Community

Force 6: Strong Breeze- Large branches in motion, telegraph wires “sing”, umbrellas used with difficulty

This installment on the Lincoln Electric Cooperative members uprising starts with the September 19, 1988 issue of the Mountain Ear – I commented that I got 3 months off and couldn’t “lift over 10 pounds or bend my back.” This is where I wound up more involved in the process – without the compression fracture, I would have been at work instead of working with the uprising.

September 29th headlined “REA Series Set”: “We’ve been attending and reporting Lincoln Electric co-op meetings for about 3 months now – since Craig Eaton told of nepotism in REA hiring.

By and large, we haven’t seen a need to cover these meetings before. I turn the switch, my lights, computer, whatever, go on. Trego has better electric service than anywhere else I’ve lived or worked – and considering the places I’ve packed a computer into as a consultant, that says a lot.

Unfortunately, several of the trustees, along with Craig Eaton, have brought us to the realization that you can’t judge every aspect of your electric co-op by pulling a light switch in the morning.

There’s a story to be told, and some accusations to be investigated. We’ll be running a series of articles on the REA covering the accusations and making our own conclusions. The Mountain Ear is too small a publication to cover all this in a single issue, and advertising is the tail that wags the dog – we can’t afford the single issue approach. Besides, with this much controversy, we’ll get even better readership during the next couple of months!”

Hitting the High Points covered my attendance at the Lincoln Electric meeting:

“REA meetings are terminally boring. This opinion comes from attending Lincoln Electric’s annual meetings.

That opinion is normally 100% correct. The co-op bribes members to attend these annual dullness festivals with dozens of door prizes, a neighborly potluck, and little gifts to all attending. Despite the loot, turnouts barely exceed the 10% needed for a quorum – including the employees, trustees and their families. Most people can find more enjoyable experiences – hernia surgery, root canals, etc.

Last week I attended an exciting REA meeting. It started by boring me to tears, and only back pain kept me awake, as trustees reported each trip the co-op had sent them on, and planned future trips for 45 minutes. Then regular business – Sanders came out with figures that (he said) proved the co-op is well managed, and got the trustees to buy him a new computer.

Finally, things livened up. Monk glared from his corner, and announced “I’m going to put you on the spot!” to Craig Eaton. Eaton refused to be drawn out, and then the old guard trustees turned their meeting into a “Roast Eaton” contest.

I’d regarded their executive sessions as cheap attempts to conduct regular business (like Monk’s 100 G’s) away from public view and comment. If their ‘executive sessions’ are like this feeding frenzy was, they may serve another purpose – that of keeping peaceful, nonviolent types like myself outside the danger zone.

Eaton refused to answer – and the attacks became nastier. He was accused of telling ‘half-truths’. (Half truths are what you accuse a guy of telling when he’s got you in general, but misses the details. I got out of a ‘minor in possession of alcohol’ charge that way almost 20 years ago – sure, I had the beer, but the cop had the address down a block off).

After a dozen or so attacks on Eaton, I saw a bright red light at the head of the table, and thought “Interesting. They even have a stoplight installed to help them break off between rounds.”

The light began emitting strangled grumbles of rage, and I realized they weren’t going to let up on Eaton. What I’d taken to be a stoplight was a crimson board member asking Eaton his version of the $64,000 question, “How many annual meetings have you attended?” He must have thought he had the universe down cold with that perfect question – he even snarled it at an inoffensive Scott Baney, who had been sitting on the sidelines.

Broken back and all, I braced for action – so far it looked like I was the only person in the room whose neutrality was still being respected. Monk brought the meeting back in line as trustees and employees mumbled that they wanted more people to attend those annual meetings.

I think they’ll be seeing more people attending these meetings. An old Irish proverb says “If you want an audience, start a fight.” After watching these qualification matches, I have no doubt that the Lincoln Electric board is ready for the real thing.”

On October 3, the Mountain Ear published “REA History”: “We need to go back 40 years to understand the importance of the Lincoln Electric Cooperative. Then, only a few rural residents had electricity, and that was usually provided by low head power plants, like at Dickey Lake, or 32 volt systems ran from battery storage and wind chargers.

Despite the fact that city folks had niceties like indoor plumbing, refrigeration, and electric lights, life in the sticks wasn’t so high-tone. With today’s portable generators and new equipment, people can live in reasonable comfort away from the powerline. It wasn’t so then.

I asked a couple of the old-timers who were young men when power came how it was done. After listening to both Dale Osler and Winton Weydemeyer, I understand why the Cooperative means so much.

Both men stressed the importance of Henry Oldenberg in getting Lincoln Electric chartered – and also claimed that it needed everybody to get it done. There aren’t any Oldenbergs around Trego anymore – in talking, both men nodded over the hill, pointing out the Oldenberg place which I’ve always known as Jack Peters’ ranch.

Federal REA officials were reluctant to approve our co-op in those days – powerlines through so much timber were viewed as impossible to keep functioning. But the 300 local residents prevailed, and Lincoln Electric Cooperative was set up.

The problem of the trees had to be solved by the members – and they did it all themselves. Powerline right-of-ways were cleared during the winter. The members did it, with hand tools like axes, crosscuts and Swede saws. Both Dale and winton commented that part of the clearing they did was for free, while for another part they were paid a small amount – since each member had been required to chip in 6 days labor or $60.

With the lines cleared in the winter, the powerlines went up over the following years, and in May of 1951, the Lincoln Electric Coop was delivering electricity in rural Lincoln County. Winton recalled how one old fellow had looked at their accomplishments and announced, “We’ve got a million dollar outfit now! Now we can start spending money!”

Letters to the editor in that issue suggest the level of member dissatisfaction:

“. . . I am most interested in your interest in the goings on at Lincoln Electric – I have a home ‘serviced’ by them, and 2 years ago had a power outage that blew out my heat pump. Across the road, the Point of Rocks lost a condenser unit from the same outage. However, even with the outside security light off, and no heat, my intelligence was questioned by Mr. Miller, that I don’t know “black from white” – even though the Northwestern Telephone unit at Olney confirmed the outage and Carson Brothers Electric at Kalispell verified it. I still ended up with no insurance payment, due to Mr. Miller, and am out $3,000. I could have taken this to court, but due to the stress it would cause me (and my health is not the best) I decided to pay and shut up.

Now it would make my day to see Mr. Miller’s hide nailed to the wall. I do believe that he has been on the gravy train too long and thanks to some observant people on the board and caring folks like you, I do hope this can come to a successful end.

I have enjoyed my years @ Stryker and my many wonderful friends. Since I am now alone, I must be a summer resident. I miss it so much. My best wishes to you all.

Sincerely,

Evelyn Kinyon

Dear Mike:

Just a few figures that show what Monk’s $100,000 might mean to the individual Lincoln Electric member:

August’s average residential electric bill was $39.80 according to the REA’s full page ad in your competition. Since there are about 2500 members in the co-op, it looks like everybody gets to pay about a month’s power bill for the benefit of being able to consult Mr. Miller at his convenience.

At $3 per foot, $100,000 comes to about six miles of power line. Maybe the numbers aren’t exactly right, but 6 miles of line could bring in some new customers for the REA. Is being able to consult Monk Miller worth 6 miles of line?

In August, Lincoln Electric listed cost of power from BPA at $103,432 and showed over 5 million kilowatt hours sold. Is Monk Miller’s advice likely to be as valuable as 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity?

Sincerely,

M.G. Lee”


Next Installment: Force 7: Moderate Gale – Whole Trees in Motion . . . the organization of Concerned REA Members (CREAM)

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