Electric Utility History

As recorded by Lee Miller...

In the early 1930's Coon Rapids was being served electricity through a 25 year franchise agreement with Iowa Power. The franchise was running out and Iowa Power was asking for an election to renew it.

The town Council at that time was composed of: Vern Whitnell, Mayor and Councilmen John Miller, Meade Steel, Leo Waterous, Cliff Whitten and Bud Galloway.

John Miller a civic minded fellow, was always in favor of everything that was good for Coon Rapids. In the early days he fought to remove the hitching posts in Coon Rapids and pave the town. He was also instrumental in having a municipal swimming pool and golf course.

In Iowa there is a law, the Simmer Law, that allows a Municipality to sell bonds to buy or build an electric plant and pay for it from the earnings of the plant.

Mr. Miller took it upon himself to visit every Municipal Plant in the State of Iowa and when he finished he knew more about kilowatts than Iowa Power did an began selling the idea of a Municipal Plant to the voters of Coon Rapids.

An election was held and the vote not to renew the franchise was passed by a good margin.

Iowa Power did not want to lose the business as they were dragging out $40,000 a year in profit. Iowa Power lawyers moved in on us, fighting us with our own money. They bought off the local newspaper and the two lawyers in town.

The town council were dubbed the good guys and fought back. Every time a full page ad in the newspaper showed up with propaganda and mis-statements, the good guys saw to it that every house in town got a letter tearing the newspaper ad to shreds and telling the truth.

There was a mimeograph in the back of the Garst Store used to send out direct mail advertising. The good guys and other citizens met there to get out the letters. They had lots of editors and what one didn't think of another one would. "I wish I had saved those letters but I didn't. They would be great to look at now 50 years later."

Mud slinging and name calling was quite prevalent. "I was shaking in my boots." The town got sued for slander. But the good guys operated on the theory that you can't get sued unless you threaten someone and they hadn't threatened anyone yet.

I do remember one letter that ended up in a rat story. "Tut" Hayner was a nice old fellow who didn't have an enemy in the world. His only enemy was his habit; that of drinking to much. On night he slept in a barn. The next day he met with his buddies at the local saloon and told them he slept in the barn last night and the barn had so many rats in it he didn't get a wink of sleep. He said there must have been a thousand rats in the barn. Someone said "Tut a thousand rats is a lot of rats," and Tut said "I bet there was 500." They said 500 rats is a lot of rats too. Tut said "Well I bet there were 200 rats and I won't come down another rat." The harassment went on for two town elections and 6 years.

After the franchise was defeated the council let the contract for the building and a Fairbanks Morse engine to make kilowatts. No sooner had the first brick been laid and Iowa Power got an injunction against us. This went to the Supreme Court and they sat on it for 6 years and two city elections.

Just before each election lawyers and nice appearing fellows move in on us. We fought lawyers from Cedar Rapids to New York.

At the first election a nicey nice fellow and his wife moved into Coon Rapids with the excuse they were going to retire and live in Coon Rapids because it was such a nice town. They joined every club in town, even the golf club, and the old fellow had never hit a golf ball in his life. When they got a chance they would talk in favor of a franchise for Iowa Power. In a bigger town than Coon Rapids that would work but in Coon Rapids where everyone knew everyone else's business it didn't work.

Before every election the lawyers tried to get a mayor and council elected who would be in favor of a franchise for Iowa Power so they could call for another election. But the good guys won every election and even kept growing in votes. But we still couldn't build a Municipal Plant because the Supreme Court was still sitting on the injunction.

Time went on and after the 6th year a Town election was coming up. In comes the nicey nice fellows from Iowa Power. One of them talked to Whoopie Phipp. Whoopie was not that smart but he could talk pretty good. The nice fellow figured here is our man. He told Whoopie there was a home for sale North of the park. He would buy the house and turn it into a grocery store. When customers came in he would talk to them in favor of a franchise. Whoopie went into the grocery business. Election came up and the good guys won again.

I guess the Supreme Court got worried they might get investigated and they lifted the injunction. Whoopie sold his grocery store and went back to Missouri.

The contractor started work again and the plant got going. After 6 years the demand for electricity had grown so much the Fairbanks Morse engine was not big enough. Another one was bought which was an added expense but when it got going one can look around and see what it has done for Coon Rapids.

I don't know what the Municipal Electric holdings would be worth, but it would be quite a bit I am sure. And look at the beautiful Municipal Building which has been paid for by the people who paid there electric bills at a cost per kilowatt that had Iowa Power skinned to death.

If we were still under a franchise to Iowa Power we would not have one thing to show for it.

The good guys who made this possible should have a monument at the head of the cemetery.

Thanks for listening.


Lee Miller