Sunday, December 26, 2010

Electric Plant Gets Early Start in Chariton

Written by John Pierce July 28, 1992

The electric light plant was put into operation in December of 1889.  Before electricity, Chariton residents depended upon kerosene lamps, candles, carbide lighting systems or their own power plants ran by gasoline engines.  Whatever system was used, Chariton residents saw a lot of darkness.

The electric light plant was located at the east end of Braden.  It contained a 280 horsepower steam powered boiler and a 100 horsepower high-speed engine with two dynamos.

The cost of building the light plant was estimated at $13,000.  But the ending figure was in excess of $21,000.  Fifteen hundred dollars was the cost of building the pond and acquiring the land.

The area is now known as Yocom Park, but has been known as East Park, Flatt Park, Lake Como and simply the electric light plant pond.

The area the lake covered included the present ball field and the tennis courts.  The lake didn't fill with water until the fall of 1890.

The lake was a source of pleasure at once.  Jim Crowley of the Schreiber Carriage Works constructed a pleasure boat twenty-six feet long.  This boat was intended for the use of parties on Lake Como.

The lake was also a source of tragedy.  On July 4, 1898, Chariton residents along with people all over the country were celebrating news of the Spanish-American War.

People awoke to the sounds of fireworks as the residents were in a most festive mood.  Fireworks were legal at the time but the mayor proclaimed no fireworks between 9a.m. and 4 p.m.

A big afternoon was planned at Lake Como.  A recreation of Admiral Dewey's battle with the Spanish at Manila was to be staged.

Small battle ships made of wood and manned by local youngsters were launched in Lake Como.  The ships were armed with firecrackers and rockets.

On one ship was manned by fifteen year-old Harley Gartin, the son of ex-sheriff and Mrs. Charles Gartin.  In the excitement of battle with the large crowd cheering wildly, no one noticed young Gartin's ship catch fire.  It is likely that his clothes also caught fire and he was forced to jump into Lake Como.

Albert Stuart saw Harley in the water and tried in vain to rescue him.  All efforts were to no avail and his body was recovered 50 minutes later.

The electric light plant was not an instant success as not everybody chose to hook up to this new system.  Smith H. Mallory as always took progressive leadership by installing electric lighting at the Opera House in March of 1890.

Within five years discussion centered on whether the plant should be sold or continue to be run by the city quite often at a loss.  The cost of running the plant in 1903 was $7,300, while receipts brought in only $5,500.

Impure water from the pond caused yearly repair of pipes and boilers.  In 1895 the cost just to deliver coal to the plant was $600.  The complaint was also that the light plant had been built too far from the business district.

In 1904 the piston head on the big engine broke.  Burlington was the closest place to get one made.  The old piece was shipped out by rail; the new piece was made and shipped back.

All this took over a week, meaning anybody in town who used lights from the light plant did not have them.  The light plant was a source of lights but at times was not too dependable.

As a result, customers were slow to convert to the new system.

Light poles were first placed upon the square, but starting in 1896, the poles were removed to the alleys.

in 1922 the Chariton Improvement Association recommended the light poles be painted.  The first six feet of the poles were painted black.  Then the next four feet were painted white.

By 1906 the light plant began to show a profit.  A second heavy copper cable was strung to the alley behind the Bates Hotel.  The first line ran south to the Glen residence.  It was now much more accessible for residents to hook up.  Most of the power up to that time was by steam or gasoline engine.

1904 saw meters required in businesses or residences where more than three lights were in use.  Prior to 1904 a user could request a meter or pay a flat rate.

The flat rate was set at 15 cents per 1000 watts and shortly dropped to 10 cents per 1000 watts.

Beginning in 1905 patrons were required to go to City Hall to pay their electric bill.  Day power also came in 1905.  Prior to 1905 the light plant was in operation only from dark until midnight.

The electric light plant had a steam whistle which was used to call linemen when trouble occurred on the line.  This would be considered an early paging system.

One long whistle followed by a short blast meant trouble on the commercial line.  The long whistle followed by two short blasts meant trouble on the north residential line.  The long whistle followed by three short blasts meant trouble on the south residential circuit.

Fires were also covered by one long continuous blast.  One Chariton resident noted in 1904 that when an alarm of fire is given, "Engineer Rose will cut loose with the ragtime whistle and keep up the music until the dead are awakened or until the living are entirely satisfied with the performance."

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