CRANKING UP THE PAST
Volunteers Work to Restore Turn-of-the-Century Plant
by Suzanne McMinn, Hood County News – Feb. 23, 1991
Photo by Wayne Moyers
Weldon Newman, 77, can remember when one unit at the old electric plant on Brazos Street could provide enough power to satisfy the entire Granbury community at night.
“After about 11 at night when most everybody went to bed it would generate enough current until about 5 a.m.,” said Newman. “When people would start getting up we’d crank up another unit.”
Nowadays, said Newman, even with all three units running out at the old plant, it could only supply enough power to run a modern supermarket.
“When I first started to work here there were no electric refrigerators or televisions,” he noted.
Modern-day appliances and conveniences were the plant’s final downfall, forcing its closure in the early 1950s when the turn-of-the-century electric plant couldn’t meet the needs of the growing community.
Newman began working at the plant as an operator in 1939. He left the plant to serve in World War II in 1942, but came back to become plant superintendent, staying with the plant until it shut its doors for the last time in 1954.
Four men ran the plant back then, and the three engines served about 1,000 customers.
“We kept it going right,” said Newman. “But we were getting to where we couldn’t furnish current for the city. It was outgrowing us.”
Metal handrails, now rusted, shine bright in Newman’s memory. Memories of rust-covered rails once polished, or the former color of faded walkways on the cement floor, are exactly what makes Newman so special.
Who else but a former plant employee knows just how everything used to be? Newman’s knowledge is invaluable in the restoration of the old electric plant, which is now underway.
“I’m the only one who can still get around who worked here when it was operating,” he said.
All the nameplates were mysteriously removed from the generators sometime after the plant closed, noted Newman. The nameplates described the equipment. With Newman’s firsthand knowledge, markers can be placed by each engine detailing its capacities.
Newman was called in to guide the restoration after the historical society, spurred on by former mayor Hugh Raupe, took on the project of rescuing the old plant.
In August, Raupe and Loren Wilson, committee chairman on restoration of the plant for the Hood County Historical Society, presented the project to the city council. The city then aided in the clean up of the building, said Wilson.
“We’ve had 100 percent cooperation from the city on this,” said Wilson.
Originally built in 1903, the plant can become a tourist attraction once restored, the historical society believes. Educational tours contrasting the old electric plant and the Comanche Peak nuclear facility are being considered.
Restoration began about six months ago. Newman believes the plant may be ready for viewing by summer. Wilson said he hopes to have tours of the plant on-line by that time. The group is working with the Lake Granbury Area Chamber of Commerce and the Granbury Convention and Visitors Bureau to plan ways to attract tourist to the site.
Tom Wells, a painting contractor and volunteer worker on the restoration project, noted that when he worked on the General Granbury statue on the square he received plenty of advice from historical preservation groups. That kind of guidance isn’t available with this project, he said.
“There’s nothing like it being done,” said Wells. “There’s no expert to tell you how to do it. When it comes to redoing and preserving an engine like this, Weldon Newman is the expert.
Wells is one of only a handful of volunteers who donate their time and abilities to restoring the old plant. He has spent several days sandblasting the equipment to remove old paint and rust.
Raupe, another volunteer, has given many an hour to cleaning up the building and replacing windows. Last fall Raupe tore down a corrugated iron shed that had been attached to the front of the plant in the 1940s. The shed housed two surplus engines that had been brought in to help meet the growing power needs of the community during the plant’s final days.
Money earned from the sale of the engines and metal has been used to restore the building. Over 100 windows have been replaced.
Helping restore the plant holds special meaning to Raupe, who was born in Granbury in 1922 and grew up here.
“My father was an insomniac and so was I,” recalled Raupe. “We would come to town in the middle of the night. Nothing was open and we would visit the power plant.
“There was a guy named Harv Wilson who was the night operator in the 1930s. I became fascinated with it,” he said
Last year Raupe became concerned that the plant might be torn down.
“I didn’t want them to tear it down,” he said. “I’m an old-timer. This town has a certain amount of sentimental value to me.”
Raupe hopes to see the old engines “thump-thumping” again. With Newman’s help, they just might.
“We might get one or two of the engines to where they’d run,” Newman said.
He explained that generating current for use by the city wouldn’t be possible because all the lines had been disconnected.
Newman spends many an hour at the old plant rubbing down the equipment. Cleaning and preparing the equipment for painting takes a lot of time–time Newman spends alone in the quiet of the once noisy plant, accompanied by his thoughts.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” he said.