A Half Century of Service, October 29, 1955

Those months of October, November and December, 1905, are still vivid in my memory, because those were the months which, it seemed to me, were to decide the fate of sick and failing Las Vegas. It seemed to me that Las Vegas had fallen as low as a suffering patient could go without being yanked into the realm of the gone and forgotten. With my partners in the Las Vegas Improvement Company, which had taken on the load of carrying and paying for a batch of lots in Clark's Las Vegas Townsite; and the Las Vegas Trading Company, which had bought a large stock of lumber, building hardware, cement, etc., with which to build a young city which it appeared did not want to be built. I felt that it was up to us to save ourselves by starting some new enterprises.

The building of the First State Bank, which still stands as good as new on the corner of First and Fremont was one way in which we might build public confidence in the town. Mr. J. Ross Clark, Vice President of the railroad which had created the town, and his brother, Senator William A. Clark of Montana, who had financed and built the railroad, both agreed with us, so we started work on the new building. That made some of the pessimists, with whom we were cursed, sit up and rub their eyes.

The next enterprise (which I must admit also provided a market for quite a batch of our otherwise unsalable building material), was the Arizona Club of J.O. McIntosh on First Street. Although in "Block Sixteen" it was a respectable resort as long as Jim McIntosh owned it. It attracted many people to Las Vegas and when it opened its doors to the public in March, 1906, we knew it had really stimulated the town. But, encouraging as they were, we knew that a lot more was needed to create a healthy community. I suppose that I was the primary dreamer on the subject - the providing of electric lights and telephones. We knew very well that such an enterprise would take money - considerable of it, much more than we had.

I found that the Armour Ice Plant had installed a small electric generator for which they had no immediate use and the engineer in charge got permission from his company to sell us electricity at about cost so that we could put in electric lights to replace the fearfully dangerous gasoline lamps which were then in use in every saloon, store, tent and shack in town. So about 50 years ago just now, several of us incorporated the Consolidated Power & Telephone Company. Although we found that the electric generator from which we wished to distribute electric current to the business section of Las Vegas, was direct current, and required large wires to transmit it, we took 4'x6' redwood timbers from our lumber yard and used them as poles and strung copper wire about the size of ones little finger to bring the current from the live plant into town and early in February, 1906, had an electric lamp in about every place in town. It was a wonderful improvement and seemed a sure indication that Las Vegas would live.

But that was just the beginning of our troubles. The demand for electric lights was so great that the copper wire we were using could not carry the load and the voltage dropped from 110 to 90 and our electric lights were reduced to a sickly red glow.

Of course our customers were very much dissatisfied with their electric lights and many of them did not pay their bills. We would not blame them because, although we were giving them all we could, they were not getting much for their money. It was early in 1906 as I remember, that I went to Los Angeles and consulted with my friend, Ira Francis, who was manager of the Los Angeles branch of the John A. Roebling Company, (which I remembered as the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge). He recommended the gas engine made by the Western Gas Engine Company and agreed to give us the proper size, insulated wire in exchange, pound for pound, for the copper wire we were using.

I came back to Las Vegas and we at once began to build our "Power House" (which still stands), at Main and Lewis Streets. We had a big tank made, which, when buried behind our power house, leaked and saturated a large area with oil (creating a great oil boom), got out new engine set and started to provide electricity which really gave us light.

I had made arrangements to get some new capital into the business, and had very definite promises when I started, about October 6, for Milwaukee to meet the would-be investors. When my train reached Omaha the "Panic of 1907" had closed every bank in the United States. Yet, I would not give up and come home, but stuck around towns in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and in Chicago until about my birthday, May 22, 1908, when I reached home again.

That was the last of my experience in the power and telephone business and since that time I have been on interested spectator of the troubles, trials and tribulations of the business' in Las Vegas. I did not envy those who were bearing up as best they could under the public criticism and sometimes, the undeserved abuse which public utilities always get from the public. I know that Ed Clark, who for many years almost alone, carried the grievous burden, which he was forced into by circumstances of keeping the business alive. I suppose few people of Las Vegas, realize that for many years they enjoyed the cheapest power in America. And that when business in Las Vegas was really good, the demand for service grew so fast that it was impossible to keep up with the demand until the tedious process of getting sufficient new capital was completed. I think that many or most of the fast growing cities of America have the same sad experiences.