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When two Oklahoma visionaries heard about the news, they traveled to Washington D.C. for further investigation. Those two men were Ernie Bourquin, chairman of the Kingfi sher County Commissioners and Marsh Sanders, a local merchant in Kingfi sher. Boecher describes Bourquin as a “very energetic in- dividual who was always looking for ways to improve the living conditions of farm people.” In fact, Boecher wrote, “If anyone can be called the ‘father of Cimarron Electric,’ it is Mr. Bourquin.”

The two Oklahomans had the opportunity to meet with President Roosevelt in person. The President ex- plained that if enough farmers would sign up for ser- vice (approximately two farms per mile), a loan could be secured from the Treasury Department to build the lines and the substations. Bourquin and Sanders came back to Oklahoma with a plan. They would recruit help to create a survey, call a meeting, form a corpora- tion, select a name and elect trustees. In December 1935 the fi rst meeting took place at Peoples National Bank in Kingfi sher. Bourquin was chosen as chairman and a temporary board of fi ve trustees was elected. Boecher, who came into the picture shortly after the initial meeting, wrote about these pioneers, “They were determined, regardless of what the investor-owned utility companies thought, believing it was possible to profi tably supply electric service to the farming countryside of America. These men believed in themselves and in their goal.” Boecher was working as part of the County Agri- culture Program under the direction of Kingfisher County agent Jim White. He oversaw the wheat, corn, cotton, hay and cattle program, but was allowed to take time to help recruit members for the rural electric company.

Boecher recalls several farmers were skeptical if they would in fact receive electric service. In addition, the $5 fee required for membership in the company was diffi cult for many to disperse.

“As a farmer myself, I understood the diffi culties of spending the necessary fi ve dollars to join the organi- zation’s membership, so I devised a pay-out plan which allowed the membership fee to be fi nanced in small monthly installments. I took eggs and everything else in order to collect the fi ve-dollar fee,” Boecher said. Despite all odds, there were 440 members signed

up at the end of two months. The board of trustees selected a headquarters offi ce at the corner of Admire Avenue and Main Street in Kingfi sher. They also se- lected the name, “Consumers Rural Electric Com- pany,” which became incorporated in 1936 as Okla- homa’s fi rst rural electric cooperative and one of the fi rst 10 in the entire nation. It was the dawn of a new era for Oklahoma’s rural dwellers.

Let the Work Begin The membership supported a loan application

with the Rural Electrifi cation Administration (REA) in Washington, D.C. Financing would allow for con- struction of electric transmission, distribution and service lines in Kingfi sher, Logan, Blaine, Canadian and Major Counties. There were plans to add four more counties to the service area later. This was called the “Kingfi sher 1-A Project.”

The trustees applied for a $1.2 million loan in the spring of 1937. Of this amount, $300,000 was to build 279 miles of line to connect 446 members. Trustees

were unsure the loan would be approved. One of REA’s requirements was a minimum of two members per mile, but Consumers Rural Electric Company only had one and a half per mile. Still, a $300,000 loan with 2.77 percent interest was granted.

“We got the two-members-per-mile rule waived be- cause we were one of the fi rst, one of the ‘guinea pigs,’ so the electrifi cation of rural northwestern Oklahoma was now close to reality,” Boecher wrote. On February 10, 1937 the board of trustees hired Ingram Jones of Oklahoma City to serve as engineer for the Kingfi sher 1-A project. On April 13, 1937, the board met and signed a contract with the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company (OG&E) to supply the organization’s wholesale power from a substation located southwest of the City of Kingfi sher. Chapin Construction Company of Wichita, Kan. put in a bid for $243,077.28 and was awarded the job. Boecher was then hired to oversee the project, making a salary of $150 per month with a mileage allowance of four cents per mile.

On October 1937, the board established that mem- bers would be charged $3.50 for the fi rst 40 kilowatt hours (kwh) of service. A local farm boy was hired to install meters. He was paid 75 cents per meter for in- stallation. He was also responsible for collecting a $5 meter deposit from each new member. On December 4, 1937 all eyes were bright as the fi rst energized line was hooked up to trustee Earl Harri- son’s home in Kingfi sher. That night, however, the sense of fulfi llment was slightly interrupted by an ice storm that took half of the new lines to the ground. Although the storm rained on those farmers’ pa- rade, it did not stop Oklahoma’s fi rst rural electric co- operative from pressing on. In 30 days the lines were back up, and rural electrifi cation would soon become a way of life.

Changing for the Better

In its early days, the staff of Consumers Rural Elec- tric Company was comprised of Roy Boecher, general manager; Shirley Smith, bookkeeper; and Jack Steele, line operations manager. In 1939, in order to comply with REA rules, the word “cooperative” had to be a part of the company name. A contest was held and the name “Cimarron Electric Cooperative” was select- ed. In 1941, “Project 1-B Kingfi sher” was completed and energized. The project provided electrical service to rural communities such as Fairview, Okeene and Watonga. And in the Fall of 1941, “Project 1-C King- fi sher” would begin.

This December, Cimarron Electric celebrates 75 years. The cooperative has experienced several changes but their mission still goes unchanged: to provide the best quality service to their members.

“As with all things, Cimarron Electric has changed over the course of time,” wrote Boecher who left his post as general manager in 1975. “But it has not left its original principles of providing superior service and promoting the cooperative spirit.”

Jack Steele became general manager from 1976 to 1978, followed by O.E. Van Horn from 1979 to 1981. Kingfi sher native Tom Garrett was hired in 1972 and led the cooperative as general manager from 1981 to 2008.

Garrett was present for many of the changes includ- ing technological innovations.

Continued on Page 31

Above: Construction crews and locals work to place the fi rst poles in rural Oklahoma. Center: During the early days, members and employees of Cimarron Electric read meters by hand. Bot- tom: One of the fi rst buildings of a rural electric cooperative in Oklahoma.

DECEMBER 2011 21

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