Eastern Oregon Light and Power Company

By Phyllis Badgley

Directly across from Baker Garage in the 1700 block of Washington Street, al alley extends about 200 feet south. In former years, a brick building and a huge round metal tank (above ground) were located there.

Longtime Baker City resident Virgil Wunder recalled the red brick building being part of a coal-gas operation with the huge cistern storage tank nearby at ground level.

Roland Campbell, retired city recorder, concurred with that theory. He at one time lived near the facility. Campbell stated that the Eastern Oregon Light and Power Co. used the facility to generate gas for heat and power. Coal with gas removed produced a by product "coke" which was used as fuel in some homes.

Shown is Ray Comstock, employee of Eastern Oregon Light and Power Co.  As mechanic of the 1030's era, he serviced the fleet of cars for the power company.  Note the auto's hard rubber tires, spot lights and radiator cap that contained the heat thermometer.  This building was located west of the alley in the 1700 block of Washington Street.  later Comstock was the foreman for 20 years at the power company's auxiliary steam plant in South Baker, located of Highway 7 near Powder River

The gas storage tank was in close proximity to the brick building that housed control gauges. An operator kept watch on gas pressure output from the above ground steel tank. The mechanically designed tank had steel balls on a track that allowed the structure to gain or decrease height.

Manufactured gas from the facility served some of the Main Street businesses, lines also extended north on First and Second Streets and a short way south on Dewey Street. Campbell stated that City Hall had early day gas light fixtures before converting to electricity. The manufactured gas cistern was dismantled in the mid-30s by McKim Foundry and Machine Shop.

Glen Bates, board director for Oregon Trail Electric Co., told me of discussions he had with former Eastern Oregon Light and Power Co. officials Leon Gray and Bill Riordan. In the late 1920s and early 30s the coal-gas operation was not showing large financial returns for the company. Consequently, these two men were given the task of convincing Main Street merchants to convert to electricity. Touting that electricity was definitely the key to the future, Gray and Riordan successfully pushed sales of electric stoves and water heaters. Longtime Baker City residents will recall, as I do, officers and department heads of E.O.L. & P. during the 30s and 40s. In addition to those mentioned, familiar names were Lottridge, King, Wiggins, Lyman, Lanning, Enright, Reider and Comstock.
Bates explained to me that power sources were originally designed to aid the mining industry. When excess occurred, lines were built to carry electricity to additional customers. Water-powered electric plants were established by E.O.L. & P. Co. as a network between Rock Creek, Bourne, and Fremont. One former power plant operator, Henry "Hank" Potts, still lives in La Grande.

With unlimited electric power available, homes of the 1930s began to accumulate numerous appliances. Heating pads gained popularity, electric curling iron enabled made-moiselle to obtain a "marcell" at home.

Electric mixers provided ease in preparing cakes, mashed potatoes and juices. Farmers utilized electricity for pumps and

The Eastern Oregon Light and Power Co plant.  The birck building at left stood south of Washington Street, near where the Baker Garage lot is today.  The two structures in this photograph were built up against the Powder River

milking machines.

My aunt in that era had a modern appliance that fascinated me. It was an ironing mangle. This device allowed the operator to iron while seated. Clothing was fed through a heated roller to diffuse wrinkles. Definitely a step ahead of commonplace hand-held irons.

During the Depression years, economy was stressed in our home. We were taught to turn off the lights when not in use - a habit still ingrained.

As a marketing tool, the power company sponsored cooking schools to teach housewives to cook more effectively with electricity. After many years of service, E.O.L. & P. Co. sold to Calif-Pacific Utilities.

Loy Wisdom, early day E.O.L.& P.employee, maintained volumes of history of the power company. Unfortunately, these historic documents were lost in a disastrous fire, when power company headquarters in the Rand building at First and Washington streets was consumed by fire in the mid-1980s. Presently our locally owned utility OTEC serves us from 4005 23rd St.

Today with endless uses of electricity we cannot imagine our world without this convenience. Thank you, Thomas Edison!

Printed here with the permission of Baker City Herald

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