hard to imagine a time when electric energy was either real inexpensive
or not available at all.
In late September 1909, Mrs. C.C. Howerton of Cuero
got her monthly statement from the Cuero Light and Power Co.
The bill covered the period from Aug. 26-Sept. 27. During that time,
part of it including some of the traditionally hottest days of any
given year, the South Texas homemaker consumed nine kilowatt hours
The hit? Her gross bill had been $1.35, less a seven-cent discount
for paying her bill within 10 days. But the cost of renting a meter
had to be figured in, and that came to 35 cents for the month. Bottom
line, she owed $1.53.
The fine print on the back of the bill (one small piece of paper just
slightly larger than a cashier’s check) noted that discounts for prompt
payment ranged from 5 to 15 percent depending on the size of the balance.
The ceiling the company envisioned was $50, which back then surely
would have paid for what the local ice plant drew each month.
Mrs. Howerton paid her bill on October 1 in plenty of time to get
Though most people don’t keep their utility statements for any longer
than necessary, for whatever reason, Mrs. Howerton never tossed that
small piece of paper. It ended up in a box of papers an antique store
owner bought at an estate sale in the mid-1980s and was later donated
to the Museum of the Coastal Bend at Victoria.
to return to 1909, Cuero
had being enjoying electric power for more than a decade when Mrs.
Howerton got that bill. The juice came from a hydroelectric plant
powered by waterflow from a dam on the Guadalupe
River. For years, it was the largest privately owned hydroelectric
facility in Texas.
The Howerton household also had telephone service. On Nov. 24, 1902,
the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Co. sent Mrs. Howerton a
handwritten bill for her conversation with “Mrs. York” of San
Antonio. The statement does not say how long the two women talked,
but the chat cost Mrs. Howerton 45 cents.
About the same time, in Kerrville,
Frederick F. Nyc, a bookkeeper who had come to the U.S. from the Czech
Republic, paid his electricity bill for May. The Kerrville Electric
Light, Heat and Power Co. had recorded his power usage for the previous
month at 8 kilowatt hours. For that, he paid $1.60.
Nyc’s monthly telephone bill came in a dime cheaper, $1.50 for residential
service provided by the Kerrville Telephone Co. Evidently, he had
not made any long distance calls that month, since back then they
were listed separately.
Whether they thought their bills were high is not known, but at least
both of them had electricity. In the early 1900s, power available
at the flip of a switch amounted mostly to an urban perk. Country
folks, who back then constituted the majority of the state’s population,
had to make do without electric lighting, refrigerators (still called
“ice boxes”), fans and other modern conveniences.
Arley Walters grew up near Ace in the Big
Thicket in deep East Texas.
Not until 1940, thanks to the Depression-born Rural Electrification
Administration, did his family have electricity.
Many in his neck of the woods viewed the cutting of timber to clear
right of way for power lines with skepticism if not open concern.
To some, it seems like just another New Deal program that either would
fail or be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There were mixed feelings among the Ace land owners about whether
to allow power lines to be built across their property,” Walters wrote
in his 1995 memoir, “East Texas Memories. “A few simply refused to
let the lines be built, forcing the REA to change locations for the
His mother, for one, did not feel comfortable with such a new-fangled
notion as electricity.
“The old ways of doing things were alright with her,” her son recalled.
At some point after the Walters household did finally have power,
Arley’s older brother Buddy got his hands thoroughly covered with
sap while cutting pine.
Here’s how Arley told the story:
“It [the sap] was gummy and sticky and was not easy to remove. [Buddy]
came to Mama and asked her where the kerosene was to wash the tar
off. Mama replied in her typical dry…wit, ‘Son, there is no kerosene,
you will have to use electricity to wash the tar off.’”
Walter’s father, however, fully embraced electrification. With the
massive upswing in industrial production connected to the nation’s
looming entrance into World
War Two, the economy had been improving. Soon, the Walter family
had a refrigerator, a washing machine and an oscillating fan.
Even better, for the first time, they had running water. Until the
power lines came, the family had pulled its water up from an old,
hand-dug well that went down about 50 feet. Thanks to the electric
pump his father installed to get water out of the well, the Walters
soon had running water in their house – even an indoor toilet.
The 20th century had finally made its way to the backwoods country
© Mike Cox
- August 27, 2015 Column
Columns | People
| Texas History
| Texas Towns | Texas
by Mike Cox - Order Here