A dream that took years to come true to every farmer in South Dakota, took the efforts of a number of dedicated people to make this dream a reality.
In the 1940's, a small, but determined group of people decided to try to organize a rural electric cooperative to serve their needs. Rural electric cooperatives no doubt started out very much a dream to a lot of the area farmers at that time. The goal was that maybe a few years down the road they would be able to enjoy the many benefits of electricity as their city counterparts had. In order to realize this goal, many long hours of hard labor, meetings, research, and contacts were necessary.
For years the country was dark. It didn't seem feasible, didn't seem profitable or even possible to provide electric service to the areas of Deuel and Hamlin Counties, an area with sparsely settled population.
H-D Electric, despite its solid structure of today, had a difficult time getting started and faced many problems in its early years due to war interruptions that could have easily have destroyed its shape and its nature to the point of futility. It took perseverance, foresight, and dedication to the ultimate objective on the part from the early organization to bring into being, and keep it headed in the right direction. Both Hamlin and Deuel counties launched their separate rural electrification projects around the same time, but quite independently. The early efforts were directed towards setting up separate cooperatives in each of the counties.
On the records, the Deuel County organization antedated the Hamlin County organization by approximately 2 years. Early Deuel County efforts were directed to affiliating with Sioux Valley Empire Association at Colman in one part of the county while farmers in the northeast part of the county sought to join Whetstone Valley Cooperative at Milbank. Following those independent meetings in Hamlin and Deuel County, an effort was made that gradually consolidated and integrated the two counties together as one cooperative.
0. A. Severude, county agent, was a prime motivator in promoting the idea. Under his direction, member sign up proceeded rapidly. However, actual organizing had a difficult time progressing beyond the signup stage largely due to the insistence of the National Rural Electrification Administration on a strong organization with the potential that would ultimately assure size, volume, and operating efficiency.
About this time there was thought that the consolidation with Hamlin county would be beneficial. With the two counties, Hamlin and Deuel combined, it would assure a good coverage area, volume, and a membership potential for a sound profitable operation, which was required by REA in Washington.
In Hamlin County, the first recorded activity in the minutes is dated October 23, 1940, when objectives were outlined and the first group of officers was formerly named. However, there had been an earlier informal meeting on July 8, 1940, when a small group of interested men assembled in the office of the county agent Cecil Sanderson at Hayti to survey the possibilities. It was then decided to send out a general farm survey on REA, and also call a mass meeting in Hayti on the evening of March 9th, when a representative of the Rural Electric Administration would be present. The representative of the Rural Electrification Administration was on hand at the following meeting to explain the preliminary steps necessary.
The representative from the Rural Electric Administration also urged that a project attorney be obtained to handle preliminary procedure. B. F. Heemeyer, one of the early enthusiasts and a long time secretary-treasurer of H-D Electric contacted F. J. Benthin, Hayti attorney who agreed to serve as project attorney.
On October 9, 1940, a group of twelve men applied for membership at $5.00 each, and this group constituted the entire membership of the cooperative for a number of years while organizational procedure was underway and later when the war curtailed the entire project for the time being. This group consisted of 0. J. Palmer, Castlewood; R. 0 Jacobson, Lake Norden; Al Flakus, Lake Norden; 0. H. Clausen, Castlewood; Erhke Brothers, Castlewood; Dwight Dickason, Castlewood; Berend F. Heemeyer, Castlewood; Anton Bunde, Hayti; Peter Thue, Bryant; W. C. Stormo, Vienna; Clarence Arneson, Hayti; Robert Hopkins, Castlewood. At this meeting held October 29, 1940, Peter Thue was elected President, Clarence Arneson became Vice President, and B.F. Heemeyer, secretary-treasurer. These were the early day officers in the organization of Hamlin County.
As it turned out the consolidation of the two county groups into one organization worked out very nicely. The Deuel County organization had 250 people that were signed up and the nucleus for considerable growth, while Hamlin was already incorporated. By combining both groups, they could capitalize on the time and on the expense each had already contributed separately and over all progress would be expedited.
In November of that same year, an informal consolidation took place and a directorate was informally set up to represent both counties. Gordon Gunderson of Clear Lake, was named coordinator for the organization. Later, upon the resignation of F. J. Benthin, Mr. Gunderson became project attorney.
Banister Engineering Company of St. Paul became project engineer and proceeded to design and outline the system. H-D Electric Cooperative was finally moving ahead.
The first formal annual meeting of the group was held at Hayti on October 25, 1941. The cooperative still consisted officially of the original 12 member group, which was maintained for the purpose of expediency, while the preliminary planning was underway. It was felt that under the indefinite status of the project, when the program had to be developed largely by ear, a large organization would be cumbersome and might hamper rather than help.
At this October 25th meeting, the directory was rearranged slightly to represent both counties. It now read as follows: Peter Thue, President; Hans Megard, Vice President; B. F. Heemeyer, Secretary-treasurer; Harry Gustafson, Clear Lake; W. C. Stormo, Vienna; 3. E. Lindner, Clear Lake; Milt Gauger, Clear Lake; Dwight Dickason, Castlewood; and Robert Hopkins, Castlewood. The first request for funds, $160,000 was asked for November 21, 1941, for project “A”. A contract was made with Otter Tail Power Company for the purchase of power. And finally, the pay of the directors was fixed at $3.50 per meeting plus 5 cents a mile travel allowance.
However, just as the allotment was to be granted, Washington ordered further work held in abeyance for the duration of World War II, then in progress. No further activity took place during the years of 1942, 1943, and 1944.
In April of 1945, word came that Washington was lifting some of the war restrictions at an early date. 0. A. Solem of Clear Lake was named coordinator and other details looking toward early construction were cleared away. Glenn Beck arrived from Sioux Valley Electric, at Coleman, to become project manager and he continued in that position until 1959, which was the date of his retirement. Ed Bott, long time line superintendent, was named manager in 1959.
Fund requests to Washington began to roll faster as activity continued to progress, $50,000 to cover deficiency in the “A Project” contract, $50,000 for membership connections, $100,000 to purchase electricity for approximately 114 customers.
The borrowing limit, for capitalization was fixed at $3,500,000 which at that time was quite an undertaking to try to imagine spending that kind of money building lines throughout the two counties. Since the, the debt limit has been increased to $10,000,000. This is an indication of the growth of H-D Electric over the years since its birth.
In November, 1945, the association voted to transfer headquarters permanently to Clear Lake. It was not until October, 1947 that the official name of the cooperative was changed from Hamlin Electric Association to H-D Electric in order to designate the bi—county extent of the association’s activities.
Actual construction got underway in May, 1946. Roe Construction Company, the contractor, completed “A Project” in its entirety, and this was energized by the time of the 1947 annual meeting. In addition, 330 short extensions were built by the crews of H-D Electric. An additional allocation of $655,000 in funds provided for construction of 340 miles in Hamlin County plus a substation at Hayti. At the annual meeting in March, 1947, action was taken to divide the association into two districts, one for Hamlin County and the other for Deuel. It was specified that not more than 5 directors could be chosen from any one district, in an effort to maintain a harmonious balance between the two areas. This arrangement was in effect until March, 1950, when the membership voted at the annual meeting held at Estelline for a new arrangement whereby the areas were divided into 9 districts, with a director being named specifically for each district. The new district setup in the townships comprising each district is as follows: District I, Brantford, Oxford, Opdahl; District II, Castlewood, Florence, Hayti; District III, Hamlin, Dempster, Hidewood; District IV, Portland, Rome, Goodwin, Havana; District V, Altamont, Clear Lake, Brandt; District VI, Lowe Antelope Valley, Glenwood, Herrick; District VII, Norden, Scandinavia, Hendricks, Oak Lake; District VIII, Estelline, Grange, Bloom; District IX, Dixon, Garfield, Cleveland, Norden.
In August, 1949, a resolution was adopted approving “G Project” construction. This project provided for 72 miles of line to serve 172 members. Thirty-two miles of transmission line between the Clear Lake and Hayti stations was authorized and also a new substation for the Clear Lake sight. A power contract with East-River Electric Cooperative, a Generation and Transmission cooperative organized by the member systems, located at Madison, South Dakota, became operational in May, 1951. At that time the Wheeling contract that the cooperative held with Otter Tail Power Company was canceled.
The transmission line between Clear Lake and Hayti, plus the Clear Lake and Hayti substations were then sold to the East River Electric Cooperative at Madison, South Dakota.