The Origin and History of the Thumb Electric Cooperative based in Ubly, Michigan.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THUMB ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE
June 18th of each year marks another anniversary of something that was only a dream not many years ago to most people of the Thumb area. It was on June 18, 1938, that the Thumb Electric Cooperative of Ubly, Michigan, began for the first time bringing the benefits of electric service to approximately 5,000 farm homes. For years, farm people had imagined that electricity would be a great help to them. Their family and friends in the local cities and villages knew of the benefits of electricity, but because farms were spread so far apart in the rural areas, it was not profitable for Investor Owned Electric Utilities to build lines in these sparsely populated areas of the Thumb. Rather than continuing to live without electricity, they formed a member-owned Rural Electric Cooperative to take advantage of FDR’S New Deal program called “REA” or The Rural Electrification Administration. REA would provide low interest loans to cooperatives to build lines in areas no one was willing to serve.
On May 1, 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then President of the United States, signed an order establishing the Rural Electrification Administration. Six months later a group of Thumb residents attended a meeting in the Wadsworth School to take advantage of the government loan offer. Frank Wilson was made Chairman of the group and the work of organizing was started January 31, 1936. A mass meeting was held in Bad Axe, which was attended by more than 600 interested farmers.
The original TEC Board of Directors
Frank Wilson - Ubly
Elmer Stieg – Bad Axe
Ruth Brandmair – Caro
Charles Gates – Bad Axe
Martin Fisher - Ubly
Guy Petiprin - Unionville
Joseph Romain – Caro
Bob Spencer - Cass City
Albert Grifka - Tyre
By March of 1937, 5,500 farmers had signed applications for service, and the formal application for a loan from the federal government was made. Notice was received from REA on April 30, 1937, that $2,000,000 had been approved. Things moved fast from that point on. Engineers were engaged to stake the lines and draw up plans and specifications for the power plant and substations. The first pole was set September 10, 1937 in front of the power plant site just north of Ubly on route M-19. Farmers began to wire their homes and other buildings. Everyone was anxious to see the day when the "Lights" would be a reality. In the amazingly short time between September 1937 and June 18, 1938, approximately 1,400 miles of lines, three substations and a generating plant were completed. June 18, 1938 the lines were energized for the first time. Ruth and Wanda Wilson, daughters of Frank Wilson, turned the control wheel, which started the generating of electricity. Frank Murphy, then Governor of Michigan, threw the switch, which let the electric current go on its way to over 752 farm families who already had completed their wiring.
Originally three diesel generators were installed in the Ubly Plant, and they were thought to be of sufficient capacity for many years to come. This did not prove to be the case and another even larger diesel was installed July 16, 1947. The use of electricity continued to increase and on October 16, 1949, a new generating plant with two large super-charged diesels was put in service near Caro. This addition practically doubled the generating capacity, but it was soon also found to be inadequate. A third diesel was installed in Caro on June 5, 1952, a fourth diesel in September 1984, a fifth dual-fuel unit in November 1998, and a sixth diesel in November 1999. In 1987 at the Ubly Plant a fifth diesel generator, in 1992 a sixth dual-fuel generator, in February 2000 a seventh diesel generator and eighth dual-fuel generator, and in July 2000 a ninth dual-fuel generator was installed.
During 1953, approximately 40 miles of transmission line and four additional substations were added to the existing facilities. In 2014 TEC operates 147 miles of transmission line, 2,004 miles of distribution line, and 15 substations. The cooperative employs 30 people, compared to 24 at its beginning in 1938.
In 1956, a new headquarters building was built in Ubly, across the street from the original building, and it was occupied on October 16, 1956. Today TEC also maintains warehouses in Ubly and Caro.