ROCK RAPIDS—An electric crowd showed up in support of the Rock Rapids Municipal Utilities during its 125th anniversary celebration Wednesday night.
The longtime local municipal served free burgers from Lyon County Cattlemen’s Association, had inflatables for the children and electric cars — including a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E — were available to test drive.
Plus there were displays chronicling the history of Rock Rapids Municipal Utilities and tours were given of the generator the utility company installed in 1967.
Those who came were encouraged to bring old Rock Rapids Utilities bills.
Conrad De Noble brought in three bills from August-October 1972. The August bill was $5.37.
Rock Rapids Utilities general manager Jim Hoye said the cattlemen prepared 600 burgers for the festive evening and had fewer than 100 remaining, meaning more than 500 people showed up to support the utility company that broke ground in the Lyon County seat in 1896.
“You saw by the turnout tonight that it’s really a great relationship we have with the employees and the board and the public,” Hoye said. “It’s really what makes us successful in my opinion.”
The utility provides electricity, water, natural gas and sewer services in Rock Rapids.
Twenty-seven years after Thomas Edison was able to produce a long-lasting electric light bulb, a resolution was approved for bonds not to exceed $9,000 to begin the process of getting electricity in Rock Rapids. The city council decided it wanted the electric plant to be city-owned and not a franchise.
An incomplete DC plant was put into service to light 32 arc lights — one on each corner of the business blocks — in November 1897.
The municipal added water to its offerings in 1993 when it purchased the water plant for “$170 to $200” according to a pamphlet.
A steam heating plant was put into service in 1916 and in 1937, the DC system became to weak. The city voted to implement AC power. A 1,000-kilowatt turbine was installed to help with increased demands in 1947.
The steam heating plant was discontinued in 1968, right after a diesel generator was installed for emergencies.
Sewer management was delegated to the utility in 1979 and the natural gas utility was purchased from Iowa Public Service Co. in 1985.
The latest work in the last decade has been a rebuild of the south electric transmission line, an upgraded and enlarged substation transformer capacity and three backup generators were added to the system.
Those actions have helped keep the utilities for Rock Rapids local for 125 years along with having “good people.”
“Good employees and dependability and reliability,” Hoye said. “Our outages are hardily any. It’s very hard to find any and that makes a world of difference. We have a good board and the board is willing to invest in the infrastructure. The employees do a great job and the public is pretty receptive to us.”
The Rock Rapids utility board consists of three members and the company has a staff of 12.
Hoye already knows what’s next on the agenda for Rock Rapids Municipal Utilities. Three miles of water main needs to be replaced to be totally connected to the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, which Rock Rapids was hooked up to in 2011.
“We would love to expand our gas utility to Larchwood and Lester, but we need a little more help with that,” Hoye said.
In the present, the residents of Rock Rapids showed up in droves not only for free burgers but to also to test drive the electric Mustang from Marthaler Ford of Worthington, MN. A Chevrolet Bolt and a few other electric or hybrid cars were available for a test drive from Papik Motors in Rock Rapids. And a 1919 Model T wagon was on display to show the progress made over the last 100 years and the owner did give a few rides.
“Nicole Koll did a lot of work and the guys did a lot of work putting this together and I think they did a great job. It’s hard to estimate what people like and how many there will be and I think they did a great job,” Hoye said. “An electric Mustang is hard to find. The car actually sold yesterday but the owner was nice enough to let us use it.”
The festivities began at 5 p.m. and kids were still bouncing on the inflatables until 7 p.m. when the sun was about to set. There was a constant stream of people at the Rock Rapids Municipal Utility to help the company celebrate 125 years.
“We are very appreciative of our customers and that’s what this was about,” Hoye said. “This was a thank you to our loyal customers.”