ORAL HISTORY OF MONTROSE
By Kenneth (Ken) E. Norris, P.E., MBA
Based on an interview with Jack and Barbara Rairden
on February 12. 2018
I went to grade school in Somerset, CO from first through the sixth grade. My dad ran a small power plant, called the Oliver Power Plant, that was a part of the Western Colorado Power Company. My Dad George, my Mom Anne, my Brother Ron and I lived two miles above Somerset, further upstream and adjacent to the North Fork of the Gunnison River. The Western Colorado Power Company, was later acquired by Colorado Ute Electric Association in 1975.
Ken Norris (2017)
My dad was the plant manager there for approximately 30 years. Oliver was a small town having ten residents located two miles east of Somerset. The power company had a rule that if you were a plant manager, you had to live in the company house within 50 feet of the power plant so there would be 24/7 coverage. There was a coal mine there called the Oliver Coal Mine, which provided coal to the power plant for fuel.
Dad worked for the Western Colorado Power Company and then retired right before the Western Colorado Power Company acquisition in 1975. Coal that was mined was transported on a conveyor into the power plant. The power plant burned the coal to generate electricity. The operators then took the ashes and dumped them into the North Fork of the Gunnison River. That was the ultimate at that time in the 1930’s, the ultimate engineering feat, because you had a river to take away all the ashes every spring. They didn’t worry about stream pollution then. The river also provided cooling water for the plant. That Western Colorado Power Company acquisition included the Oliver Power Plant above Somerset, the Bullock Power Plant here in Montrose, the Nucla Power Plant at Nucla and the Ames Hydroelectric Plant near Telluride. The Ames Plant was built in 1891. It involved technology from Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse; it was the first high voltage alternating current plant in the world.
Then also as a part of that Western Colorado Power Company acquisition, the Ouray Hydro and the Tacoma Hydro were part of the purchase. Ouray was in Ouray, and Tacoma was near Durango; they were each built in 1906. There’s just a lot of history with that - the acquisition of the Western Colorado Power Company by Colorado Ute.
Delta-Montrose Electric Association also then acquired the Western Colorado Power Company distribution system. That distribution system was acquired in 1975. That was right in the middle of when Jim Austin was Montrose City Manager and all the activities in Montrose were occurring.