"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Morgan Mohler – lineman for the county

By on March 1, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

Rod MolzahnBy Rod Molzahn

Morgan Mohler couldn’t lift the tree that had fallen bringing down the phone line to Old Blewett.

Instead he cut the line and pulled out the two ends, intending to splice them back together. The day was harsh and cold.

Mohler stood on his snowshoes, pulled his gloves off and grabbed the ends of the line. When he touched them together the surge of electric shock knocked him onto his back in the snow.

He got back up and tried two more times with the same result.

He hooked his handset to the line and called the Bell Telephone office in Spokane and asked them to turn the power off to the broken line. It was the transcontinental line connecting New York to Seattle and places in between. It took a lot of power to run that line.

With the juice off, Mohler could splice the wires and make the repairs.

Morgan Mohler, co-founder of Wenatchee’s first power company. Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 012-51-3613

He couldn’t feel his fingers by the time the line was rehung and he was starving hungry. He had snowshoed in from the Allen Ranch just below Ingalls’ Creek. He dug in his backpack of tools and supplies and found the sandwich he had packed. It was unbiteable, frozen like a stone.

He headed on up the trail, making Old Blewett just before dark.

All in a day’s work.

Morgan Mohler was a lineman and troubleshooter for Bell Telephone in 1900. His territory included Wenatchee, Waterville, Brewster, Chelan Falls and west to the summit of Blewett Pass. If you had telephone service in those places it was because Morgan Mohler kept the lines humming.

Mohler was born in Michigan in 1874. He finished the third grade and when he was big enough he got a job with an electric power company but soon went to Bell Telephone as a lineman.

He learned to climb poles without a safety belt claiming it was faster that way. At the top he would jam one spiked boot into the pole, wrap his other leg around the back in a tight grip and do his work.

Years later family and coworkers convinced him to please start using a safety belt. On his next climb he took a belt along. At the top of the pole he clipped one end to his tool belt, wrapped the belt around the pole and clipped on the other end.

Only it wasn’t clipped. He leaned back against the belt and kept on going, landing across a braided wire fence. After a few days in bed he was back to work but, in spite of the fall, he did use a safety belt from then on.

Bell Telephone transferred him to Wenatchee in 1900. The first person he met at the Wenatchee office was Mae Stevens, the switchboard operator. They were married the next year. That convinced Morgan to give up the traveling life of a lineman and its dangers.

His timing was good.

L.V. Wells, local educator and businessman, was spearheading a plan to build the Wenatchee Valley’s first hydro-electric plant and wanted Morgan as his partner. Wells would handle the business end and Morgan would be construction foreman, building the powerhouse along Squilchuck Creek at Pitcher Canyon and stringing wire down to town to connect to homes and businesses. He connected 200 lights to drop-down wires from ceilings.

The Wenatchee Electric Light and Power Company was incorporated July 1, 1901 and on July 5 they appropriated, by court order, 10 cubic feet of water per second from Squilchuck Creek. The water was diverted at a point about 500 feet above the Wenatchee Heights turnoff then dropped through 4,000 feet of ditch and flume to the powerhouse.

With the construction done, Wells and Mohler waited for the arrival of the Pelton wheel turbine from San Francisco. It was late and didn’t arrive until January. Two hundred light bulbs waited for power as Morgan Mohler worked in the cold to install the wheel.

By the time all was ready Squilchuck Creek had frozen over. The turbine wouldn’t turn and power didn’t flow and those 200 light bulbs stayed dark.

Wells made a deal with Charles Morrison who had a steampowered sawmill at Second and Columbia Streets in Wenatchee. Morgan pulled the generator from the powerhouse on the creek and hauled it down to the sawmill where he belted it to the steam engine.

After a bit of wire restringing, the boiler was fired up and the steam engine wheel began to turn. Those 200 light bulbs glowed and the people of Wenatchee came out in the cold night and cheered.

Everything worked as long as someone kept a coal shovel working. Morgan and a hired man shoveled 12 hour shifts, 7 days and nights a week keeping the boiler hot and the lights on until the creek thawed out and the generator could be hauled back up the hill and reinstalled in the power house.

Power flowed all spring, summer and fall but it was spotty. There just wasn’t enough flow in the creek to meet the growing demands in town.

People said that when Compton’s cow drank from the creek all the lights in town dimmed.

It was surely true that when the flourmill in town turned on its equipment the lights didn’t just dim, they went dark. Customers complained that for service that poor they shouldn’t have to pay the 25-cent per light bulb monthly charge.

The company couldn’t raise the money to improve the power delivery and, in 1904, sold out to Arthur Gunn who had deep enough pockets to make Wenatchee’s first electric power company a success.

For his share of the company Morgan Mohler got property along Chelan Street where he and Mae built a fine home for their growing family.

Morgan stayed on with the company as construction foreman until 1916 when he took the same job with Z.A. Lanham’s new Farmers Telephone and Telegraph Company where he stayed until his retirement in 1939.

By then the lineman had installed nearly 10,000 telephones in the Wenatchee Valley.

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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