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our October is Co-op Month The Cowboy Co-op - The History of Electric Co-ops


October is National Co-op Month, so it seems fitting for Kay Electric Cooperative to look back to our beginnings and reflect on the reasons for the creation of electric cooperatives. This is a re- markable story that demonstrates the exceptional nature of the Americans who populated rural America, then and now. Nineteen hundred and thirty


five. It’s hard to imagine what life was like outside urban areas in those days, especially through the lens of our 21st century existence – news taking days to reach you, dirt roads, manual labor and no electricity. Life for a large portion of the American population was, for all intents and purposes, a frontier life.


Rugged people making a living by strength, persistence and hard, often crushing, work. Relying on their neighbors when things got


tough. A way of life alien to most of us today, although a few are still around who remember when the lights first came on. While 95 percent of urban dwellers had electricity, only one in 10 rural Americans was so blessed. It was in this same year on May 11 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order 7037 creating the Rural Electrifica- tion Administration (REA). Immedi- ately, “cowboy” cooperatives took the bit in their teeth and started putting together electric coopera- tives all across America, KEC get- ting its start on Feb. 24, 1937. Some might think that so-called “cowboy co-ops” would be re- stricted to the West, but the case can be made that every coopera- tive was formed by the cowboys of their area. Tough, self-reliant, hardworking, honest, resilient men and women willing to take bold action to serve their interests and create a better life for their families. But working in your self- interest should not be confused as selfish. They were working togeth- er for their neighbors and for their communities.


The term “cowboy” conjures up Hollywood images of hard fighting, hard drinking, rugged individu- als fighting injustice against great odds. Today, it can also be a pejorative term describing some- one who is unpredictable and unsophisticated in their actions. While the actual character of the cowboy cooperative didn’t reflect the Hollywood image, the cooper- ative model matched the cowboy ethic perfectly. A book written by a retired Wall Street executive,


2


James Owen, captured this ethic and boiled it down to the fol- lowing 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 prin- ciples that we run our businesses by to this very day. It appears that cowboys and cooperatives were a natural fit.


Medford Substation


So these 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 into place to carry the electric lines. All this had to be done with picks, shovels, ladders and whatever else was handy. Most of us have seen these poi- gnant photographs, sepia images of remote places with men scram- bling to light the rural landscape. Wires had to be man handled into place on the poles and cross arms. Creating the proper tension and securing the conductors to the insulators was all done by main strength and by sight. And when the lines were damaged either by man or nature, it all had to be redone the same way.


Safety equipment was non-ex-


Yo


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