by | May 1, 2020

Move turns up photos that tie a co-op to its community

Moving to a new office building can be stressful, especially when the old one has been occupied for decades. Decisions have to be made about what to keep around and what to throw away, with the deciding factor often being “where are we going to put this?”

Crawford Electric Cooperative based in Bourbon faced that decision when it moved into new quarters in 2013. The old office had long since outlived its usefulness. In the basement was a storage area where countless items, too good to be discarded, were stashed. Among the clutter was a treasure trove of memories, a photographic history of the cooperative and its community.

“Electric co-ops are more than electricity,” says Laura Hengstenberg, the Crawford Electric employee who took charge of the old photos. “They are people and small businesses, landscapes and main streets, parades, births and retirements.”

Nearly forgotten, two long, heavy boxes contained neat yellow envelopes carefully labeled with their contents. Inside were crisp black and white prints, negatives and sometimes notes on their subjects. Dates ranged from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, marking the organization as the work of Fred Sadler.

Fred wore a lot of hats during his decade with the cooperative, including power-use advisor and communications person. It was his job to convince members they could use electricity for more than just lights. Some of the photos were his work, others came from the staff of the old Rural Electric Missourian, the original name for Rural Missouri.

The images represent a vanished way of life in small-town America. Taken on old Speed Graphic and Rolleifl ex cameras that exposed large negatives, they rival the best images to come from today’s digital cameras. But it’s the subjects that make these treasures. They show people long gone, grapes being harvested, veterans marching in a parade, a mailman making his last delivery, an elderly woman whose life was brightened, literally, by electricity.

Some are intriguing by the questions they raise. For example, in one photo two Boy Scouts exchange a futuristic baton somewhere on Route 66. A town turns out for the retirement of its barber, identifi ed only as Jake. Three pint-size ballplayers pose with their coach — why were they singled out?

Thanks to the internet and some savvy Facebook friends, we’ve found the answers to some of these questions. Oth-ers may forever remain a mystery. But the photos serve to remind us of a simpler time, and perfectly connect the cooperative with its community through a display that was created for its lobby.

“It’s the community, the people,” Laura says of the photos. “The feedback we got from members in our brand-new lobby was they just didn’t feel like it was their co-op. It was too sterile, too new. We needed to show the impact the co-op had on the lives of the people who live here. And seeing those old photos, what electricity brought to their lives and how it impacted the development of the area, is what we are all about. Those photos helped remind us of that.”

You can view more of these photographs in our digital edition at We would love to know more about these photos. You can send your comments to


Huge crowds have always gathered for Crawford Electric’s annual meeting, and
the 1964 event was no exception. “Each co-op annual meeting is a big event for
all member owners,” the Rural Electric Missourian said in an article on the Electric Fair caravan, which included entertainers and a trailer housing the latest electric-powered gadgets. “It is the time when the board of directors and co-op management make yearly reports; when members elect directors to represent them; when thousands of co-op folks assemble to summarize the year’s events in the rural electric business. It is the time when families and friends throughout the co-op service area have an opportunity to meet together, laugh together, picnic together and renew acquaintances.”


When Crawford Electric installed the mural in the lobby of its new offi ce one photo caught the attention of just about everyone who ventured inside. It shows these two early linemen for the co-op in front of a grimy black pickup. Everyone, it seemed, had an idea who the mystery linemen were. So intrigued were visitors that a print of the photo was made and kept handy so it could be studied up close. From this the men have been identifi ed as Orville Keeney and David Franklin Wood. This truck, probably a 1947 International, has a utility bed. Early line trucks were spartan to say the least. Options often didn’t even include a heater. It would be many years before actual lineworking trucks joined the fl eet.


Typical of the many area vineyards, Jonas Fruit Farm shipped tons of ripe grapes during the fall. The harvest was packed into wooden beer boxes, sorted inside a shed and then loaded on a cattle truck with an electrically powered conveyor. Oth-er photos in the shoot showed a bumper crop of grapes, along with the people who picked them. Not much other information was included on this farm, other than the date the photo was taken: September 1961.


Asked what she liked the most about electricity, Louise Eickhoff was quick to reply: “Lights. All it takes is a click and you have light. I even have a light in the basement and it’s really handy,” she told the Rural Electric Missouri-an. For 75 years Louise lived without the benefits of electricity. That ended in 1970 when she finally had a power line run to her home. She moved to the house in 1915 and lived there her entire life, save for a short time during World War II. The first thing she bought after getting electricity was an electric hotplate, which partially replaced the wood cookstove she had been using. “I won’t be using the wood stove much anymore. There will be times when I cook a lot that I will have to use it but no more than I have to. I still do a lot of canning but that will change too when I get my refrigerator. That’s the next thing I want. I still use the cellar. But most of the canning will stop when I get the refrigerator.” At the time just 2% of the U.S. population lived without electricity.


Fans turned out by the thousands when Lassie visited Meramec Caverns to film an episode of the popular TV series in 1966, much to the delight of cave owner Lester Dill, who wrote the book on roadside attraction marketing. This Lassie, a male collie who was the third dog to play the celebrated canine, traveled in style. His entourage included two stand-ins for dangerous or stressful work, a chef and three trainers. In this episode Lassie rescued two boys lost in the cave. Crawford Electric helped make the show pos-sible by installing a temporary 7,200-volt line and a trans-former to power the cameras and lights. Lester, one of the early directors of Crawford Electric, earned a walk-on role in the movie. He was joined by twins Monte and Tommy Perkins of St. Clair, who filled in for the human stars when crews adjusted lighting. Cave employees reported the crew was the nicest bunch of people to visit the cave, with no drinking, cussing or unreasonable demands. A Tom Saw-yer movie also was filmed at Meramec Caverns.


Crawford County Sheriff Johnny Giles boarded this helicopter to search for thieves who stole poles belonging to Crawford Electric. The chopper was equipped for spraying power line right of way. Judging by a story in the Rural Electric Missourian, the aircraft likely belonged to con-tractor Townsend Tree Service. During his 24 years as the county’s sheriff, which stretched from 1960 to 1984, Johnny would face much more daunting challenges than nabbing the pole thieves. These included murder, kidnapping, hostage situations, drownings, searches for lost kids, a hunger strike at the county jail, jailbreaks and cattle rustling. Sheriff Giles died in 1989 at age 61 after suffering a heart attack.


For 41 years, Ben Eldredge delivered mail to patrons of Route 1, Bourbon. On April 12, 1962, he made his final run using a horse and buggy, the same way he began his route. More than 300 people turned out to see him wheel into the Bourbon Post Office for the last time. He explained that a corn knife and a fence stretcher were standard equipment for a rural mail carrier delivering by buggy. The knife was used to scrape the thick clay from the unpaved roads off the wheels. The fence stretcher was used when the wheels dug too deep into the mud for the strong horse to pull it out. Ben told how the kids along the route made his daily trips worthwhile. They would put frogs, turtles and once even a little sister in the mail box, then hide nearby to see his reaction when he opened the door. The mail carrier was one of the original incorporators of Craw-ford Electric and served as its president for many years.


In 1961 Clark McWilliams, co-owner of a modern laundry in Leasburg, adjusted an electric hair dryer for Mrs. Rob-ert Thomas on opening day of his laundromat while her baby took a nap nearby. Before locating the laundry in Leasburg, Clark checked the water and electric supply to ensure it was adequate for his plans. He found an ample supply of both in the town of 176 people at the time. He remodeled a former feed store for the service, adding 14 washers with room for more down the road. One of the photos included with the story showed Ray Ponte, who served on the Crawford Electric Board, painting the exteri-or of the new laundromat and removing the Nutrena Feed sign from its facade.


Khoury Association Baseball — better known as the Khoury League — got its start in St. Louis in 1936, making it the longest-running youth baseball league. Founder George Khoury wanted every kid to have a chance to play the national pastime. His motto was, “The Khoury League is interested in the child that nobody else wants.” After World War II the league greatly expanded to just about every small town in Missouri including Sullivan where this photo was taken. Shown here are Larry Leturgez on left, Tim Dace in middle and Tom Slezak on right. Larry’s dad, Charlie, is the coach. Not much else is known about this photo, including why the three were singled out from the rest of the team for this photo. The Khoury League still exists, but Sullivan no longer fields a team.


One example of rural businesses made possible by electricity from electric cooperatives was Herb’s Locker in Sullivan. Manager Herb Schalk gave the photographer a tour of the facility, which included a chill room that could lower the temperature of a hog carcass to 34 degrees in about 10 minutes and a quick-freeze room that stayed at 12 degrees. The plant included 182 lockers that could be rented for meat storage and it did custom slaughtering and delivery for its customers. A patty machine could crank out 1,000 hamburgers from 200 pounds of beef in an hour. Locating a business like this in a rural area would have been impossible before the co-op formed in 1940. But with the coming of electricity, anything was possible for rural people.


If you look close while traveling Route 66 between Stanton and St. Clair at Lollar Road you just might spot the remains of Kovac’s Motel Cafe. The business catered to hungry travelers on the Mother Road, along with equally famished local churchgoers on Sundays. It began as Motel Meramec, with cabins and home-cooked chicken dinners. Later it became Kovac’s, “Where chicken and dumplings are dee-licious” according to a post card. The motel offered family rates and TV when this photo was taken, no doubt in the late ’50s as the cars would attest. The building is now a private home.


This photo of a grim-faced L. Mueller of Leasburg building a fallout shelter was taken in the winter of 1961-1962, at the height of the Cold War. He was one rural Missourian who took seriously the message of Missouri’s Director of Civil Defense Dean Lupkey, who, speaking at annual meetings around the state, told members they could survive nuclear war, but only if they were prepared. “You can survive all right,” the director declared. “Everyone in this room can survive. But the chances are high that you won’t survive, if you don’t make a personal effort to be prepared.” Rural Missourians were told to expect thousands of refugees from the cities. They were encouraged to shelter livestock and to keep them away from contaminated water and grass. Through the Community Fallout Shelter Program launched in 1961, the state provided detailed plans on how to build a fallout shelter, which was designed to protect its occupants from radioactive debris from a nuclear explosion. Mueller’s shelter was built of concrete on all sides and featured four ventilation stacks. Fortunately, it was never needed.

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