Bob Mitchell: Memories of surveying

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

It took the Barry Electric Cooperative's 70th annual meeting to shake loose some memories and lessons learned while surveying for future line construction before my 18th birthday.

In 1946, when I was just about to enter my senior year in high school, a job opportunity came up. A representative of Frank Horton Engineering of Lamar (still in business) came by the Cassville Democrat office to place an ad for help with a survey crew about to begin laying out power lines for a newly established electric cooperative that was made possible by the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).

When my uncles at the paper noticed the ad, they put in a word for their nephew. Meeting the rep was an easy choice since he was a baseball fan and we had a practice session that afternoon, which he attended.

Establishment of the Cooperative wasn't fully accepted in the community, which was being served by Missouri Electric, represented by Jim Dopp. He was a well-liked individual, who was a valuable asset for Cassville and the surrounding area. He also had a red-headed son, Carl, who was an outstanding athlete for Cassville's Wildcats. The family, including wife Laura, lived on south West Street and Second, later to become the home of Cooperative Manager George Robbins.

When the Dopp family left Cassville, he became associated with Empire District Electric in Joplin. While there, Carl carved himself a reputation as player with the Joplin Eagles basketball team. In later years, Mrs. Dopp became a housemother for a fraternal group on Missouri Southern Campus.

The crew

Surveying for new power lines meant approaching people in those days, hopefully when they were having a good day. I never thought some would let a small matter stand in the way of them having electrification come to their rural home.

Millard Whisman of Shell Knob was the right-of-way man on the job. It was his job to stay ahead of the survey crew and obtain permission from landowners to get on their property, and later to permit the construction of power lines running through the area. Whisman drove a little black Ford coupe up and down rural roads. In those days, you could most likely tell where he was by the clouds of dust that would follow him on the dirt roads, none of which were paved in those days.

The survey crew included Bob Hawk, who drug the chain for measuring and the engineer whose notebook contained all a construction crew would need to know, including me running the transit.

The staking was for location of poles with it quite frequently required cuttings for designation of where anchor lines were to be installed for turning corners or bracing poles for whatever reason might occur.

Problem existed

This is where the lesson portion of the job appeared.

Often in about any area we were working, that Whisman cloud of dust would appear on the horizon and the right-of-way man would inform the crew that a landowner ahead of our intended route would not give permission to cross his land because he did not want to permit poles or anchors, which would be placed in an undesired location in his corn field or pasture.

When this occurred, the engineer would simply instruct us to mark our positions, and we would be on our way to another location in the Barry Electric area.

The lesson learned here was how anyone could sacrifice the opportunity to have electrical power in their rural homes and buildings over the simple location of poles or anchors in a field. The poles were almost always in the fencerow, which no one in these parts plowed anyway, and anchors were most generally in a field corner for future construction of lines.

It became obvious after a few of these instances that some folks in Barry County were very possessive of their land and really were not ready to let someone or something come along and tell them what was going to happen on that real estate.

Hat in hand

The situation eventually came to a solution, as the engineer always told us it would, when the farmer who wouldn't sign easements would appear at Barry Electric headquarters, hat in hand, and gladly sign the right-of-way papers to permit the survey crew to eventually return to that district in the franchise area and resume work.

It was generally obvious in these instances that neighbors, who were to be served beyond this disgruntled property owner, had heard of his decision not to permit further survey work, which had simply lengthened their date of acquiring the new power lines, had been more successful in persuading this guy in accepting the lines than could anyone else.

This is simple reasoning, but it works.

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