Nineteen thirty-seven was a bad time to try to organize a rural electric cooperative in southwestern Minnesota. The Great Depression hadn’t run its course, and a severe drought the year before had left farmers even more dispirited.
Into this dark civic mood drove Hans Krog, traversing “the entire length and breadth of Lincoln County signing up members,” says the official history of Tyler, Minn.-based Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative.
Krog, wearing bib overalls over a Sunday shirt and tie in an old black-and-white photo, was the co-op’s “membership and easement man,” a job that came with a surfeit of windshield time. “He devoted many hours to the cooperative, for which he was never paid.”
He was able to ease off a bit after the co-op’s organizers in Lincoln joined forces with their counterparts in neighboring Lyon County and the two county agents got into the act. Additional help came from REA field men.
They learned quickly that they were up against more than depression and drought. Power company propaganda over many years left many farmers believing that “blanket coverage of the farming areas with power lines was entirely out of the question.”
Power company officials laughed at the idea that farmers could run an electric utility, and the few who inquired about getting service were quoted prices ranging from $750 to $3,000 per mile to hook up to the nearest power company line. Nobody had that kind of money.
But the organizers persisted, and two years later, the skeptics had been mostly been beaten back. In fact, some of the power companies “were getting a little nervous about the manner in which these rural electric cooperatives were actually working, building and planning,” the history says.
Lyon-Lincoln Electric Cooperative was incorporated on March 1, 1939. Line construction in the two counties began the following spring. Acme Construction Company of St. Paul submitted the winning bid of $156,156.34.
Krog represented the Lake Benton area (Lincoln County) on the first board of directors.
Wholesale power was purchased either from the municipal power plant in Marshall (Lyon County) or the one in Tyler (Lincoln County). Tyler was willing to sell power to the cooperative at its cost, which was a big factor in starting the ball rolling. The Tyler City Council offered its council rooms for cooperative meetings.
Lyon-Lincoln Electric rented office space in the Tyler Opera House and later in the basement of Citizens State Bank. In January 1941, the board applied for a $10,000 loan from REA to build a headquarters with a warehouse.
An addition was constructed in 1958, and then in 1977 the co-op built its present headquarters, also in Tyler. The co-op sold its old buildings to the city, which remodeled them for use as municipal offices and a public library.
In 1953, Lyon-Lincoln Electric began purchasing wholesale power from Ottertail Power Company and Northern States Power. When these two investor-owned utilities announced dramatic rate increases in the early 1960s, the co-op took its business to East River Electric Power Cooperative in Madison, South Dakota, which transmits power generated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
Those co-op relationships have lasted to this day, when Lyon-Lincoln Electric serves about 3,800 consumers along some 1600 miles of line.