passed an act ratified by the vote of the people of Georgia that was later to become a source of irritation and controversy with other power companies. That was the act exempting co-ops from ad valorem taxes from 1941 through 1961. This twenty years of freedom from taxes enabled the co-ops to become self-supporting.
It soon became evident to Manager Chambless that lines could be constructed much cheaper by Co-op employed linemen and at the same time furnished employment to local people. A crew was hired and trained for the job. Since that time a construction and maintenance crew has been included on the project.
Of course, a line crew called for a line truck and Manager Chambless began shopping. Ever mindful of the financial welfare of the Co-op, he purchased the first line truck body for $50 from a junk-yard where it had been discarded by another power company. Afraid that the yard man might change his price, he gave him his personal check on the spot. Later, of course, he was reimbursed by the Co-op. The $50 truck body was used for thirteen years.
By 1947 the web of power lines were equally engulfing the rural tri-county area and the bylaws were changed to have three directors from Laurens as well as Telfair and Wheeler counties. H. Y. Grant filled the vacancy made by the death of E. L. Evans and Horace Robinson and Cordie Joiner were also elected from Laurens County.
Early in 1948, better and faster service was assured the members by the installation of two-way radio contact between the office and the service trucks. Capital credits, a system of crediting each member with his share of the profits, was adopted that year.
President of the board, R. F. Jordon died on October 30, 1948. W. F. Whatley took over his position and H. Y. Grant assumed the duties of vice president. R. W. Windham was elected to fill the vacancy on the board.
With the Co-op growing in number of consumers and employees, by 1950 additional office space was necessary. A modern office building was constructed and additional warehouse and yard space was acquired. Even with the expenditures necessary for the new building, consumers enjoyed a rate reduction that year and another in 1957.
Ill health caused the resignation of director Grant in 1952 and R. S. Collins was elected to his post. Cordie Joiner was elected vice president. Death ended the long career of Whatley, charter director and president for 12 years, in January 1960. L. B. Chambers began serving as president and J. D. Williams filled the unexpired term as director.
The Little Ocmulgee EMC has made great progress since its origin in 1938. Physically it has grown from the 52 miles of line to 1460, along with approximately 25,500 poles now in place, over 5,300 transformers, plus other expensive equipment necessary to maintain fast, efficient service.
Among the past services offered other than actual electric current, Little Ocmulgee designed wiring layouts for homes, dairies, chicken barns, pig parlors and farrowing pens. Members were able to obtain correct figures and plans for the installation of electric heat and a home insulation service was available. Trained appliance repairmen were employed for the convenience of the consumers.
The Growth of the Co-op is further portrayed in the number of accounts and the amount of revenue received. In April, 1939, 125 accounts were billed. Ten years later, the number of accounts billed increased to 3,972 billings. In April, 1959, 4,084 accounts were billed, and in April, 1986, there were 7,159 meters billed. The comparison of Little Ocmulgee's revenues and expenses with others over Georgia is most favorable.
The directors and manager feel good business dictates that proper reserves be set aside to guarantee efficient electric service now and in the future. In the event some disaster should disrupt all the lines on the project, sufficient reserves are available to completely restore the system.
In the tri-county area, Little Ocmulgee is more than just a source of electric power. It is a community enterprise constantly working for the welfare and progress of the community as a whole. Today it furnishes employment to 46 regular employees and some part-time laborers from the areas of Wheeler, Telfair, and Laurens counties.
Little Ocmulgee is ever ready to lend every assistance to local authorities in securing industry. It was through this assistance in 1957 that a shirt factory located in Alamo which resulted in a valuable electric load for the Co-op as well as employment to many members.
In the mid 1960's with the construction of I-16 in Laurens County, a booming industrial growth followed for the Cooperative. Holiday Inn Motel was established, followed by the construction of the all-new West Laurens Junior and Senior High Schools. Industrial growth around the interstate continued to flourish into the 1980's with the addition of McDonald's, Waffle House, Globe Oil, The Heart of Georgia Vo-Tech School, and the latest hi-tech industry - National Waterlift Control systems which will have a 1987 employment level of 160-200 employees. Other large growth has centered around the Laurens County industrial area. The Co-op began serving its first radio station, WCMG in rural Telfair County in the early eighties, which speaks well of the service reliability of the area.
Death claimed Mr. R.W. Windham, Director from Wheeler County in October, 1960. Mr. J. Troy Mimbs was elected in December, 1960 to fill the vacancy of Mr. Windham.
Mr. Horace Robinson, Director from Laurens County died August, 1961. Mr. J.A. Dominy, Jr. was elected to fill the vacancy of Mr. Robinson.
Mr. A.O. Cook resigned from the Board in August, 1966 due to ill health. Mr. Cook was replaced by Mr. H. B. Eason of Telfair County.
After a long twenty-eight year career with the Cooperative as General Manager, Mr. Chambless resigned his position in September, 1969 to take a position with NRECA in India, promoting electricity and managing an electric co-op. Wade Hartley was promoted to the position of General Manager at that time.
Mrs. W.F. McEachin's death in 1971 had the vacancy filled for Telfair County by Mr. C.G. Walden, Jr.
Mr. R.S. Collins, Sr., Laurens Co. Director, retired in February, 1973, due to ill health. He was replaced on the board by his son, R.S. Collins, Jr.
Mr. Cordie Joinder, Director from Laurens County, retired in March 1976 due to ill health. He was replaced by Mr. Joe Wilkes.
In May, 1979 Mr. Wade Hartley resigned as General Manager. W. Don Holland was promoted to this position.
Mr. C.G. Walden, Jr. was defeated in his bid for re-election to the Board in November, 1979 by Malcom Powell of Telfair County.
Mr. H. B. Eason, Director from Telfair County, resigned due to health problems. He was replaced by Kenneth Cook, Jr. in February, 1980.
President L.B. Chambers, Wheeler County Director retired from the Board in May, 1982. Mrs. Dianne B. Brooks was appointed to fill his vacancy. Mr. Chambers had served for forty-two years.
Mr. W. C. Brown was defeated in his bid for re-election to the Board in November, 1982 by George E. Towns of Wheeler Co. Mr. Brown served forty-one years.
Mr. Bobby (R.S. Collins, Jr.), Laurens Co. Director died in November, 1985. Mr. LaRue Fountain was appointed in January, 1986 to fill his vacancy.
Mr. Kenneth G. Cook, Jr. of Telfair County resigned in February, 1986 to accept a position with Jefferson EMC. Mr. Jim Knight of Telfair was appointed to fill his vacancy.
Former Board President and Wheeler County director L.B. Chambers and his wife Etta Mae remember well the day the "switch" was pulled that brought electricity to the countryside. Mr. Chambers and Mr. Bishop M. Pope (Charter Member) had traveled throughout Wheeler County to get rural citizens to sign up and pay the $5 membership fee to have the necessary number of members for the distribution lines to be built. Mrs. Chambers recalled how most citizens who had signed up already had their homes wired and their "frigidare" refrigerators either in the house or sitting on the front porch. And when those brand new "ice boxes" started humming, it was a glorious day - no more waiting for ice deliveries in the hot, summer months now! Mr. Chambers stated that the REA program, made possible by President Roosevelt, was the most significant improvement ever to occur in the rural area, and that rural Americans can never be thankful enough - unless they have experienced the days before electricity.
Laurens County Director J.A. Dominy remembered the day he was asked to sign up for membership. The year was 1937 and he was in the swamp working on a fence. He had already signed up for service with Altamaha EMC, but he was interested in the first EMC that could provide service. He recalled that he stopped an order on a wood stove so that he could purchase his first electric one. At that time rural citizens were having ice delivered twice a week, using Aladden Lamps, and batteries to power radios and generators, costing about $20 per week. He calculated his cost of electricity being half of the expense for batteries, ice, etc., plus he had the added convenience of year-round comfort. He remembers furnishing cords of wood to the City of Dublin to be used in firing the boiler for the piston engine on the generator that provided lights for the city of Dublin.
Mr. Dominy served in an EMC organization known as the "Minute Man Association". This group of rural citizens worked with the Board and Management during the sixties to promote the wise use of electricity. The hardest task of the group was to encourage members to use electricity wisely and not to waste it.
The philosophy of the Co-op then as now has been "Owned by Those We Serve". The EMC's original purpose was to bring central station electric power to rural areas not then being served by existing unities. Then as now, its objective was to provide member-consumers with dependable electric service at the lowest cost, consistent sound business practices.
Over the years business practices have changed to provide the growing demands of members. In August, 1974, 39 of Georgia's 42 EMCs formed Oglethorpe Power Corporation which has become the nation's largest Generation & Transmission Cooperative to provide electricity to the distribution cooperatives in Georgia.
A Branch Office complete with drive-in windows was added in the early 1980's to better serve the growing Laurens County area. In 1985, the EMC formed the subsidiary corporation known as Little Ocmulgee Service Corporation. This company was formed to provide sales and service of electric appliances, weatherization measures, as well as sales and lease of TVRO systems (more commonly known as "Satellite TV"). There are endless possibilities of improving the telecommunications technology for more efficient operation of EMCs for both the employees and the consumers. The sales and repair of appliances is a service that has been carried in the past and was dropped, but the demand for its return by the consumers resulted in this service again being offered.
The Co-op has been most cooperative with the schools in the area by giving assistance in various projects and publicizing their activities in its Newsletter. There have been many youth-related activities sponsored by the EMC, such as the EMC Wiring Contest (designed to teach the importance of safe, efficient wiring practices and at the same time educate students on what an EMC is and what is does. A more recent program, the Washington, D.C. Youth Tour has been added. This program is designed to teach and educate youth more about cooperatives in the United States, along with the Cooperative Youth Conference Program.
Little Ocmulgee EMC was created almost fifty years ago for a purpose, and that purpose was defined as supporting the needs of its members which could not and would not be adequately served by anyone else. The co-op continues to meed that demand for improved liveability in the rural areas by responding to the needs of its members. The dynamic growth has not slowed. As the rural electrification dream continues to unfold, the advent of telecommunications capabilities and other modern technology offers many exciting opportunities and challenges for the electric cooperatives. Although dependable electric service at the lowest possible cost is the priority, new services are being introduced to meed the ever-increasing needs of consumer-members. By working together to attract new industry and better community facilities, Little Ocmulgee EMC contributes greatly to economic development in the countries in which it serves.
Commitment to people is what makes the difference and the future holds an ever greater promise for cooperatives to better serve their members and their communities.
Fifty Years of Progress
Retired employee F.M. Whitehead of Alamo says he remembers well when power lines were first being built into rural Wheeler, Telfair, and Laurens counties. "The thing I remember most is seeing people's faces when we first turned on their power," he said. "Most people didn't have anything but one light in each room and it was the old pull-chain type. But they were so happy when those lights came on for the first time. I really enjoyed that part of the job," Whitehead said.
Little Ocmulgee EMC was chartered on May 9, 1938, and the upcoming Annual Meeting will be the Cooperative's 50th. Few people would argue that the EMC has made considerable progress during its first 50 years.
Laurens County Director J.A. Dominy remembers purchasing his first electric stove. "I already had an order in on a new wood stove," Mr. Dominy said. "But when we found out we were going to get electricity I canceled the order and bought an electric one."
One of the biggest improvements during the years has been better communications. During the early days few members had telephones. "When the lights would go off we'd have to somehow get a message to the office in Alamo that our lights were out and it would take quite a while to get them back on," Mr. Dominy said. "Now we just pick up the phone and call, and since the trucks all have mobile radios the lights are only off for a few minutes," he added.
Not everyone was eager to get electricity however. Retired employee Woodrow Gillis remembers one man in particular. "This man in Telfair County lived within a mile of the line but he didn't want electricity in his house," Gillis said. "He told me he was born with a kerosene lamp and he'd just as soon die with one," he added. The gentleman finally did give in and have electricity run to his house . . . 18 years later.
The work was very hard during the early years. There was very little available in the way of machinery and most of the work had to be done by hand. J.T. Elton, also a retired Co-op employee, remembers that hard work very well. "When we first started clearing right-of-way for the power lines I got paid $0.25 per hour to operate a cross-cut saw and cut trees," Elton said. "Those were some long hard days but thankfully they have better equipment to use today," he added.
Automated equipment is the biggest improvement over the years, according to F.M. Whitehead. "We used to do everything by hand but the new equipment like bucket trucks, line trucks, and right-of-way tractors has helped speed up construction and maintenance," Whitehead said. "Also the new protective devices on the lines have helped reduce the number of members affected by an outage. Reducing outage time is a big improvement," Whitehead said.
Retired employees F.M. Whitehead (left) and Forrest Fields have spent many long hours building and repairing power lines. They agree that automation is the biggest improvement over the last 50 years.
Just getting the power lines to the house wasn't enough in those days. Rural people needed help to learn how to use the new electric appliances. Th Co-op helped provide that assistance. "Most people's houses were just wired for lights in those days," said Ramon Meguiar, long-time Co-op employee. "If they wanted to add an electric stove, for example, we would go in and change out the breaker box, run the wiring and install the stove all at the same time. Most of the time we had to change the transformer too," he added.
Over the years the Co-op has continued to grow and add members. The first line was energized on April 7, 1939 with 125 families receiving electricity. Today the Co-op serves nearly 7500 members and maintains over 1500 miles of line.
General Manager Don Holland has been employed by the Cooperative since 1973 and he respects the work done by the founders of the Cooperative. "I don't think any of the people who helped form and build Little Ocmulgee EMC dreamed that it would become what it has. We directly affect the lives of 7500 rural residents. We're not viewed as providing a luxury. Electricity is now considered to be a necessity," Holland stated.
A Brief History of Little Ocmulgee EMC
The nation recognized this disparity as early as 1912, and Congress debated the matter in the 1920s, but took no action. In the 1930s, the cause of rural electrification gained a powerful supporter: Franklin D. Roosevelt, who at his cottage at Warm Springs, Georgia, saw first hand the disparity in electric service between urban and rural areas. In 1935 Congress passed a bill creating the Rural Electrification Administration, which Roosevelt signed in a ceremony at Warm Springs. This bill authorized loans to provide electricity to the remaining 90% of the country.
Established utilities still balked at running power lines out into the countryside, loans or not. And so rural residents banded together to form their own, nonprofit electric companies directly owned by each member. Though cooperatives such as Ocmulgee EMC and Altamaha EMC started in 1935, much of Telfair, Wheeler, and the southern part of Laurens county still didn't have electricity. So local residents formed their own electric cooperative, Little Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation, and elected their first board of directors on May 9, 1938.
After much discussion of whether the new cooperative should be headquartered in McRae or Alamo, the first office opened in Alamo in an old store building three doors down from the present office. One requirement to receive REA loans was at least three connections per mile of line, and co-op supporters fanned out across the countryside signing up members. In November of 1938, Little Ocmulgee EMC received its first REA loan, and on April 7, 1939, the lights came on for 125 families living on the first 52 miles of line.
For many families, electricity consisted of a single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling by a drop cord. By July 1940, only 41 out of the 733 members served by the co-op used more than 100 kWh. But soon members of Little Ocmulgee EMC began to enjoy the full benefits of electricity. To help our members, Little Ocmulgee EMC wired homes and sold appliances and lamps.
Still, there was some opposition to electricity. Some land owners refused to permit power lines to cross their land, keeping electricity from some families for years. Others didn't see the use for electricity. Yet by the mid 1940s, electricity was available to most residents in the area now served by Little Ocmulgee EMC.
The years saw changes and growth. The co-op built its current headquarters in the 1950s, opened a branch office in Laurens in the early 1980s, and a branch office in McRae in the mid 1990s. From one substation in 1939 we've grown to nine; from 125 members we've grown to nearly 10,000 accounts; from 51 miles of line we've grown to more than 1,710 miles. Yet throughout our growth, we've retained the same commitment to our members and our communities as we did in 1938, a commitment that's the hallmark of cooperative service.
In 1985, Little Ocmulgee EMC returned to its roots with the formation of a subsidiary company, Little Ocmulgee Service Corporation. Besides offering sale and repair of appliances, the Service Corporation broke new ground by becoming the second cooperative company in Georgia to offer satellite television. In 1986, Little Ocmulgee Service Corporation joined the National Rural Telecommunications Association as a charter member.
As we look forward to 2001 and the new millennium, and as we face the unknown challenges of the future, we look back to our foundations. For the strength of cooperatives rests not on size, but in its members, in the principle of neighbors helping neighbors. That's what cooperatives are all about.