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not reflect the Hollywood “cowpoke,” the cooperative business model matched the cowboy ethic perfectly.


A book written by a retired Wall Street executive, James Owen, captured this ethic and boiled it down to the following 10 points .


1) Live each day with courage. 2) Take pride in your work. 3) Always finish what you start. 4) Do what has to be done. 5) Be tough, but fair.


6) When you make a promise, keep it. 7) Ride for the brand. 8) Talk less and say more. 9) Remember that some things aren't for sale.


10) Know where to draw the line.


Seems just another way of laying out the cooperative principles that co-ops abide by to this very day. It seems cowboys and cooperatives were a natural fit.


So the cowboys got busy organizing electric cooperatives and began the work of bringing light to rural America. They dug holes by hand. They walked the poles up and into place to carry the electric lines. They worked with picks, shovels, and ladders, and whatever else was handy. They man-handled wires into place on the poles and cross arms. Creating the proper tension and securing the conductors to the insulators was all done by human strength and by sight. And when man or nature damaged the lines, they had to do it all over again.


In those days, safety equipment was non-existent. The first job site to mandate use of hard hats was the Hoover Dam, where falling debris was responsible for many deaths. Fire retardant clothing was unheard of, and climbing poles often involved ladders rather than spikes and safety belts. Many gave their lives to bring the benefits of electricity to their homes and communities.


Once power was flowing, members reported how much they used and the cooperative sent them a hand-prepared bill by regular RFD mail. No automatic


meter reading systems or computerized billing options. Ledgers formed the permanent record of transactions.


Today distribution systems are controlled by smart devices, and cooperatives can provide more consistent levels of service. The work remains dangerous and arduous, but modern safety tools, clothing and practices reduce the risk substantially. Technology continues to improve our ability to control system operation and costs while continuously improving quality and member service. Automated systems continue to improve the accuracy of bills and simplify data management.


Some might think the cowboy cooperative is a thing of the past, but co-ops are still vital to rural areas today. Choctaw Electric ‘s commitment to community is evident in several recent achievements. CEC worked to secure federal grants that helped establish rural broadband centers in Haworth, Smithville and Rattan. It partnered with Pine Telephone to bring wireless Internet service to underserved areas. It created loan programs to make it more affordable for members to improve their home’s efficiency. CEC also established a loan program that is making safe, in-ground storm shelters possible for hundreds of families. From raising money for Relay for Life to supporting local schools and providing


educational travel opportunities for teens, CEC reaches beyond the meter to improve Southeast Oklahoma.


Today, changes are sweeping through the electric utility industry that will require a new breed of cooperative cowboy. A new, younger breed of co-op member, raised on the Internet requires different needs—and new forms of communication. Engaging these members in the future will be challenging—and worthy of a cowboy response.


The frontier life of today is different indeed. While the tools differ, the cowboy cooperative ethic remains the same. This means employees and members alike working together to ensure that the interests of our Southeast Oklahoma communities are well served and that electricity remains affordable and reliable. Just as it was in the 1930s, working in our self-interest won’t be selfish, it will be for the benefit of our families and our communities— and that’s who we, at Choctaw Electric Cooperative, are here to serve. ■


The history of Choctaw Electric is chronicled in the book Turning the Lights On in Southeast Oklahoma, published in 2009 to commemorate Choctaw Electric’s 70th anniversary. Copies of the book are available at any CEC office.


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