New people and new things were always arriving in Wells, Nevada. In the mid-1800s, lush meadows and clear, cool springs made it a natural rest stop for emigrants on the California Trail. Next came the Central Pacific Railroad, which built a water tower and then a depot. Chinese laborers came with the railroad, followed by gold miners and cattle ranchers.
Rural electrification arrived nine years before it became a national initiative. The man responsible, Harry Cazier, convinced businessmen in town to invest in a hydroelectric plant on Trout Creek, where he operated a hatchery.
On July 29, 1927, Wells Power Company signed contracts with the Pelton Wheel Company for the turbine and General Electric for the generator. Over the next five months, workers dug a summer reservoir, laid 1,300 feet of penstock pipe, built an eight-mile transmission line from the powerhouse to town, and finally, strung wire on a small distribution grid that included streetlights.
As the line work progressed, Wells residents wired their homes and bought fixtures and light bulbs. Refrigerators, electric irons, radios and phonographs were given as Christmas gifts that year.
“Everyone was looking forward to the moment the electricity would begin to flow,” says the official history of Wells Rural Electric Company, a co-op that succeeded Wells Power Company in 1960.
“The Hydro,” as the power plant is affectionately called, has kept chugging along all these years and still serves a small portion of the co-op’s load.
The first circuit—115 homes and 30 businesses—was energized on December 17, 1927. More circuits were soon added, and within a year, the 120-kilowatt GE generator couldn’t keep up. Two Sterling Marine engines were installed to meet the evening load. They ran on gasoline.
Zelda Wiseman, one of about a dozen older co-op members and local officials interviewed for the WREC history, said “we ran wires across the ceiling in each of the four rooms of our house.” They soon bought a Sears Silvertone radio, “a fancy cathedral model.”
People in town couldn’t have been happier with Wells Power Company, which kept adding gas or diesel generators as demand grew. But as the years went by, ranchers like Vernon Dalton, who would later serve on NRECA’s board of directors for 23 years, got tired of keeping loud, fuel-guzzling, “skin your knuckles” residential generators going.
Dalton and two other Clover Valley ranchers paid Cazier a visit one summer day in 1957, and it was as if he’d been waiting for them for months, maybe years. As Bob Wright recalled, Cazier told them there were four things they had to do: form a co-op, get an REA loan, buy him out, and make wholesale power arrangements with Idaho Power, the only supplier in the area.
“At that time, private utility companies were fighting cooperatives tooth and nail for territory,” recalled Jim Ballard. “But Harry saw the big picture, that the only way the area surrounding Wells ever was going to have electricity was if a cooperative was successful.”
Wells Rural Electric Company incorporated later that year and in mid-May 1958 learned that its $1.6 million REA loan had been approved. In 1959, the new co-op fought off a territorial challenge by another start-up utility (White Pine Power District) that went all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court.
The next year, WREC signed a contract with Idaho Power and built distribution lines south of Wells into Clover Valley and Ruby Valley and northwest to the Metropolis area. Another line was being built north to Wilkins and Contact. In June 1960, WREC served 583 consumers.
In 1962, WREC bought Wendover Power Company, which served its namesake town on the Utah border, about 60 miles east of Wells. Next came Carlin, 72 miles west on I-80, which had been electrified in the early 1920s with “Betsy,” a 25-kilowatt generator that ran on an exotic blend of gasoline and coal oil and had been salvaged from a boarded-up hotel in Metropolis.
On May 14, 1979, Betsy’s successor generators were shut off, and WREC started serving 600 Carlin residents, according to Virl Manning, who worked in the powerhouse and was interviewed for the co-op’s history.
The last piece of the Wells Rural Electric Company puzzle was placed on February 4, 1986, the day the co-op energized its Pine Valley line (south of Carlin), bringing the 20th century to the doorsteps 16 ranching families.