And Then Came Electricity by Ray D. Rains

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"For several years, and since I wrote this article, Iíve been criticized for saying the Big Creek Electric Company wasnít our first commercial electricity. Well, maybe it wasnít, but Iíll put it this way, it was the first we had in our house" (Ray Rains).

The year was 1926, and a new era in living for those in and around Pangburn. The last twenty years had given us the luxury of the automobile, the convenience of the steam driven locomotive on the Missouri and North Arkansas Railway, and if one looked long and close an airplane might be spotted in the sky overhead. But as of then, the electric light had not made its appearance in our fair city.

However, our dream of having the relatively new energy was fast taking form in the shape of a hydroelectric dam being built across Big Creek, two miles north of town. The project had been underway now for two years. And with the approaching summer of that year, it was expected to reach completion.

For most it meant no more time consuming everyday chore of filling the old kerosene lamp and trimming the wick, as the custom had been since I could remember. But for me, I think the most appreciable part was there would be no more trips to the store carrying a dozen or so in eggs to swap for coal oil.

For sometime the town had buzzed with excitement and activity over the prospect of the new energy. Two theaters were under construction, hurrying to reach completion by the middle of summer. Every man in the vicinity with any basic knowledge of electricity was busy hurriedly stringing No. 14 wire through the attics of practically every house in town. The spring of 1926 was indeed a busy time for all.

The founding fathers of the newly organized electric company had graced the enterprise with the name, "The Big Creek Electric Company." During the planning stage much speculation went on of the possibility of expansion, probably as far as the Missouri line, some hundred miles away.

Apparently the company thought little of competition but awoke one morning to find one posed like a vulture, waiting calmly at their door. During the previous night the Arkansas Power and Light Company, later becoming a giant energy corporation, had set utility poles and strung wire to the townís south side city limits. Moving equipment around town in the darkness, they continued construction of the line on to Heber Springs.

For several months to follow there was much controversy as to who would supply electricity to the town. After long days in court, Big Creek Electric was granted the franchise to furnish the cityís electrical needs. However, Arkansas Power was granted easement through town, enabling it to connect to its line on the north side.

But the potentially great Arkansas Power and Light did not have long to wait for the opportunity to serve Pangburn with the energy it has served us with for fifty years. When the devastating spring rains fell in 1927, flooding millions of acres along the Mississippi Valley, the water sheds filled Big Creek beyond its capacity. With the tremendous pressure from the mighty surge, the little earth filled dam failed to counter the attack, giving way to the angry onrush, ending its usefulness beyond repair.

Those of us served by the struggling little company were gravely saddened, but at the same time considering ourselves very fortunate. We were not to wait long to have our electricity restored. In a few hours, A P & L came to the rescue, even then offering a service unexcelled.

Recently, I made a trip to the bluff overlooking the old dam site. Now there is no evidence a hydroelectric dam ever existed. I looked down some three hundred feet at the solid mass of trees covering the valley below. I remembered standing in the very same spot fifty years before while my uncle snapped a picture of the active dam with an old Brownie camera. I also remembered the hustle and bustle that went on below as men resembling ants went about their work around the frame powerhouse. But that was so long ago, I thought. Now with Godís help and time, it has reverted back to its original state, leaving only memories of what it was once.

As I stood and silently studied the valley below, I suddenly realized destiny had again played a winning hand. Now way, even with the amazing success our great engineers have shown us today, could the little earth-filled dam, meet the enormous demands it would have been expected to meet.


        White County Government