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Trusted voice of Texas Co-op Power turns 75

A Commitment to Quality of Life

Charles Lohrmann | Editor 

Since July 1944, Texas Co-op Power has been a trusted voice for Texas electric cooperatives, bolstering a movement to light up rural areas and tell the stories of people who live there. The magazine’s mission to empower rural communities has been the constant behind the headlines.

Following World War II, Texas Co-op Power fought for the very existence of electric cooperatives and the Rural Electrification Administration. The headlines reflected the intensity of the battle: Phony Campaign Aimed at Co-ops or Utility Lobby Unveils Its Power Grab Plan.

In the ’40s and ’50s, the magazine amplified the voices of farm families disenfranchised from electric power, countering outlandish charges that co-op members were communists or that nonmembers were taxed to support rural electricity.

The co-ops’ life-or-death struggle with investor-owned utilities evolved into community building through shared information. The magazine’s focus shifted to optimizing the opportunities offered by electricity and answering questions about new appliances for the recently electrified farm.

The magazine set its sights on identifying challenges and outlining solutions, whether it was describing the home of the future or simply explaining how to use a waffle iron. And not all policy talk was about power. One 1982 article outlined a tough forecast for agriculture, noting that, in 1981, a bushel of corn that sold for $2.40 cost a farmer $3.11 to produce.

Rural Texans are not as isolated now as they were in the days before electricity. Yet, Texas Co-op Power remains a valued resource for understanding the fundamental changes technology brings.

For our 75th anniversary, we reflect on the magazine’s work to educate readers on the benefits the cooperative model affords—to shine a light on the fruits of cooperation. Whether it was the glow of a homestead’s first lightbulb or the gentle hum of a modern family’s new electric vehicle, Texas Co-op Power explained these advances. And when the next mystifying technology inserts itself into your life, we’ll be there, too.

For 75 years, Texas Co-op Power has committed to improving co-op members’ quality of life.

David Vogin

The Domestic Electric

Jessica Ridge | Communications Specialist

In the 1930s and 1940s, power lines newly installed across the countryside didn’t just deliver light. As the once-quixotic prospect of an electrified rural home became a reality, the electricity the lines carried ultimately delivered families from the drudgery of onerous, time-consuming chores that many urban residents had already dispensed with. Quotidian routines could be accomplished faster and with less tedium, and tasks that once were tethered to the sun’s schedule could now be completed under a lightbulb’s glow.

Amid this development, Texas Co-op Power consistently advocated readers’ parity with urban dwellers. As the November 1944 issue asserted, “New or old, the farm home that has high-line electric service easily can and should have as modern a kitchen as any found in the most up-to-date city residence.” That story detailed the timesaving benefits of an electric range, refrigerator and dishwasher while also cautioning readers to proceed sensibly. Noting that the expense of a modern kitchen could be financed, the magazine offered an alternative for readers loath to take on consumer debt: “You can install it piece by piece as your income permits.”

The Cranek family, members of Wharton County Electric Cooperative, took advantage of this convenience. Before getting an electric range in 1943, Mrs. L.V. Cranek cooked on a wood stove, and in July 1951, she told Texas Co-op Power that the range was “just like a dream in comparison.” The homemaker didn’t mince words when she summed up the difference electric light and appliances made: “Before rural electrification the farm was no pleasant place to live.”

From its earliest days, Texas Co-op Power has provided safety tips and practical guidance to help readers derive the greatest value from the life-changing innovations rural Americans had for so long gone without. In particular, thrift achieved through timely maintenance has been a refrain. “Major repairs, or replacements, can often be avoided by proper care of your appliances and by making minor repairs,” the August 1950 issue advised. “By these preventative measures, you can realize the fullest efficiency, value, and longevity from household tools.”

It’s advice that has stood the test of time—just like this magazine. 

David Vogin

The Digital Age

Kaye Northcott | Editor 2001–2010

Let’s face it. The digital age has been hard slogging for those of us raised during the typewriter age. I am happy to say that Texas Co-op Power has been helping educate us about digital technology since the ’70s.

The earliest tech reports dealt mainly with the billing process. Readers later learned of electronic meter-reading technology, cooperative-provided satellite TV, computer programs designed to simplify and quantify farm and ranch operations, and software that could digitally monitor entire electrical systems. I particularly enjoyed a 1986 column titled Memo From Mary explaining how new “cellular telephones” allowed you to “make a telephone call from anywhere, your car, the beach, or from a picnic table.” What a wonder.

Co-ops worked hard in the ’90s to help rural areas keep up. For example, Fayette Electric Cooperative helped organize a Texas Rural Internet Conference. Many co-ops developed internet services and created their own digital homepages with practical advice about all things electrical. Co-ops pushed to get rural school libraries and hospitals wired.

A handy new column named Corner was born in 2000, the year I went to work for the magazine. In 2001, I wrote a story called Cyberspace Country, for which I visited co-op members Don and Diane Harmeier, who had been able to get a dedicated T1 phone line, enabling them to operate a software company on their ranch 8 miles outside Kerrville. It was 50 times faster than the commonly available dial-up service.

Texas Co-op Power and local cooperatives vigorously advocated and frequently provided greater communications services for co-op members such as the Harmeiers. Today, most members speed confidently along the information highway. But many rural Texans still can’t get fast fiber-optic internet like I have in Austin because it requires digging underground and laying cable at great expense. Google just offered my neighborhood Fiber 1000, which can download a high-definition movie in 43 seconds. But, co-op folks, be consoled by how far service has come. In 2001, when I was checking what rural areas could get, it took many long hours to download just a short video on a dial-up connection. Stream on.

David Vogin

Exotic Energy

Joe Holley | Editor 1998–2000

A few miles west of Marfa, along state Highway 90, is a delightful art installation celebrating the iconic movie Giant, a larger-than-life celebration of the mythic Texas oil industry. The ’50s classic, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, was filmed on a nearby ranch.

What we don’t have, but should, is a movie celebrating the unsung efforts of those scientists, engineers, technicians and, yes, electric co-op professionals who have been working to harness the wind, sun and other renewables. Flip through the past 40 years of Texas Co-op Power, and you won’t find material for a modern-day Taylor-Hudson love story—though when

I was editor, we staged a James Dean look-alike cover —but you will find articles chronicling efforts to find alternatives to fossil fuels. It’s an ongoing story of the exotic becoming the everyday.

In 1971, the talk was of electric tractors. In 1978, it was a solar satellite that would beam electricity back to earth by microwave. Texas Co-op Power reported in 1980 that Sen. James McClure of Idaho foresaw electric cars dominating American highways by 2000. The senator’s prediction was a bit optimistic, and yet other “experimental” efforts the magazine explored have gone mainstream.

Near Tulia, in 1979, a wind turbine located on a Swisher Electric Cooperative member’s farm was help-ing irrigate corn and grain sorghum fields. In 1980, Lighthouse Electric Cooperative was involved in a solar “power tower” project to help meet the power needs of Crosbyton. The power tower used the sun’s energy to produce steam, which drove a conventional turbine.

Also in 1980, Elton McGinnes, manager of Southwest Texas Electric Cooperative in Eldorado, told TCP about a geothermal resources committee that was overseeing probes into the earth in search of temperatures high enough to generate electricity.

In 2004, Texas Co-op Power proclaimed the West Texas town of McCamey the “wind energy capital of Texas.” The magazine reported that hundreds of “monolithic metal giants with three-pronged blades” had brought renewed prosperity. “The wind power source will never be capped. There will always be potential,” Walt Hornaday of Cielo Wind Power enthused.

The magazine also quoted a United Nations study concluding that Texas had more renewable energy in wind, solar and biomass than any other state.

Can’t you just see it? Today’s Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor—George Clooney maybe? Jennifer Lopez?—standing on the porch of their rambling solar-powered ranch house and staring contentedly into the distance at giant, white windmills, blades turning in the West Texas breeze, producing energy forever renewed. And the new James Dean to play Jett Rink? Maybe he plays a poultry farmer, relying on the West Texas sun to keep his birds warm and healthy.

David Vogin

Vehicles of the Hereafter

Gene Fowler | Texas Co-op Power contributor

The future, it seems, is a fickle friend. It always gets here faster than expected, yet it ever lingers as some distant dream. Our high-tech way of life has changed more radically than we could have imagined 25 years ago—but we still are not zipping around through time and space like the folks on The Jetsons.

Back in 1893, the Abilene Reporter noted distant rumblings of “an important change in the method of municipal transport.” Stages or carriages, the paper observed, might soon move London’s populace about by means of electric power. “Storage batteries are to be used. No one…will deny that the perfection of the storage battery will make this possible.”

By the time Texas Co-op Power came along, the internal combustion engine had long displaced such electro-transport visions as the German Elektrowagen. More recently, as scientists warn of the dangers of climate change, the electric vehicle has returned as an alternative. And the magazine has been riding shotgun to report the news.

In 1998, the magazine reported on the development of the Toyota Prius, “the world’s first mass-produced hybrid-electric passenger car that doubles the efficiency and halves the emissions of a comparable conventional car.” The following year, then-editor Joe Holley explained that the Prius used both electric power and a gasoline engine, with an onboard computer that “automatically switches” between them or utilizes a combination of the two.

Today, drivers can choose from dozens of hybrid and all-electric vehicles. As Texas Co-op Power noted in 2010, “By 2040, 75 percent of the light-duty ve-hicle miles traveled in the U.S. should be electrically powered.”

Another futuristic gizmo, the drone, has acquired the problematic reputation of being flown dangerously close to commercial airliners. Yet as the magazine reported in 2017, Pedernales Electric Cooperative linemen deployed the remote control quadcopters to repair lines after the Blanco River flooded in 2015, restoring power in hours instead of days.

George and Jane Jetson, we’re catchin’ up at Texas Co-op Power.

David Vogin

Smart Life

Carol Moczygemba | Longtime staff member and Executive Editor 2007–2013

I am a technophobe. I’m doing well to operate a cellphone and a laptop. So I wondered, how did I end up writing about high-tech “smart life” for this 75th anniversary issue of Texas Co-op Power? Then I remembered a story I wrote for the magazine back in 2011: High-Tech Co-ops Changing Energy Realities. I visited five co-ops across the state where the introduction of new technology made a significant difference to co-op members. Some were seeing the benefits of the “smart grid,” while others were enjoying making their own energy with the help of the wind, and still others were monitoring their energy consumption at home from their personal computers.

The story was not an abstract, speculative treatise on technology. This was real life with real people. The co-op staff and members I met showed me how technology, rather than being intimidating, was something that could make life easier by saving time and money.

Looking back over 75 years, it is clear that co-ops were on the forefront of high-tech developments such as the “smart house,” a concept introduced back in 1987 in Texas Co-op Power and actually constructed with co-op sponsorship in 1993.

Remember when there was no internet? No tweets? No electronic meter reading? All of which are taken for granted now. The internet alone has altered life with its seemingly infinite capability to deliver information, from the price of hog bellies on the stock exchange to how to make the perfect mac ’n’ cheese. You’ve already heard about the “internet of things” in the pages of Texas Co-op Power, and you’re sure to hear more as cloud-based apps further enable communication between your smartphone and appliances and electronic systems in your home.

Not only does Texas Co-op Power inform readers about new technologies on the horizon, it helps you understand how they work and what the benefits will be. The magazine can fill that role because it’s a trusted voice and echoes the sentiments of a general manager who once said, “Before we adopt any technology, we look at how it will make us more efficient and benefit our members.”

So maybe I’m really not afraid of high tech, after all.

I just need a little TCP TLC.

David Vogin

The Future Now

Chris Burrows | Senior Communications Specialist

The robotic assistants and flying cars promised by the golden age of science fiction still haven’t materialized in Texas’ homes and garages, but plenty of seemingly sci-fi technologies have. This next generation of tech—the culmination of decades of advances in biotechnology, computer sciences, nanotechnology and engineering—exists mostly in labs and in the cloud (or clouds). But some of it is already starting to show its potential for our everyday lives. The future is now.

For decades, farmers have envisioned a time when automation could put some of their workload in the hands of machines—Willie Wiredhand instead of Willie farmhand. In January 1971, Dick Pence, Texas Co-op Power’s Washington correspondent, wrote about such visions: “The research quest for new machines and instruments has produced some exotic-sounding ideas …electric-powered laser beams to control the depth

of laying drainage pipe; computer-controlled feeding; electrostatic separation of seeds during cleaning processes; portable sensors to measure how much water plants lose during growth; and dozens of other devices.”

But even Pence likely couldn’t have imagined how drones equipped with powerful infrared cameras, automation software and GPS tracking could be used to monitor crops from the air without the farmer ever having to get up from his desk. In April 2017, Texas Co-op Power wrote about that technology, which Juan Landivar, Corpus Christi director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, told us was still a few years away from commercial viability.

Such technologies have the power to revolutionize agribusiness. Other tech promises to change the way Texans do business, travel, interact and, well, live. That’s why we’ve got our eye on advancements such as 5G wireless technology, which may one day make broadband obsolete with its superior wireless connection speeds. And artificial intelligence promises to one day drive our cars for us, produce works of art and defend our skies.

Then there’s wireless electricity. Long dreamed about, it already exists today in the form of wireless pads that charge cellphones, for example. Researchers are looking to apply that concept on a much larger scale. An oddly shaped tower with a metal ball at its peak, along Interstate 35 East in Ellis County, is part of one such study, run by scientists at Viziv. Their goal is the wireless transmission of electricity over large distances.

“The Viziv surface wave systems will improve the quality of life for people everywhere by enabling the delivery of affordable electricity throughout the world,” the company’s website reads.

If they’re ever successful, rest assured, we’ll let you know.