Krech gives history a helping hand at Dakota ElectricAs Dakota Electric makes plans to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, the co-op might want to set aside a little extra time to thank one of its employees.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
As Dakota Electric makes plans to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, the co-op might want to set aside a little extra time to thank one of its employees.
Steve Krech, a warehouse director who has been with Dakota Electric since 1977, has made the electric utility’s past his passion over the years. He’s collected old tools and old photos dating back to the co-op’s early days, and he’s got information about past employees that not even his employer holds onto anymore. He can tell you who the first lineman was – a Lakeville resident named Jeul “Jake” Ruh – and where the first home to get power was located – it was on Essex Avenue and belonged to Soren Mickelson, one of the co-op’s original board members.
Krech has had a passion for history his entire life. As a child, he liked collecting the old things that other people threw out.
“We used to do crazy things as kids,” Krech said. “We used to go down to the dump and bring back wagonloads of stuff.”
Krech started his Dakota Electric collecting soon after he started working for the co-op. He talked to the linemen who had been around for years and collected their stories. When they wanted to throw out outdated equipment, he collected that, too. He kept a lot of it in his house until he was given room in the Dakota Electric warehouse.
“I know probably every employee who worked here and their facts and figures and hopefully their job description,” Krech said.
Many of the items currently on display at the Minnesota History Center’s exhibit on rural electrification came from Dakota Electric, and most of it was available because of Krech, who also keeps a several-volume scrapbook, bound with wooden covers he made himself.
When Dakota Electric was preparing to dispose of an old truck that had been outfitted in the 1950s to dig post holes, Krech formed an official Dakota Electric historical group to buy the truck for $1. He’s still got it at his home. He figures when he has a chance he’ll fix it up so it can be displayed.
“We call him our resident historian because he’s into the stuff,” said Joe Miller, Dakota Electric’s public relations director.
The history of Dakota Electric goes back to the 1930s and President Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act. In 1930, roughly 90 percent of homes in cities had power. In 1935, only 11 percent of farms were connected. The REA was an attempt to change that.
The first meetings in Farmington took place in January of 1936. The idea was to organize the farmers who wanted power and get them to sell their neighbors on the idea.
Dakota Electric was officially incorporated in March of 1937. The power came on in 1938, and within a year the cooperative had 356 members.
Crews worked 16 hours a day to build the lines, but for some it still wasn’t fast enough.
“They were anxious,” Krech said. “They wanted that power.”
The arrival of electricity in rural areas opened new doors for farmers and others. In addition to electric lights, it made possible appliances like refrigerators or electric stoves. Farmers could move to electric milking machines.
“It was huge economically,” Krech said. “Think of all those people suddenly wanting to buy appliances.”
One Farmington family took a load of cattle to the Twin Cities shortly after they got power and came back with two refrigerators. One for themselves and one for a neighbor.
There are framed photos from Dakota Electric’s past in the co-op’s Farmington offices. Most of them are images Krech scanned at one point or another in his collecting. Putting everything together takes time, but Krech sees plenty of value in the work he does.
“I think it’s just fun to do it, because of the retired people. The older employees,” Krech said. “Let them know someone credited that they worked here at some point.”