Exeter & Hampton Electric Company
Historical Review - 75th Anniversary - 1983
By Edward D. "Ed" McKenzie
This pamphlet is heavily illustrated so the pictures are linked from the captions page
The seventy-five years being reviewed here cover several generations of Exeter & Hampton Electric Company workers.
The generation now nearing retirement remembers well those men and women of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties. Many of them began work in the years immediately after World War II and were trained and supervised by those who remembered World War I and the Great Depression.
Stories of carrying out line work with a rented horse and wagon, of snowshoeing down unplowed roads to connect electric service or read meters, and of posting heavy ledgers with dip pens while wearing eye shades and sleeve garters are still within the memories of a dwindling few.
One senior lineman described, for a wide-eyed groundman trainee, what it was like to climb a pole during a wild and stormy night to reconnect a broken wire. “Stand on your porch railing, in the dark,” he said, “while someone sprays you with a firehose and shines a spotlight in your face, then thread a needle, while wearing your mittens.”
Not such an exaggeration when one considers also that hundreds or thousands of volts of electricity were always nearby waiting to deliver harsh punishment for a slight misjudgment.
The newest generation was not yet born when New England was slammed with the double hurricane of 1954. But they will have their own experiences and stories to tell the wide-eyed trainees of the year 2000 and beyond.
The E & H tradition of dedication to service is solidly established on a seventy-five year foundation providing a certainty of its long continuation. This historical review is dedicated to those generations and that tradition.
Oil Lamps To Home Computers, In One Lifetime
Only seventy-five years ago, within the memories of some living today, there was no electric company distributing electric light and power throughout this region in Southeastern New Hampshire.
There was some electric street lighting in Exeter and electricity was connected to a few buildings, such as the Casino at Hampton Beach.
Under a franchise from the State of New Hampshire in 1908, Exeter & Hampton Electric Company was "turned on" to a long career of providing electricity to the greater part of thirteen towns in Rockingham County from the shoreline at Seabrook and Hampton to the hills of Stratham and Atkinson.
As a regulated utility it was bound to operate within limits set by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission concerning its rates and service. As a corporation it was to be owned by its share- holders.
Born Out Of The Street Railway
The company name came from two of the principal towns of its area, Exeter and Hampton; but what is less commonly known is that the name is also a reminder of its predecessor, the EXETER, HAMPTON & AMESBURY STREET RAILWAY.
Electrically operated street railway cars were called “trolleys” after the pole device which projected over the roof of the car to make contact with a high voltage, Direct Current wire. With nearly sixty miles of steel trackage, this trolley system ran between Exeter Depot and Hampton, then beyond to Hampton Beach and across its own “mile long bridge ” to Seabrook, and over the State line to Salisbury and Amesbury.
Located midway between Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, on the Boston and Maine Railroad, this side-of-the-road rail transportation system was called by some, “the only sensible means of travel”. It was one of hundreds of such rail systems being built all over the country at the time.
According to 0. R. Cummings in his book, TROLLEYS TO THE CASINO, in 1900 the EH & A system was built using “ . . . heavy steel rail tracks ballasted so as to carry a railroad train while chestnut poles carry the trolley wires, and telephones are placed in offices, terminals and turn-outs”.
The electric current for the overhead trolley wires was at first generated in Hampton; sent out from the Rotary Station there at 550 volts along two lines, one going West to Exeter, the other East to Hampton Beach. A single Alternating Current lighting circuit also ran out of the station, particularly for the purposes of lighting the Hampton Beach Casino and of providing limited street lighting in the town of Exeter.
"Lighting Department" Survived
It was this lighting circuit which was the responsibility of the Lighting Department of the street railway company. Then, as the company began to fall into hard times and receivership it was this Lighting Department which was to be, in 1908, separately incorporated as EXETER & HAMPTON ELECTRIC COMPANY.
While those wonderful new conveniences of transportation, the trolley cars, would eventually end up on the salvage heap, it was the lighting which became the vital service. Although the trolleys were to offer limited service well into the ‘twenties the advent and expanded use of Henry Ford’s Model T rang down the curtain on the electric railways.
Source of Electricity
Always under consideration during the early years of the Company’s existence was the possibility of harnessing one of the small nearby rivers for electric power. An option was taken for a time on water privilege on the Pickpocket section of the Exeter River, with the hope that it might be developed as a power site for the Company. It was believed, for a time, that a station of sufficient capacity to carry both the railroad and the lighting load, situated on tide water in Exeter, was the best solution to the problem as most of the lighting load was in Exeter, “with prospect..., of nearly all demands for increase in needs being confined to that section. We have already secured all the business there is at Hampton; and the Beach load, outside of three months in the summer, is inconsequential”, it was projected in 1910.
Only in future historic observations will we learn if today’s long range projections are more accurate than were those of seventy years ago.
The Company has always purchased electric power requirements through the Portsmouth facilities of what is now Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) and is classed as a distribution utility and not a generating utility.
For most of its seventy-five years the point of attachment to the source has been in Hampton, not far from the old Rotary Station. However, in 1975 a second major interconnection with PSNH was completed in West Kingston, supporting and supplementing the Hampton station.
Requests came in for extension of lines into Stratham in 1913. then in rapid succession during 1913 and 1914 Hampton Falls, Newton and East Kingston asked to have electric facilities provided.
When in 1915, Phillips Exeter Academy was connected with 600 lighting outlets and over 12 horsepower in motors, it was clear that electricity was the ultimate for lighting buildings. The upward curve in residential customers reached one thousand in 1916.
By 1917, nearly two hundred more customers had been connected to the lines, which had been extended to a point where distance and load were causing the quality of service to suffer. Effects of the First World War were beginning to be felt in the local economy, and in the summer of that year, the first employee of Exeter & Hampton Electric Company left to fight with the Expeditionary Force in France.
The pinch was felt most in 1918, when only department heads were left as a work force to operate the Company, and a serious coal shortage required cutting back of home heating and a reduction in lighting services.
As the war came to an end and the troops returned home, conditions improved. During the following year a line was run to Seabrook for service to the Barr’s shoeshop, and a 1919 Reo line truck was bought for $1,500.
Looking Out For Overloads
Over 1,700 customers were connected with electricity by 1920, and as the load increased the wire sizes had to be increased, hundreds of new poles had to be set and many new extensions added to the circuit. It was even considered that perhaps it was time to set pole lines on all roads in the system, rather than wait for line extension requests. Loads at this time were exceeding the capacity of the supply line from Portsmouth, and the generator at the Rotary Station in Hampton was being used during hours of heavy electric use.
During the early years of the Company, protection of the lines from lightning was a serious problem. Many transformers were ruined each year and there were extensive outages. Lightning arresting devices were experimented with and it was found that the tremendous voltage surges could indeed be drained off the lines without ruining equipment. It became uncommon in later years for the lights to go out during thunder showers.
During the summer of 1924 a large show was produced at Hampton Beach to promote electricity. Many inquiries were being received about a new type of refrigeration which “required no ice-man or drip- pan”. The town of Newton joined Exeter and Hampton in keeping street lights on all night long, leaving only Kingston on a half-night basis; and when the line was completed to North Danville, that town turned out for a gala celebration, ceremoniously switching on the electric lights and blowing out the kerosene lanterns.
Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway finally had to give up in 1925 and gasoline motor busses took over. The days of excursions on open-air cars to “Happy Hampton Beach” were ended, but “The Beach”, which had been developed and promoted by the Street Railway as a means of increasing fares, stayed on, continued to grow and is still expanding today.
Building and Growth
In the late ‘twenties the main highways were kept open all winter. This was important to the Electric Company, since its reputation and growth depended upon either preservation or quick restoration of electric service to its customers under any conditions, night and day.
In 1928 and 1929 extension was made into South Hampton, and it was estimated that nearly 90 percent of the homes in the thirteen towns of the Company’s franchise area were electrified. Thirteen miles of pole line extensions were constructed in one year.
The economic depression which gripped the country in 1930 was to affect the Company only moderately. A slight loss of business was predicted when the new “daylight saving time” went into effect but none was noticed. The Exeter and Hampton Beach substations, only a few years old, were now loaded to capacity, and expansion was necessary.
The sales department began alterations toward taking over the other half of the Water Street store which had been rented until then, and the building at Hampton Beach which had housed the Company’s office was moved away and construction of a new one begun.
In 1931, Phillips Exeter Academy’s electric load required the setting of a special bank of transformers at the Exeter substation, and additional capacity was added at the Beach. A “Blue Law” requiring stores and amusement places to remain closed on Sundays was repealed in this year, which resulted in an increase in commercial consumption of electricity. In the Plaistow area, the Old Hampshire Bottling Works (later to become C. Leary Co.) began using electricity, and in Exeter $90,000 was appropriated for construction of a new Post Office.
In the early 1930s as people tightened their belts, the government passed legislation shortening the work week in an effort to provide more employment. A general reduction in the Company’s electric rates was made. No more was the customer’s rate to be set by the number of rooms in his home, but only by the amount of electricity used.
In 1934 a complete inventory of all utilities’ properties was ordered by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission and twenty to thirty people were temporarily employed at Exeter to complete it. Each foot of wire, insulator, arm, brace, pole, etc. had to be identified, aged and costed, while detailed records were set up to maintained [sic] ad infinitum.
As Plaistow and Atkinson were being supplied with current from Haverhill, Massachusetts, the “Big Flood of ‘36” resulted in a three-day outage in that area. The following year saw completion of a special line from Hampton to Kingston which was to supply these towns for the next fifteen years, by which time the increasing load required a separate line and station to be built on Witch Lane in Plaistow.
As the expansion was occurring over a wide area, pole storage yards were acquired in Newton, Kingston and Exeter to get supplies closer to the demand.
In 1936 plans were near completion for a 13,000 volt transmission system which would deliver current cross country to substations in Exeter, Hampton and Hampton Beach, and in 1937 it was connected and ready for service. The old Rotary Station on Exeter Road was shut down and used only for storage. It was later to be sold to the town of Hampton for one dollar.
The Casino at Hampton Beach added forty kilowatts of lighting and motor load, which was sizeable when compared to the whole system’s 936 kilowatts.
New building was going on everywhere. A $35,000 addition was made to the County Records Building (now the Exeter Town Offices), bowling alleys were built in Plaistow and in Exeter, while new lines were extended into the town of Kensington to connect to many homes there.
Changes In Pole Line Construction
A blight had all but destroyed the supply of chestnut trees by 1930. Cedar trees were used for a few years; however they were soon followed by yellow southern pine, which remains the standard for most utility poles today.
Fifty years ago the butts of utility poles were treated with creosote, in an attempt at delaying ground rot and insect damage. Later the whole pole was creosoted; however, new processes of pressurized treatment with a colorless preservative made old methods obsolete. The new “Penta” product was proven to be not only more effective but less likely to cause problems for the lineman. Crossarms, too, were put through the same penetrating treatment. Other material improvements along the roadways would not be noticeable to the average passer-by, but made construction easier, longer lasting and less costly. Wooden pins on crossarms were replaced by steel, polyethylene replaced varnished cambric wire covering, strong, well insulated cables were developed and automatic connectors came into use to replace the twisting and wrapping process in splicing two wires together. Friction tape, a cotton fabric treated with a black adhesive, was generally replaced with plastic, electrically insulating “Scotch” tape. Nylon took the place of hemp in many of the ropes used by line workers, while anchor guys which had to be built with planks in a large hole in the ground were commonly replaced with rods which could be screwed into the earth, or dropped into a drilled hole and then sprung open to make their grip.
Although underground wiring was much promoted and great advances in design and method were made, economics generally were unfavorable. Underground construction is in limited use today by rural companies, dependent upon earth conditions, access- ability and the developers’ willingness to invest in the extra costs associated with the material and the process. “Rockingham County is appropriately named,” said one foreman after completing only a few feet of trench in one day.
E & H -- Plaistow Merger
Around 1911 a group of citizens, including J. Win. Peaslee, J. S. Hills and E. A. Landman, formed the Plaistow Electric Company, purchasing current from Haverhill, Massachusetts, and supplying street lighting and residential service to Plaistow and Atkinson. In 1925, all of the capital stock of this Company was purchased by the Exeter company, and the two were merged under the name of Exeter & Hampton Electric Company. As the distance (15-20 miles from Exeter) made this area rather remote from the Company headquarters, Line Foreman Clarence A. Amazeen was transferred to Plaistow as Company Representative to read meters, collect bills and attend to the general operation and maintenance of that system. Mr. Amazeen, who began with the Company in 1916, served in that capacity until his retirement in 1958. (Today Clarence A. Amazeen, Jr., is a Lead Lineman for the Company with 30 years of service.)
Even with modern hydraulic aerial lift equipment, linemen must be able to use “climbers” or “hooks” for mounting wooden poles.
The point, or “gaff”, which projects below the instep of each foot is kept razor sharp, while leather pads and straps must be perfectly fitted to avoid pain and danger of “cut outs” and falls. One lineman cautions that a good boot with a safety toe and strong arch support should be worn or “ . . . your feet will get like an owl’s”.
A strong leather body belt with safety strap snapping into “D” rings holds one in working position on the pole, but also supports such items as plumb hammer, skinning knife, cutting pliers, screwdriver, tie wires, hand line, tape and a pouch for connectors and miscellaneous items.
Rubber gloves, tested for high voltage regularly, must be worn under leather protective gloves at all times when working off the ground, and at many jobs while on the ground.
Rubber arm covers supplement the gloves, and rubber “line hose” and hoods are used to cover wires and insulators while on the pole.
The safety “hard hat” is a must on all jobs and comes with a liner for cold weather. For worst weather, when line crews must often be out, rain suits and rubber boots are made available also.
World War II Curtailments
The first effects of World War II were felt early in 1941, when Sales Manager Leon Hilliard left for service as an Army officer, and John C. Robinson, at that time training in distribution construction, reported for active duty with the United States Army. Locally, as in most businesses, the years of the war meant a great curtailment of activity. Construction material was practically non-existent, and the Government daily passed rules requiring greater restrictions.
In the years 1942 and 1943, twenty-one employees left the Company for the armed forces or for defense plant employment. This amounted to over thirty percent of the work force, and only a few were replaced.
The submarine menace to shipping off our coast required the blacking out of some lighting, and the “dim-out” of every street light. As material grew more scarce, emphasis was placed on retrieving all possible scrap metal and paper for the war effort. As the Company had developed its first-aid program to a keen edge, its teams were in demand for instruction all over the state.
Mileage on Company vehicles was cut by more than half, as a part of the national program of reducing consumption of scarce gasoline and tires.
After The War
After 1945, twenty-five returning veterans brought the ranks up to the level necessary to handle the surge of construction resulting from increased use of electricity. The 13,000 volt transmission system was completely rebuilt and voltage increased to 34,500 volts. Additional transmission lines were built from the main switching station at Hampton to Exeter and to Hampton Beach. Substations were reconstructed and enlarged, and distribution pole lines were extended by over five miles each year.
Shopping Centers became major customers during the sixties and seventies, as they were added in Plaistow, Exeter, Hampton and Seabrook; later in Stratham and Kingston.
A branch office of the Company was opened in 1949 in Plaistow next to the Fire Station; in 1961 relocated to the Hoyt City shopping center, then in 1981 moved into a building near the Plaistow town line in Kingston. Another branch office was opened at Depot Square in Hampton, which in 1966 was moved to a new shopping center, while in 1958 the seasonal office at the Beach was closed down.
Early street lighting was provided by a separate 600 volt series circuit called an “arc line”, with small incandescent lamps. Late in the ‘forties individual lights, off the regular circuits, became practical with the advent of “daylight sensitive” units which would turn them on only during hours of darkness.
Mercury vapor lighting, tried out about the same time, grew quickly in popularity and spread to replace nearly all the old incandescent fixtures.
A new item, “yard lighting”, was promoted between 1968 and 1973, and over a thousand lights were installed at homes, farms and businesses. A separate line on the electric bill showed that the charge for these 100 watt “Night Watchmen” began at $3.60 per month.
Major installations of mercury vapor lighting were made at the Hampton River Bridge, the new New Hampshire Expressway Interchange at Hampton and the Hampton Beach Boulevard area before 1960.
Most recent to come along is the sodium vapor lighting fixture, giving off a more golden color and providing more efficient use of electric current.
Shoes and Chickens
Shoemaking, developed somewhat as an overflow from the shoe cities to the south in Massachusetts, had started in the small towns of southern New Hampshire as a cottage industry. One can still find, in antique shops in the region, some of the “lasts” and cobblers’ benches which were used in many homes to make shoes for nearby companies on a piece-work basis.
Factories were operating in Exeter, Seabrook, Danville and Plaistow through the years and included Gale Shoe (later Wise Shoe) and Bates Shoe (later Alrose Shoe), Barr & Bloomfield Shoe and Plaistow Shoe companies. Supporting the footwear industry were several specialty and component factories, such as those making shoe laces and wooden heels for ladies’ shoes. Russell Heel Company of Plaistow was one of the largest, located at the site of the present Penn Box Company. It turned out millions of wooden heels from hard wood dried in its own kilns until the plastics industry created a more desirable product.
Located on the site of the old Plaistow Shoe Company today is Keezer Manufacturing Company. C. Dimond Keezer, who in the nineteen thirties started the business while a college student, built it into an industry which shipped pennants and banners all over the world, and employed many hundreds of local people right up to the present.
The poultry industry reached its peak after World War II, with the largest of the hatcheries being those of Christie Poultry Farms and Nichols Poultry Farms. There were several major breeding and hatching facilities located in Kingston, Exeter, Newton and other towns. Millions of eggs and chicks were shipped to points in all parts of the country.
More economic breeding and feeding conditions in the south were said to have brought major poultry farming to an end. The Squamscott Hotel building in Exeter which had housed the Nichols computer center was to become an office building for Phillips Exeter Academy. It had been used as a dormitory by the Academy for a brief time over one hundred years ago.
Exeter Brass Works, on Railroad Avenue, was a leading foundry and metal machine shop for many years, incorporated in 1892. Since 1963 the R. E. Prescott Pump Company has operated at that location.
Sylvania Electric Products, a division of GTE, Inc., built its plant on Portsmouth Avenue, Exeter, in 1964 and became one of the major electric users of the time, along with Bailey Company, in Seabrook, added in the same year.
Phillips Exeter Academy, rebuilt in 1870 after fire destroyed the original structure, easily wins the title of oldest major customer of Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.
It wasn’t until 1935 when the nation’s oldest, continuously operated cotton mill, the Exeter Manufacturing Company, decided that electricity would replace steam as its principal driving power. A special feeder line from River Street to the plant became the Company’s first high tension (13,200 volts) underground line.
Later occupying the property, Milliken Industries and then Nike, Inc. were also major industrial electric users.
Regional schools, such as those in Exeter, Hampton, Kingston (Sanborn) and Plaistow (Timberlane) are a relatively recent phenomenon. Their facilities called for strict requirements of electricity supply and engineers of the Company coordinated with planners and builders in the processes involved.
Contrasting with these schools, earlier ones such as the Robinson Female Seminary built in 1868, utilized daylight from many tall windows, heat from wood or coal furnaces and had no motors or compressors to require electrical connection.
The Cottage Hospital
Built in 1905, the Exeter Hospital was known as the Cottage Hospital. It was “built through the aid of generous benefactors”, according to a business article dated 1910, “and is in every way typical of a model and modern home for the sick and invalid”.
It could be described in the same way today, even after major reconstructions and additions, the most recent begun in 1977. Special electrical circuitry and priority for restoration of service are provided by the Company.
Higher Voltage Needed
A 34,500 volt line some twelve miles long, from Hampton to Kingston, was bought from the Public Service Company of New Hampshire in 1950. Kingston was the first to have a substation stepping down from 34,500 to 4,160 volts. Within a short time, that line was extended to Witch Lane in Plaistow, where the first “unit-type” substation was constructed on a large lot bought for this use and for later addition of garage and workshop. The “unit” was outgrown in only two years and was moved to Seabrook to complete a new station on South Main Street, terminating a 34,500 volt line across the marsh from Hampton.
In 1964, Plaistow was to boast the first 34,500 to 13,800 volt substation, off the “hi-line” at Route 125 and Old County Road. It was named Timberlane, serving as its principal customer the new regional high school of that name, but going on to supply Atkinson and Newton with new, high capacity distribution circuits.
The Seabrook 34,500 volt line was tapped in 1964 for what was, for awhile, to be the Company’s largest customer, Bailey Company, makers of automobile rubber components.
The winters of the ‘twenties were considered by some to have been much worse than winters in these times. At any rate, there is no doubt that transportation practically came to a stand-still between December and April. Most automobiles were garaged in early winter and weren’t taken out until a good portion of the spring mud had dried up. For the Electric Company, and the men who had to travel about reading meters, stringing wire and so on, a real problem was presented. In some cases the trolley cars were utilized by a meter reader, or a lineman and his material. In times of heavy snows the snowshoes were put to use by employees to reach towns as distant as Hampton or Kingston. A partial solution to the problem came with the purchase of a “Snow Cat” which was an auto equipped with skis instead of front wheels, with caterpillar treads on the rear. Many chapters could be written on the experiences suffered and enjoyed by the men who operated this marvel of the mechanized age.
Henry H. Page, who began in 1922, was Office Manager from 1948 to 1963, retired in 1967, then became a member of the N.H. Legislature for several years, remembers those days very well, and explains that Doctor E. A. Landman of Plaistow also used such a machine for house calls when others were snowed in. The winter of 1922-1923 was particularly snowy. Recalls Mr. Page, “I was sent to Hampton on snowshoes to read meters and it was a week before I could get back to the office.”
The Company’s hurricane baptism came in 1938, when at 5 p.m. on September 21, the roaring wind tore through. Inside an hour the only current flowing was through the Hampton Beach street light circuit. It took five days for service to be restored to all but a few customers. After six years of respite, in 1944 the big winds came again. It was on September the 14th, and this time it took four days to return to normal service.
The most devastation was caused when two hurricanes struck; the second coming just as real progress was being made toward recovering from the first. The dates were August 31 and September 11, 1954. Line crews, appliance men and clerks worked around the clock, and crews were borrowed from as far away as Pennsylvania to help in the gigantic effort of restoring vital electric service to nearly ten thousand customers.
In these disasters, in many lesser troubles and in every day work the two-way radios, which had been installed in 1946 in most vehicles, proved to be invaluable. The advent of immediate communications between work crews and plant was probably one of the greatest steps forward in the constant drive toward rapid restoration of service. The radio’s value where a personal injury may have occurred was proven, also. On occasion, a message crackled out, too, reminding a lineman to bring home a pound of hamburg, after an urgent call from a spouse with problems of her own.
Of historical note is the severe winter of 1976-77, when sub-zero temperatures for long periods of time forced people to stay indoors and struggle to keep warm. Two storms hit the area, the worst occurring on March 22 and 23, causing major electric outages in all thirteen towns. Old timers testified that it was the worst storm since the hurricane of 1954. Heavy, wet snow pulled branches and whole trees down on power lines. Driving winds hampered crews trying to restore service. This time, however, service was restored to all customers within 48 hours.
Offices and Operating Centers
By 1954 the South Street “carriage shop” was much too tight for line crews, plant offices, storeroom and appliance servicing. A new service center was built on Drinkwater Road, Kensington, at a site calculated to be close to the geographical center of the Company’s 167 square mile service area. Only appliance servicing and warehousing was left at the old building for the next twenty-four years.
With only a few modifications the Kensington Service Center has served the Company well for thirty years.
The old office building at 81-83 Water Street was declared to be “much too crowded” in 1958 and a lot of land owned by the Company, at the corner of Swazey Parkway, was pressed into use. Sold to Davison Construction Company of Manchester, a new office structure was built to the Electric Company’s specifications and taken under long-term lease. The old building, which had once housed all of the Company’s operations, was sold and has been used for law offices and a jewelry store for many years. Records show that it was estimated an expansion in the new quarters would be necessary within eight to ten years. After nearly thirty years it is observed that no expansion has been made, due in large part to the advent of the computer and the reduction of merchandising efforts.
Sharing with other companies of administrative services, such as financing, purchasing, engineering and tax accounting, has been an economic advantage from the very beginning. In years before 1935 this was accomplished through participation in the Tenney Management Services group, located in Boston. After reorganization at that time those services were continued while offices moved in 1959 to the Travelers Building at 125 High Street in Boston, and then, in 1977, to Canton, Massachusetts.
In 1979, for greater efficiencies, an office was opened in Bedford, New Hampshire, to provide most of those shared services for this Company and for two other Companies with whom the Company has been associated for over half a century. Fourteen shared officers and employees now work at that location.
Home Appliance Marketing
Major appliances such as refrigerators, ranges, washers and dryers moved out into the high volume sales area after World War II. The pent up demand and short supplies acted together to make it a busy decade.
The Easy washer with built-in spin dryer found people eager to abandon the old wringers and thousands were delivered in the area before the movement began toward clothes washers which were automatic and fixed to the plumbing.
Swivel-top vacuum cleaners also became popular during the post war period. A year or two in the television business convinced management that perhaps others should handle this particular appliance. Toasters, steam irons, lamps, coffee pots, clocks, can openers, clock-radios, fans, window air conditioners, and hot plates were sold by the thousands — all with little chance of direct profit — but with the broader philosophy of utilizing ever more cheap and abundant electric power.
It was the age when electric cooking was brought within reach of everyone. Back in 1936 a Plaistow man purchased an electric range with his Veteran’s Bonus and it was a conversation piece for miles around.
Probably the electric water heater was the home appliance which did the most for domestic comfort and convenience, while providing a good “stable load” on the Company’s system and a moderate revenue. Introduction of the “off peak” meter about 1939, when wired to separate heating elements of a water heater allowed the Company to show a discount on the monthly bill for each kilowatt hour used during hours “off the peak” of the system. Usually that was 10 p.m. through 8 a.m., when the insulated tank would be heated up for the next day’s use.
Electric home heating was a natural development for the new construction occurring around the area. A relatively low installation cost coupled with good insulation and acceptable costs of electricity required a minimum of promotion effort.
Nearly everyone over twenty-five years old today can tell the month and year when promotional philosophies, and economics, changed. It was November of 1973, and it was called the “Arab Oil Embargo”. Electricity formerly made from 2 to 3 dollars-a-barrel oil was soon being made from 20 to 25 dollars-a-barrel oil. Drivers’ experiences at gas pumps emphasized the problem every day, not just on the monthly electric billing date.
It was in 1978 when the company’s appliance sales and service came to an end. Freed up resources were then available to develop and administer programs which have helped people to conserve and to use electricity to its best value.
People Who Made It Work
It was on May 14, 1906, when Attorney Allen Hollis, President of Concord Electric Company and having broad experience with problems of public utilities, was named receiver of E H & A Street Railway. Later he was elected President of the new Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.
In 1955, Franklin Hollis, also a Concord attorney with broad utilities experience, succeeded his father as President.
Management of the new electric company was assigned to Charles Rogers in 1908, a former official of the Street Railway’s Lighting Department. George D. Baxter was next in succession in this position.
In 1936, when Mr. Baxter’s health was failing, Charles W. Caldwell was brought from Beverly Gas & Electric Company to take over. Mr. Caldwell led the Company for the next eighteen years then moved to a position with a New York utility. John C. Robinson, Jr., who had been a lineman and superintendent, in 1959 became General Manager and Vice President of the Company.
On Mr. Robinson’s retirement in 1977, Chief Engineer Michael J. Dalton was assigned to the position. In 1978, upon the retirement of Franklin Hollis, Mr. Dalton was elected to the office of President of the Company.
Among other principal figures during the early years were Charles B. Edgerly, known to all as “Cap”, electrician for the Street Railway from 1902 then Superintendent of the Electric Company. He was succeeded by John Robinson. Ernest Prevost and George F. Watson, both transfers from Haverhill Electric Company, became Office Managers at Exeter, and Leon W. Hilliard, an Army officer during World War I, became manager of appliance sales after his earlier service with the Haverhill company.
Many could be named in any listing of those who contributed long and important service to the organization. Katherine E. Groetz continues as an accountant, now in her forty-seventh year.
Seaver Macdonald moved here from Danvers as a lineman and in 1954 advanced to Superintendent. “Mac” was succeeded by another former lineman, now retired, Edward Kochy. Eleanor Willis, executive secretary, Velma Rock, bookkeeper, Frank Schultz and William Bragg, line foremen, altogether provided two and a half centuries of service before retiring.
Other long service employees over the years, who have since passed on, include Foreman Burton Horne, Electricians Walter Moss and Alan Maxwell, Assistant Superintendent Joseph Curran, Foreman Basil Collishaw, Storekeepers Charles French, Walter Thurston and Charles Degagne and Lineman Daniel Scully. “Dan” was also Safety Director for many years, and a picnic ground at the Company’s Kensington facility is called “Scully Park” in recognition of his special efforts for his fellow employees.
Some older landowners of the area may remember A. J. Harty, a Tenney service Civil Engineer before World War II. With transit and rolls of map in hand, he searched out routes for electric lines and negotiated purchases of easements across the land.
Henry Turner, in later years, was a familiar figure hiking each mile of line several times over during his career as Pole Line Inspector. Sometimes a ‘phone call would come in, “There’s a man wearing a knapsack going down our street rapping on your poles and drilling little holes in them”. This meant that Henry was on the job taking core-samples to test for rot. Today Donald Briggs has the important duty of inspecting the lines.
Since some problems at the tops of poles may not be visible from the ground, periodic helicopter patrols of vital circuits are made.
The late Stanley P. Sawyer, who had provided professional engineering services to utilities in New England for many years, joined the Exeter & Hampton staff full time in 1955 in order to formally develop plans for expansion of the total system required to supply the many schools, businesses and homes over the next two decades. After retirement in 1970 Mr. Sawyer served as Secretary on the State Board of Professional Engineers for many years.
Stewart Aither, P.E., with a staff of three, fulfills the engineering needs of the Company today. Draftsman Howard Barr has over thirty-five years of intimate familiarity with the electric system “to draw on” in his daily work.
Many others are named and pictured throughout this book.
The Tenney Factor
Present Chairman of the Board of Directors, Charles H. Tenney II, succeeded his father, Rockwell C. Tenney, in that position. He has been a director since 1948. His grandfather, Colonel Charles H. Tenney, was one of the Street Railway’s Bondholders Protective Committee formed in 1905 to sort out the finances of the failing business, and on incorporation was named Chairman of the Board of the new lighting company spin-off, Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.
At the conclusion of Exeter & Hampton Electric Company’s 75th year of existence, many of its hundred employees and thirty retirees have expressed pride in their contributions of labor, ideas and sincere concern for not only the corporation but all of the thousands of customers it has been their duty and privilege to serve over the many years.
Many presently enjoying that privilege will, in the year 2008, look back to this record when they report on the Company’s 100th anniversary.
EXETER — THE BUSINESS CENTER OF ROCKINGHAM COUNTY — 1910
E & H FLASHBACKS — Historic booklet — 1958, and issues to 1969
E & H NEWSLETTER — Issues 1973-1983, by K. L. Dearden
TENNEY SERVICE — monthly magazines to 1934
Early photos from Exeter & Hampton Electric Company files or loaned by 0. R. Cummings of Manchester, N.H., Joseph S. Bruce and Henry H. Page of Exeter, N.H.
Recent photos by Ben’s Photo, Exeter, N.H.