The grasshoppers destroyed more than the crops when they descended upon Platte Valley in 1874. They wrote an end to one of the dreams of the farmers of that time for a huge one hundred thousand dollar water power plant on the Loup River at Columbus. Proposed by the local chapter of the Grange, the project was to be owned by the consumers of the region and used for manufacturing purposes, chiefly for domestic consumption. Although the original plan called for five hundred farmers to purchase shares of stock amounting to two hundred dollars each, this was clearly impossible in view of the devastation resulting from the sudden insect plague.
But the idea of power, publicly owned and operated, was to appear and reappear in the minds and lives of the people of Platte County before they finally realized this dream. A story buried in a Columbus newspaper of December 12, 1879, read: "A project with many of our leading citizens behind it, is on foot for the development at this place of the water power of the Loup. Our citizens ... must not shut their eyes to the fact that Columbus capital heretofore engaged in trade, must find some other avenue in order to preserve the growth of the town."
In the 1880's, a survey was made of the vicinity by Bert Arnold and Fred Gottschalk to ascertain what fall of water might be had from the Loup and thereby gauge its potential power. First, the water at the bluffs north of the city was surveyed; then they made measurements at the slough and, finally, on the bench in the city. "Any of these," the local press announced expansively in 1888, "will give us an immense power."
This early move was followed in 1893 by the organization of the Columbus Canal and Power Company, and the Columbus Power and Irrigation Company, in 1894. Many of the same men were among the incorporators of both companies with the purpose of furnishing the power for Platte County through the establishment of a canal, and "for properly diverting and supplying water for purposes of irrigation.
In 1896, the Platte and Colfax County Irrigation and Canal Company was formed by W. A. McAllister, A. M. Covert, C. J. Garlow, William Lockhart and W. H. Van Alstine. This group planned an irrigation canal commencing on the Loup River and running through Platte and Colfax Counties to terminate at a point on the Platte River near Schuyler.
But it was in the years immediately following the turn of the century that a new element entered the picture and the whole subject of power for the people of Platte County became international in scope. A group of Swiss capitalists in 1910 made an offer to purchase the franchise and all the holdings of the Nebraska Power Company and develop the proposition. H. E. Babcock, a leader in the Columbus irrigation move, spent many months in New York City negotiating for the proposed power canal. Three surveying parties under the direction of Richard Koenig, of Omaha, ran lines and examined the proposed canal and reservoir along the route established fourteen years earlier, in 1896.
The Swiss syndicate desired a verification of the essential features of the project since it had been altered in the intervening years and for some time it was rumored that the European company proposed to first construct an experimental canal connecting the Loup with the Beaver River and to locate a power station at Genoa. Also active in the endeavor was Fritz Jaeggi of Columbus, a personal acquaintance of the Swiss businessmen involved. The latter, led by a Mr. Wegman, was owner of the largest electrical power plant in his homeland and controlled the largest electrical supply house in France.
In spite of the efforts of H. E. Babcock, the Swiss development never materialized. Lincoln capitalists who were interested in this project in 1912 redeemed the options on certain land near Genoa which they intended as a canal right-of-
way and the matter became a controversy between the Koenig interests and H. E. Babcock, who represented the Nebraska Power Company or the Doherty interests. He secured the water rights in Platte Valley and led in the building of the Genoa power plant at a reputed cost of thirty-five thousand dollars. In a 1912 report made to the State Irrigation Board, the corporation declared it had spent more than sixty-four thousand dollars in that locality to promote its plan of building head gates four miles west of the city and erecting a huge dam at that site.
The last chapter in what Nebraskans of that time came to regard as an unfulfilled dream was in 1914, when the Nebraska Power Company was sold to H. L. Hollister of Chicago. The latter visited Columbus, announced his intention of proceeding with the proposed plans and placed an order for four hundred fifty thousand feet of lumber and fourteen thousand barrels of cement to be used in construction of the dam. He then returned to Chicago, and the materials failed to arrive. It was the end of the "huge three million dollar dam" which never evolved any further than its paper plans and the minds of a few visionary men.
In the early years, a hydro-electric plant was thought of only as an incidental by-product, in the belief that if more water could be spread over the lands, grasshoppers would have less chance to destroy crops and seasonal drouths would not be as devastating. Much of the enthusiasm for the project in the 1870's was generated in the hope that it would be instrumental in bringing the state capital to Columbus. From 1890-1894, the backers of the plan believed an elevation of from eighty to one hundred feet would be sufficient to produce power to operate mills, factories, and electric light plants. It was thought that this would increase the population from five to ten thousand, making Columbus the leading city between Omaha and Denver. Following the drouth of 1894, the idea of irrigation and power was again revived by H. E. Babcock acting for the "Great Eastern Company."
During those years, Peter Schmitt, a miller in the Shell Creek settlement who bought the Shell Creek Valley Roller Mills from Joseph Bucher in 1891, became one of the first farmers to use irrigation. He took water from Shell Creek to irrigate his forty acres of corn and his garden plot. He also built four dams on Shell Creek and installed two mill wheels for water power to run his mill.
LOUP RIVER POWER DISTRICT
Edgar Howard breaking ground for the Loup River Power District
Also interesting, in view of the development of the 1930's, is the fact that the giant basin originally designed by Engineer W. L. McEathron as the reservoir for the dreamed-of dam in 1902, was located on almost the identical site of Lake Babcock, the regulating reservoir of the Loup River Public Power District, north of Columbus, and it extended approximately from the Meridian east two miles to the Carl Rohde farm.
For years, the idea of harnessing the power of the Loup River lay dormant in the minds of the Platte County agricultural and business leaders. Then, in 1932, with the entire country suffering from the cataclysmic effects of the depression, a group of leading citizens of Columbus revived the idea of a public power project. Philip R. Hockenberger conceived the idea of a federally financed project and told Harold Kramer about it. On September 15, 1932, they met at the Thurston Hotel with several local business and professional men. At this meeting, a temporary group comprising Charles B. Fricke, Doctor Julian E. Meyer, Clarence C. Sheldon and Harold Kramer were set up to direct the work. In October, 1932, three of the leaders, Philip Hockenberger, Harold Kramer and Fred C. Albert, were appointed to confer with all the former residents of the county who had been connected with the old project. They studied maps, analyzed the plans that had been made many years before. It soon became evident that the old scheme was inadequate and examination of the ground proved that serious errors had been made in the surveys. These men realized that a water power project could be developed but that engineering studies were needed to determine its location, size, feasibility and economic potential.
Fred Albert, who arrived in Columbus in
The History of Platte County Nebraska
October, 1932, on leave from his engineering work in South America, led the group in contacting various firms in Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln in an effort to have the engineering work done on a contingency basis. Interested but skeptical, the experts turned down the offer with one exception. George E. Johnson, of Lincoln, former engineer for the state of Nebraska, agreed to lend his services and together he and Fred Albert undertook the gigantic task.
The year 1933 was a crucial one for the promoters of the project. In January, an agreement was reached with the Development Committee calling for a complete engineering report with maps, plans, specifications and the preparation of an application for a construction loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The RFC was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's most active agencies in providing work for millions and maintaining the nation's business and industrial activity.
Headquarters for the committee were established at the Evans Hotel where rooms served as both offices and sleeping quarters. The Telegram Company in Columbus contributed the space for all-important drafting rooms, and additional engineering equipment was loaned without charge by interested state and local people. Among the contributors were: A. B. Clark, of the telephone company; Emiel J. Christensen, architect; Dr. G. E. Condra and Professor Clark E. Mickey, of the University of Nebraska; and Roy L. Cochran, State Engineer.
R. O. Green, civil engineer, handled many important assignments in field surveying, computations and the writing of specifications. Five survey crews were employed at the height of the work and the office force, consisting of Helen R. Schwader and Helen Galley, processed all the hydrographic data, prepared cost estimates, specifications, and reports of engineers, working long hours in the effort to assure the perfection of all details connected with the proposed project.
Early in June, 1933, the application was completed and Harold Kramer took it to Washington, D. C., for submission to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. A new financing agency, the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works had just been created and the application was transferred to this body.
Meanwhile, all through the summer of 1933, trips were undertaken by the proponents of the scheme to surrounding Nebraska towns; studies were made of their power needs and both informal discussions and formal meetings held in a number of communities. When it was discovered that expansion of the original plans were necessary, the request for the total loan was changed from $5,700,000 to $6,600,000.
Finally, in September, the Public Works Agency announced its readiness to examine the project. Philip R. Hockenberger and Fred Albert left for Washington, where Congressman Edgar Howard and Arthur Mullen, Omaha attorney, were already aiding in the promotion of the government loan. C. C. Sheldon, board treasurer, also worked hard in the interests of the Loup River Public Power project at that time. After studying the plans, Public Works Administration engineers recommended certain enlargements and a second amendment was added to the loan calling for a total of $7,300,000.
But final action could not be taken until the Federal Power Commission had made a study and issued a report to the Public Works Administration. The report called for issuance of a license by the commission and this was later obtained in October, 1933. Finally, on November 15 of that year, determinative action was taken by the government and a loan and grant totalling $7,300,000 was approved.
Throughout that winter and the following spring, the little group of local leaders worked to perfect water rights and complete the various documents incident to financing and selecting engineers acceptable to the Public Works Administration. Investigations into the affairs of the district were conducted by agents from Washington and Chief Engineer McDonough and his assistant, Major Oldberg, came to Platte County to study the project's engineering features.
Once the construction funds were made available, work started in July, 1934, under the direction of the Harza Engineering Company of Chicago, with L. F. Harza as president. Fred C. Albert of Columbus acted as supervising engineer and Erik Floor was chief engineer.
Others who rendered valuable service during the inception of the project were R. H. Willis, chief, Bureau of Irrigation; George K. Leonard, designer, State Highway Department; Miss K. I. Ward, statistician, Bureau of Irrigation; George E. Condra, Ph.D., University of Nebraska; Elwood Mead, Ph.D., commissioner, United States Bureau of Reclamation; Roger B. McWhorter, chief engineer, Federal Power Commission; and J. H. Wilson of the General Electric Company.
In addition to the office staff, the following local residents of Platte County worked for sev-
eral months under severe weather conditions at nominal pay that the plan might become a reality: Henry G. Armatis, Harold G. Wurdeman, Stanley F. Schure and Joe Ruzicke, party chiefs and draftsmen; Arthur Jenny, computer and draftsman; and these field assistants:
William Haney, Hugo Oehlrich, C. Bruce Albert, Walter Phillips, Frank Kohlund, William Schwantje, Herman Woerth, William Gregorious, Carroll Prieb, Maurice Branigan, William Schram, Cyril Elias and Mark McMahon.
It was the Senate act of April 18, 1933, signed by Governor Charles W. Bryan, permitting the establishment of public power districts, which originally paved the way for the Loup River Public Power District. Officers for the temporary board, created the following month, automatically became permanent when the application for the district was granted. They were: Charles B. Fricke, president; Doctor Julian E. Meyer, vice president; Clarence C. Sheldon, treasurer; and Philip R. Hockenberger, August Ewert, Edward Kelly, Edward F. Lusienski, D. A. Becher, Doctor E. E. Koebbe, A. H. Backus and A. R. Miller, directors. Philip R. Hockenberger succeeded Doctor Meyer as vice president.
The first actual dragline excavation of earth on the historic project was made October 16, 1934, on the James Donoghue farm seven miles northwest of Columbus by the Haas, Doughty, Jones Company. It was almost three years later or on March 1, 1937, that the switch was thrown on the first of the big turbines in the Monroe power house and electric current began flowing from the harnessed water of the Loup. In May of that year, current produced at the Monroe plant was first put to commercial use in lighting the interior of the plant. The first transmission of Loup power took place on August 6, 1934, when the. current flowed from Monroe to the Columbus power house.
The original plan of the Loup District project was to construct a gigantic string of heavy transmission lines to gird the state. Lines were built to Valley, Norfolk and Lincoln and additional Public Works Administration allocations in 1938 made possible the completion of the Valley line to Omaha, several connecting lines, and a huge Omaha substation. In April, 1941, the Loup River Public Power District applied for $1,819,000 to complete its state-girding plan, in order that Loup power might flow through contracts with public districts, municipal and rural systems.
It is paradoxical that the first scheme for harnessing the power of the Loup River was the result of an era of drouth and hard times. The later development, though not a direct outgrowth of depression, stemmed from the nationwide move to end unemployment and put into the hands of farmers arid consumers the benefits of their own natural resources, subsidized and assisted by the federal government. However, in the years between 1913, when the sixty-horsepower plant was erected at Genoa only to be later abandoned, and 1932, the Loup District project was only a shadow in the minds of men who had been boys at the time, of the first development. All that remained to physically mark the first act of the drama of power were some shallow ditches filled with debris or plowed over and a maze of water rights that had to be untangled before the move could legally proceed.
Preliminary financing for the project was handled by a subcommittee under the chairmanship of A. R. Miller and composed of: R. H. Heynen, A. H. Backus, Doctor E. E. Koebbe, Otto F. Walter and P. W. Lakers.
The early Board of Directors of the Loup River Public Power District consisted of eight Platte County men: Edward Kelly of Monroe, president; J. A. Borg, vice president; E. T. Miessler, second vice president; A. R. Miller, treasurer. Other directors included: Zack B. Howell, Phil R. Hockenberger, Con Keating and John Preston of Humphrey.
A supervisory staff was made up of Harold Kramer, secretary and general manager; Fred Albert, supervising engineer and assistant general manager; Paul E. Hampton, chief electrical engineer; Raymond Arndt, auditor; Edward Fricke, chief accountant; Edward F. Otterpohi, assistant secretary; and Edward F. Lusienski, in charge of contracts.
Much of the advantage inherent in establishment of the Loup River Public Power District lay in the electrifying of farming areas through money furnished under the rural electrification program of the government. Electricity, used in connection with poultry and dairying, increased the profits of thousands of Nebraska farmers in recent years. With the exception of actual field work, virtually every job on the farm can be done using electricity furnished from a line of the voltage of the Rural Electrification specifications.
Instantaneous hot water and electric cooking, refrigeration and lighting and scores of home appliances were made possible in areas where
The History of Platte County Nebraska
such facilities had never been known. In the early years, the project superintendent for the Loup was Victor M. Young, a contractor on excavation. Young was responsible for much of the building of rural lines and his orientation of farmers in regard to the benefits of electrification was outstanding.
The Loup River, which supplies the power for the district, is one of the most constant flowing streams in the country. It never goes dry. Fed from a huge natural underground storage basin, it maintains a relatively uniform flow throughout the year. The rated power development capacity of the Loup project is two hundred eighteen million kilowatt hours annually or enough to light one fifty-watt bulb for a period of five hundred thousand years.
About three and one-half miles southwest of Genoa, the diversion dam, desilting works and intake canal were constructed. The average slope of the Loup River is seven and one-half feet to a mile, and beginning at this point, the water has been diverted into a huge canal so located as to take advantage of the natural fall of the river valley.
Twelve miles below the canal, after passing through three huge concrete siphons under Beaver Creek, the Union Pacific railroad tracks near Genoa, and Looking Glass Creek, the canal reaches the Monroe power plant. There, under a water drop of thirty-two feet, a total of ninety-six hundred horsepower is developed through three hydro-electric units. The water discharged from the Monroe plant flows about fifteen miles, by open canal, through more siphons and through the Lake Babcock regulating reservoir north of Columbus, to the main power house about two and a half miles northeast of Columbus.
The canal water is then dropped through three penstocks, each twenty feet in diameter, down one hundred twelve feet into three hydro turbines of eighteen thousand horsepower each. Then the water is taken through a tailrace to a point four miles southeast of Columbus where it enters the Platte River and subsequently the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
Almost one thousand men, in the years of the great depression, worked through heat and drouth and the biting cold of Nebraska winters to excavate twelve million cubic yards of earth and bring the gigantic project to its conclusion. This was the result of much planning, much labor and an inestimable amount of courage on the part of those who started, with a preliminary fund of around seven hundred dollars, which they hoped would grow, into a multimillion dollar operation.
The only retail sales made by the Loup River Power District are to farmers, on a rural distribution system within Platte County. For that purpose, the Loup was originally granted a loan of four hundred thousand dollars by the Rural Electrification Administration.
The district owns one hundred fifteen kilowatt voltage transmission lines from Columbus to Lincoln, Lincoln to Omaha, Columbus to Omaha, and a second one hundred fifteen KV line south of the present line, between Columbus and Omaha. A one hundred fifteen KV line between Columbus and Norfolk was also installed; and a sixty-nine KV line from Norfolk to Windside and to Belden is an integral part of the system.
High voltage transmission substations are located at Lincoln, Omaha, Fremont, Norfolk and Belden, plus the substation at the Columbus power house.
The district also built, in addition to its splendid modern headquarters building at 2422 Fourteenth Street, a large central combination garage, warehouse and shop, located at Twelfth Avenue and Fourteenth Street.
The next step in the development of public power in Nebraska was the integration of the three big hydros in the state --- the Loup, Central Nebraska, and Platte Valley --- for the purpose of pooling manufactured current and revenues. This unified distribution system, directed by a Board of Managers which comprised the respective general managers of the three districts, Harold Kramer of Loup, George Johnson of Central Nebraska and Gerald Gentleman of Platte Valley, went into effect on August 15, 1940.
Dewey J. De Boer, at that time chief electrical engineer for the Loup River Public Power District, was given the added work of superintendent of the eastern division, with headquarters in Columbus, and R. D. McWha, chief engineer for Platte Valley, was given the added position of superintendent of the western division with headquarters at North Platte.
The move toward integration was made since it was felt that the hydros, being three entities, should work together so that they would not compete against each other for the market of power. An agreement was drawn up whereby they would each operate separately up to the
© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller