Bob Mitchell: Businesses light up with arrival of rural electricity

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Some folks will remember, others will not, when Cassville’s motel facilities began expanding in the late 1940s with the coming of electricity to the rural areas of south Barry County.

Responsible for this was the coming of Barry Electric Cooperative and a gentle push from area roads being covered from gravel to asphalt surfaces.

Involved in both of these improvements was a firm located in Lamar, the Frank Horton Engineers, which was the prime company that was employed in those days to accomplish projects in this area. Horton Engineers did both the contracts on paving roads once Missouri had the funds to get this done and then was successful in bidding for laying out lines that would eventually provide electricity to the area.

Being fortunate enough to be available in those days, during my senior year in high school and just before military service, gave me some valuable experience and an opportunity for outdoor employment.

Road to Shell Knob paved

It was Highway 86 in pre-Table Rock Lake days that carried traffic from Cassville to Shell Knob. It was one of the first routes paved, due to a conspiracy between the river community and the local Chamber of Commerce. Lone communication between the two was a Forest Service telephone lines that kept Isaac Epperly, a Shell Knob merchant, and Fred Meador, Cassville hardware businessman, in contact concerning traffic counters on the route.

Epperly would phone Meador informing him that “suckers were running” in the river, a signal to send local vehicles toward the river area to be counted by going over the devices. Businessmen would provide the autos and younger drivers would make their way eastward.

The idea worked until an overly ambitious youth decided to set on the counter with his vehicle and roll back and forth over the counter. This rouse was quickly discovered by the Highway Department locally, and the practice was eliminated.

Normal traffic later ruled and contracts were awarded for the paving.

Flagging traffic

Attempting to keep traffic out of freshly shot oil on the project and checking gravel hauls was an easy but lonely job. There were times it was also difficult, as the citizenry of the area didn’t always follow instructions about keeping out of the oil. They had traveled the route on their side for a long time and some were not going to be persuaded to change habits.

This caused problems at times, with the engineer in charge sometimes running down the culprit for a scolding.

Electricity opened the door

Establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) opened the door for cooperative organizations to borrow funds to build power lines in their franchised areas throughout the United States. Cassville’s Barry Electric Cooperative was formed, purchasing a private power company here. Not only did the move eliminate lanterns and wood-burning stoves in the area, arrival of electricity opened the door for a business growth in Cassville.

Electric appliance firms began arriving in town with the area getting a shot at new appliances. Miller Appliances, from Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Miller had multi-lines of appliances. Hutton Electric, owned by Oscar Hutton and Johnny Tucker, had G.E. units. Then, there were alternate owners of both Sears and Montgomery Ward catalog stores.

These businesses flourished during the first arrival of electric power to various communities. Initially, refrigeration units seemed to be the most important to rural areas. During this era there were still those who preferred to cook on wood stoves. After all, this method had been good enough for their forefathers.

The Horton company was in charge of surveying for the lines, encountering problems at times when farmers would attach object to poles or anchor lines being placed in their corn fields. Right-of-way procurement was under Millard Whisman of Shell Knob, who often found refusals to sign easements.

It was always obvious that problems existed as Whisman’s Ford coupe put up a cloud of dust coming toward the crew when he discovered an easement turn down. It was never a problem for the Horton engineer as he had plenty of other locations to survey.

Whisman would later become the Barry County court’s southern judge.

When this occurred, the crew would change locations and wait for neighbor pressure to change a refusal’s mind.

Motels followed economy

Both the Millers and the Huttons put the results of their successful businesses to work for Cassville by constructing much needed motel facilities.

The Miller project was originally Holiday Motel, later requesting a name change. For the Huttons, it was the Rainbow Motel in the southwest part of town, adjacent to the Rainbow Dinner House owned by Hutton’s brother, Forrest.

A reminder

Just in case it might have slipped your mind, this Sunday is April 15, meaning that your contributions to Uncle Sam are due at this time. Coming on the weekend, you’ve got until Monday to get your check in the mail!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.