Cory’s Historical Corner

By Cory Peterman

Loyalton Electric Light Company

I was recently contacted by Bob Feeny, who reached out recently to me and those who read the Sierra Booster for information regarding the Loyalton Electric Light Company. He wrote “Tom Dotta’s grandfather, Antone Dotta, operated a hydroelectric generating plant from 1900 to 1915. It was called ‘Loyalton Electric Light Company’ and supplied electricity to Loyalton and to the California Pine Box & Lumber Company. Thanks to Tony Finder, we believe we have found the remaining foundation or ruins on Smithneck Creek just south of Sierra Brooks Campground. We are hoping someone has knowledge or photographs of the actual site and route of the original transmission lines.

The 1912 Sanborn map of Loyalton, which can be found on the Library of Congress website, shows the Loyalton Electric Light Company plant located at the south end of Railroad Avenue at the edge of town, just north of the Roberts Lumber Comany’s lumber yard (in the vicinity of the present-day cogeneration plant). A note stated the electric light plant “runs night only. Man in charge at night. Steam power from Plumas Box & Lumber Co.

The Sacramento Bee of June 16, 1904 states “George Taylor, cashier of the Bank of Nevada, of Reno, has come into control of the Loyalton Electric Light Works. The plant is now out of commission, owing to the fire which destroyed the power house in March last, but the damage is being repaired and the 1st of July promises to see the lights on again.

It is stated here on good authority that the new management will raise the price of lights at that time. This has aroused a storm of protests on the part of Loyalton people. The old basis was made on Reno prices for lights, and the people of Loyalton will not stand for a raise.

There are at least two ways to get back at the Company. The people have been using oil lamps for some time, and find they can get along without the electric lights, and, also the Electric Light Company has no franchise, and never has had, from this city.

Should the attempt be made to raise the price of lights, the new Company might have troubles of its own.

The Feather River Bulletin of July 3, 1905 states “R. W. Bender was over interviewing the Beckwith people in regard to electric lights the first of the week. He only got 300 lights guaranteed, which will not pay to build a line from Loyalton to Beckwith, but the Loyalton Electric Light Co. may conclude to build the line on the strength of increasing business over that way when the Western Pacific comes through.” Around the same time, Bender was making money mining in the area. The Sacramento Bee reported “Ralph Bender, Manager of the Loyalton Electric Lighting Company, has had a gang of men from [Loyalton] for some time past, working the Antelope Mine located about three miles southwest of here in the mountains.

As for the hydroelectric ruins recently found on Smithneck Creek – the Feather River Bulletin of December 18, 1905 states “Manager Bender has had a surveyor from Reno out here during the past week surveying for a water power proposition for the Loyalton Electric Light Co. He tells us they can get a 200-foot fall in a mile and a half and they will probably put in the reservoir in the spring and put in a large plant. An electric railroad from here to Sierraville is one of the possibilities of the new plant.” The Sacramento Bee of December 20, 1905 reported “The Loyalton Electric Lighting Company has just finished a survey in the canyon above this place, with the view of adopting water power for their plant here, which is now operated by steam. It is reported that so far the outlook is satisfactory.

By 1915, managing the Loyalton Electric Light Company wasn’t easy. The Sacramento Bee of March 6, 1915 reported “Officials Resign When Salaries Are Reduced – Loyalton Trustees Prune Payroll; Seek to Force Continued Operation of Electric Light Plant.” Later, the Feather River Bulletin of March 25, 1915 reported “The Loyalton Electric Light company, which after 10 years’ operation, was planning to suspend service unless a better patronage was given, may not find it so easy, as an act of arbitrary suspension is contrary to law.

In reply to an inquiry City Clerk Paul J. Meroux has received a letter from the state railroad commission to the effect that a public utility having been once dedicated to the public and undertaken to give service, cannot withdraw its property from that use. This might be modified in the case another public utility of like character existed and was in a position to give adequate service to the entire community, including those formerly served by the other utility.

The Sacramento Bee of March 30, 1915 reported “The Loyalton Electric Light Company has filed an application with the Railroad Commission requesting authority to discontinue its electric system in the city of Loyalton, Sierra County. The application states that the company has been conducting its business at a loss for the past seven years, and that as the population of Loyalton has been diminished by more than half there is no hope of ever conducting the business at a profit.

If anyone has more knowledge of the hydroelectric plant ruins on Smithneck Creek, please let the Loyalton Museum know!

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