How The Benton County Electric System Began

By Nell Morisette
NewsTribune Special Columnist

Hello, Benton County NewsTribune Readers! This Thursday morning, the sun is just peeking up out of the east on the damp earth from last night's rain. It makes me see what Beauty God does perform.

With the help of Floyd Robins, I will write about the history of the development of the electrical distribution industry in Benton County. It is closely tied in with that in Waverly, Tennessee. Wadell Lucas installed a generator to furnish electricity for his home. This first "electric light plant" caused a sensation in Waverly, and many predicted this "new fangled contraption" was another of lucas' wild ideas and would never take the place of the kerosene lamp.

This small generator was the beginning of the distribution of electricity in Humphreys and Benton Counties.

Lucas extended service to a neighbor's house and from this first commercial application, the neighbor was able to use one bulb.

Lucas, always quick to seize upon an opportunity, realized the potentialities for the for the distribution of electric, and extended service to several homes and businesses.

The output rating of the plant was limited, but the load was small since the only application for electricity was for lighting. There was no day time load and therefore the generators were driven only during the late afternoon and night.

In 1923, Lucas began setting poles in Johnsonville and Camden for distribution systems. Some say he did this for the purpose of forcing the large power companies to buy him out at an inflated price. Whether this is true or not, Lucas was the first to build any part of a distribution system in Benton County. After setting many poles, he halted construction and no further development occurred until 1925 when Mr. A. Frank Trimble purchased the plant Lucas had built.

Mr. Trimble's company, the Tennessee Light and Power Company, built facilities in Camden and the first actual distribution of electricity in Benton County was made in 1926. The power was generated at the Kentucky-Tennessee Utility plant in McKenzie. This power was transmitted over the old line from Bruceton, and part of this line is still in service. The voltage of this line was 13.2KV and was transformed to 2.4KV at a substation located behind Baucum's garage. Service was extended to Big Sandy in 1928 and to the Tennessee River in 1929.

These three primary feeders carried all of the load in Benton County for many years. Very few extensions were made since profit was the primary consideration. Lines would be constructed only when there was an assurance of profit. The distributor was certainly entitled to this profit since his money and that of others was invested and a fair return was expected. Another hindrance to extension of service was the limited capacity of the primary feeder.

This early distributing system served approximately five hundred customers and sold power at $.07 Kilowatt hour. This rate seems very high and may have been too high. At this seven cent rate, the average resident consumer of the present distribution would pay a monthly bill of $31.71.

This situation continued until 1938 when the County Court, after having been authorized by a referendum of the voters of the County, issued and sold bonds in the amount of $50,000.00. Later the County Court purchased the facilities of the Tennessee Power and Light Company. A contract was entered into with the Tennessee Valley Authority for them to furnish electric power. The first TVA power was distributed on April 22, 1940.

The original members of the Power Board were R.A. Swindell, L.N. Peebles, H.B. Pafford, J.V. Walker, and John Penick.

Mr. R.A. Swindell was appointed acting manager and served in this capacity until Weldon Howell, present manager at Trenton, was named manager. Jim Maiden was an employee when Mr. Swindell was acting manager and he could tell you many of his experiences such as two employees doing all the construction and maintenance, and that meter reading required the services of two men for half a day.

The primary purpose for the purchase of the electric system by the county was to extend service to as many residents of the County as possible at the lowest rate that could be justified. These plans had to be postponed because of the war, in which the county was now engaged.

After the war, the County Court sold bonds in the amount of $400,000.00 at an interest rate of three percent. Allen and Hoshall, an engineering firm in Memphis, was selected as consulting engineers and plans were drawn up for the expansion of the system.

The successful bidder on the contract was Whalley Construction Company of Jackson, Tennessee. (In last weeks' NewsTribune, I told that Daddy worked for Walley's Construction. Looks as if I misspelled the name.)

This first contract called for construction of feeder lines from the TVA substation to the substation behind the county jail, rebuilding of the line to Big Sandy, and the building of lines to Eva, Holladay, Eagle Creek, Faxon, Bain's store and many other communities. Materials were hard to find, especially conductors. Many miles of pole line were built, and for months, no wire was strung. One of the first lines to be strung was to the boy scout camp, and this was borrowed from Forked Deer Co-op by officials of the West Tennessee Boy Scout Council. This original contract was completed in 1948.

Since those early days, the Benton County Board of Public Utilities has grown beyond the expectations of even the most seeing persons. Evidence of this is the frequent rebuilding and conversion of lines made necessary by the greatly increased load. Additional evidence of this growth can be found in the annual report of the TVA. A comparison of the consumption and other statistics of 1941, the first full year of operation under TVA, with those of 1957, reveals the growth that had occured.

Number of consumers5743,753
Annual KWH per residential consumer9465,443
Net income$922$63,352
Elect. Plant less depreciation$56,250$1,070,049
Total assets$68,661$1,245,245

I talked to Mr. Gary Walker on May 13, 1999, and I wish to thank him for the following information for the year 1998.

Number of consumers9,804
Annual KWH per residential consumer 1,105 per month
Net income$396,249.52
Elect. Plant less depreciation$11,703,435.50
Total assetts$16,502,260.85

In the last two years, substations have been added in Big Sandy and Holladay.

Thought for the week:

Those who cook up stories will get themselves into hot water.

Tennessee light and Power Co.
The Tennessee Light and Power Company, owned by Mr. A. Frank Trimble, provided the first actual distribution of electricity in Benton County in 1926.

Electric Company
Today's Benton County Electric System located at 115 South Church Avenue in Camden provides electricity for nearly 10,000 customers in Benton County.


If you have suggestions and/ or additions for these pages, please feel free to write County Host

Brian Nichols

Return to Newspaper Column Index
Return to Benton County Genealogy page


Server space for the TNGenWeb Project is provided through the generosity of US Internet.

The TNGenWeb Project makes no claims or estimates of the validity of the information submitted and reminds you that each new piece of information must be researched and proved, or disproved by the weight of evidence.

You are welcome to copy information found on the Benton County TNGenWeb site for personal use, and share information with other researchers or genealogical organizations, but this information may not be sold or used in a commercial project without expressed permission. All material submitted by individuals for inclusion in this site remains their property.

Copyright 1998 - 2002