Out to the outskirts: The grid grows

(Editor's note: this is the fourth in a series of articles about the genesis of electric power in Wadena, written by local historian Bob Zosel.) In 1920, farmers from south and east of Wadena approached the council asking that the electric servic...

(Editor's note: this is the fourth in a series of articles about the genesis of electric power in Wadena, written by local historian Bob Zosel.)

In 1920, farmers from south and east of Wadena approached the council asking that the electric service be extended to give them service. The council agreed that the line should be extended with the construction outside the limits to be paid by the farmers, with a minimum consumption of 10 kilowatts at a price of $2 per month.

Later in the year, the mayor stated that the light department was showing a profit of $1,000 per month and that there were now 525 electric light patrons.

In 1921, the newspaper noted that residents in the outskirts of town would be pleased to learn that the city had purchased the necessary material to carry street lighting to every corner of the city wherever practical, with 29 new lights being added.

In June the council entered into a contract with the Fargo Electric Company to install a White Way 34-post system for a cost of $5,169.19, $2,050 of which was raised by private subscription, with installation to be finished by September.


There were eight posts to the block with four on each side and a style of a single light cast iron post, massive in appearance and weighing about 500 pounds. The posts were to be 11 feet and 3 inches high. Posts were to be installed running from the NP crossing to the court house and along Front Street (Aldrich) from the NP depot to Third street (Jefferson).

As was typical of such things, if the lights would have been purchased eight years earlier when discussion started they would have been obtained for a cost of about $2,000.

The Pioneer Journal reported that the White Way was turned on for the first time that Sunday night. The paper said the effect was one which did credit to the city and was a distinct relief from the same worn arc lamps which had rendered service for so many years.

In 1922, the White Way was extended for three blocks south on Third street (Jefferson) with three posts to the block.

New electric rates of 7 cents for the first 50 kilowatts and 4 cents for any excess went into effect in July.

In 1923, a newspaper article deplored the fact that recent electric interruptions were caused by broken insulators serving as targets for boys armed with 22-caliber rifles. An offer of a $50 reward was made to anyone who could furnish information to secure the arrest of any involved individuals.

The Little Falls Power Company was doing all in its power to give 100 percent service, and was succeeding admirably. It may also be remarked that the price of electric current in Wadena was lower than an any other community in central Minnesota.

In 1924, it was announced that Minnesota Power and Light Company purchased the Little Falls Power Company.


In 1927, the council decided that the White Way be extended north to Wesley Hospital and south from Franklin Avenue to Irving.

In 1928, the council decided that voltage regulators should be installed at the light plant resulting in a decided improvement to electric users for power purposes.

Although the voltage regulators were supposed to improve service, a group of power users appeared before the council demanding that some drastic action be taken to remedy the existing unsatisfactory condition. Some of these men are entirely dependent on electric service and the delegation favored the installation of a city light plant unless better service was received. It was brought out that the electric light service has been impaired at almost every rainfall and thunderstorm this summer and sometimes even when a cloud or two appeared in the sky. The council promised immediate action. The previous evening, a banquet was served at Fair Oaks Lodge sanatorium and candles had to be used.

Minnesota Power and Light, to combat the above problem, replaced the section of line between Staples and Verndale, which had been a major problem and relocated sectionalizing swatches which would enable them to locate trouble quicker.

In 1929, an answer to continued problems and the fact that the Wadena area outlook is extremely bright, Minnesota Power and Light launched a new construction program of considerable magnitude. This included the building of two new 33,000-volt transmission lines into the newly constructed sub station.

In 1931, a few disgruntled large power users again approached the council seeking cheaper power rates. They stated that if they could not obtain cheaper rates, they advocated the installation of a diesel engine generating plant that could market electric power at a flat rate of 2 cents per kilowatt with no demand requirement. The city responded with a proposal of a lower rate if the users would consent to shut off their power from 4:30-7 p.m. during the months of November, December and January, when the village peak demand is established. It was decided to install demand meters to determine horsepower peaks and time of occurrences. Later in the year the power rates were reduced on a sliding scale.

In 1932, there was again talk of a municipal diesel generating plant. A statement by a representative of the Fairbanks Morse Company said that he felt confident that with the conditions existing in Wadena that a municipal diesel electric plant would pay for itself within a few years out of savings effected. A committee of council members was appointed to make a thorough study of local electric needs and to make recommendations.

Later in the year in a temporary measure "fitted to these stressful times" the village council adopted what were termed "depression rates" for the sale of electric light and power. The plan proposes that the village retail its current strictly on a cost basis. It was stressed that the plan was temporary in nature and designed to help the consumer during the next year.


In 1933, Councilmen Ted Anderson and R. A. Stuntebeck attended a Municipal Utilities Association conference to further investigate the feasibility of a municipally owned power generating plant. This was occasioned by a persistent agitation for same.

Later in the year the council authorized the Starbuck Construction Company to make a survey of the local situation and prepare a plan for a suitable power plant and generating equipment.

In 1934, the council signed a 10-year contract with Minnesota Power and Light Company. Primary features of the new contract are the elimination of the "ratchet" peak demand clause and the allowance of a 5 percent discount for signing a 10-year contract. In signing, the council was given protection on any lowering of rates and the contract is subject to cancellation upon proper notice.

In 1935, the council appointed Councilmen Frank Ebner and Ted Anderson to supervise and direct work that is designated to eliminate all radio noises originating in the lines of the village's electric distribution system. The council assured radio listeners that they would do all in their power to rid the town of unnecessary radio interference.

In that year in a Minnesota survey of electric rates, Wadena ranked 20th in 38 cities for 25 kilowatt hours, with the low rated city first.

In 1938, a special low rate to apply on hot water heaters was adopted by the council in an effort to encourage use of this type of electrical equipment. The rate was set at 1 1/4 cents per KWH with $1 as the minimum monthly charge. Heaters had to be equipped with time switches and separate meters which were supplied by the village.

The time switch automatically cut off the current during the peak load hours between 4:30-8:30 p.m.

In 1940, the council authorized plans for extension of the white way because of the growth of the business district. It will be extended on Aldrich Avenue east to the Equity creamery and south on First Streets southwest and southeast. Additional White Way lights will also be installed on both Bryant and Colfax Avenues.


A news article stated that Wadena's new Christmas decorations on Jefferson would be lit Saturday night to inaugurate the holiday season. Village workmen were busy all week stringing the decorations which include long draped ropes of Christmas tree sprigs across the street. Adding new color to them are the large transparent red bells and bright silver wreaths on each Christmas arch. At each intersection from Aldrich to the courthouse are the usual bright criss-cross strings of lights.

Much has transpired from the above to the present time. Power distributors have changed dramatically with Wadena changing many years ago. Demand has changed greatly over the years and facilities have changed and grown to handle this increase.

Wadena should be very proud of its light and water department and the efficient and reliable service offered. When one considers their own usage of electric power and how it has changed it is reason to be grateful for this great service.

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