Bob Mitchell: Appliance Capital of the Ozarks

Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Mitchell

Cassville could well have claimed the title of Appliance Capital of the Ozarks at one time back in the late 1940s, when Barry Electric Cooperative began extending power lines into the rural communities of their area.

It was in 1948 when the building of lines really got going and there were a couple of businesses that saw the opportunities that appliance businesses might have -- both immediately and long term.

The first to arrive on the scene was Hutton Electric, owned by Oscar Hutton and Johnny Tucker. Hutton was the store man and Tucker was the service and repair expert of the partnership. Their first location was, at the time, in the 900 block of Main Street. As the firm grew, it moved to the new building that Tex Vaughn constructed on the 600 block of Main, across from the present location of the Cassville Democrat.

Second dealer

Later, Rufus Miller opened the Miller Furniture and Appliance on the north side of the square, in the old Dorsey Sturgis garage building where Westco now stands. Joining the successes enjoyed by the fact that electricity was available in hundreds of area homes, Miller later moved to the west side of the square into a new frontage building constructed by Bill Hailey.

Miller jumped on the bandwagon of people switching from iceboxes and kerosene or wood cook stoves when power lines began showing up in their communities.

Then came 3

Bill Carney saw an opportunity to join the appliance and furniture business in Cassville, opening the Golden Rule Store on the east side of the square by the time the early 1950s rolled around. The existence of three dealers near the public square was good for the newspaper business, as their individual lines supported them with advertising dollars.

Their locations also made it convenient to make calls for those responsible for their accounts.

Controversy

Especially interesting in the advertising angle of the business was the approach Miller and Carney took in their ads. In actuality, or for attraction purposes, they chose to question each other's business activities. They got to one point of each claiming to be the largest dealer in Barry County, which was attacked by the other and compared to the weight of their counterpart.

There were times they needed to calm down their approach to advertising, the advice sometimes being accepted. At times, it was a matter of accepting copy or doing without the ads.

No. 4

Arriving late, but an active dealer for both furniture and appliances, was Lavern Thompson, also displaying his merchandise on the east side of the square.

Thompson, who began small, later went after business as aggressively as the others offering similar merchandise. His lines were heavy in carpet and appliances, although the latter came in on the backside of the appliance rush that was created by the arrival of Rural Electrification Power to the Ozarks.

Before REA

Prior to Congress deciding to provide electricity to rural America under Franklin Roosevelt's administration, Cassville was served by Missouri Public Power, which had about 200 miles of lines, serving mostly the town of Cassville.

Jim Dopp was in charge of the company in Cassville and was a stalwart for the community. There were sides taken when the REA organization bought the franchise of MPP. Perhaps some of that resulted in the fact that the Dopps, including son Carl, moved to Joplin, where he continued his career in electrical power with Empire. The red headed son became an outstanding athlete with his new school.

In their franchised area, Barry Electric now has approximately 1,069 miles of lines in their compact area. The size of the service area has always been one of the assets of the cooperative in keeping rates among the most economical in the state.

Expansions

Over the years, there have been talks of possible expansion of the cooperative's franchise area, which have fallen on deaf ears by others involved. Table Rock communities, at one time, felt as though being in Barry Electric's area would be more to their advantage, due to the access of being on the north side of the water.

This line of thinking didn't find much interest in the possible trade areas, who might have figured in advance that it would be to their best interest to retain service to the franchise they held. Their thinking, for the most part, has proven correct.

The rains came

Those of us in our senior years are wondering what conditions might have been in past years when "toad stranglers" or "cloud bursts" hit the area as they have done these past weeks. Ponds, fescue and channel improvements, plus other flood control projects have helped considerably.

I wonder why weather prophets of the Ozarks don't use these terms of heavy rainfall in their forecasts. They're probably not sophisticated enough.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.