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Red Lake Electric Cooperative owes its existence to two impatient men: Red Lake County Agent Ernest Palmer and farmer George Remick, Sr.
In early 1938, Palmer called a meeting at the courthouse in Red Lake Falls to explain the Rural Electrification Administration’s loan program. Remick showed up along with about 15 other farmers. They asked Palmer a lot of questions, but apparently took no action.
At a second or third meeting, according to a history of the co-op written in 1981, a frustrated Palmer admonished, “We can hold meetings all summer, but if we don’t decide to go ahead and form our cooperative it will amount to nothing.”
Remick shot out of his seat, waving a $5 bill as he walked toward Palmer.
“I want to be the first to buy a membership,” he said.
Seven others followed suit, and the small not-for-profit utility in northwest Minnesota was off the ground. Incorporation papers were filed in August 1938.
At about the same time, a group of farmers in neighboring Pennington County was trying to organize a co-op. On the advice of the Rural Electrification Administration field man for the area, the farmers decided to merge with the Red Lake County group.
On March 8, 1936, 253 farmers met at Community Hall in Red Lake Falls to elect a board of directors representing both counties.
Their most pressing issue was membership, the lifeblood of every co-op. REA wasn’t going to approve a loan if they didn’t get their numbers up, the field man, Ralph Rice, warned.
“Getting memberships in the cooperative was most difficult,” the history says. “Many hours and days were spent in urging farmers to join. A rumor was about that a farmer might be personally liable if the cooperative failed. This was not true, however.
“Finally, the board hired a few solicitors at $4 per day to travel the countryside to urge the farmers to become members. Even then, progress was disappointingly slow, although no one felt like quitting.”
Enough new memberships dribbled in over the next two years so that in early 1940, REA loaned Red Lake Electric $243,000 to build 238 miles of line.
Bids were opened on June 11, 1940, and soon after that, trucks and workers from Sorkness Construction Company of Jamestown, North Dakota, arrived in Red Lake Falls.
“Most of the line work was done by hand; holes for the poles were dug by hand with long-handled shovels, brushing by axe and crosscut saw, poles were raised by pike poles and tamped by hand,” says the history.
Meanwhile, farmsteads and barns were being readied for the new technology. But many farmers couldn’t afford the $200 to $300 required for a decent wiring job. The board sought help from REA.
“REA agreed to advance $5,000 to the cooperative to re-loan to members for wiring. Later, $10,000 more was loaned for the same purpose. It was a busy time that summer, fall and winter. It was quite common for wiring crews to room and board at the farm.”
Finally, work and inspections were complete on distribution lines serving several hundred farms, and Red Lake Electric was ready to sell kilowatt-hours.
On March 14, 1941, the first section of line was energized. Meter 1 was at a small-grains farm near the co-op’s Terrebonne substation, about 10 miles southeast of Red Lake Falls.
Ernest Palmer’s and George Remick’s impatience to take action when others might have kept talking had paid off.