Baker City's Manufactured Gas Plant Located off Washington

By Phyllis Badgley

Directly across from Baker Garage in the 1700 block of Washington Street, an 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 that theory. He at one time lived nearby 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.

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 1st and 2nd 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 30's by McKim Foundry and Machine Shop.

Glen Bates, board director for Oregon Trail Electric Co-op told me of discussions he had with former Eastern Oregon Light and Power Co. officials Leon Gray and Bill Riordan. In late 1920's 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 30s-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 irons enabled mademoiselle to obtain a "marcell" at home. Electric mixers provided ease in preparing cakes, mashed potatoes, and juices. Farmers utilized electricity for pumps and 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.

The Power Co. as a marketing tool, 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., Baker City.

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

Printed here with permission of Record Courier

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