Clyde installing rural electric lines

Clyde Askew, my great-grandfather, was a hard-working man. According to my grandmother, he could do pretty much every kind of work and was always working to support his family of five children. So far, I’ve heard stories and/or found evidence of his work as a machinist, a road-builder, a road maintainer, a hobo-chaser for a railroad, a fireman, a lumberjack, and a teamster for lumberjacks.

Today I found evidence of another job he did—helping install rural electric power lines. I found three photographs among my grandmother’s old photographs that appear to have been taken at the same work site at nearly the same time. There is no information inscribed on the back, so I’ll have to rely on details contained in the photos for hints as to where and when the photo was taken. [Note to relatives: People. Come on. Would it kill you to write some basic info on the backs of some of your photos?]

In the first photo, the whole work gang is pictured, and Clyde is sitting atop one of the cars at the work site, cigarette in his left hand (I hadn’t realized he was a smoker until now): 2011-11-23-014cIn the second photo, Clyde is standing next to the same car, cigarette hanging from his lips: 2011-11-23-014bIn the last photo, Clyde (left) is pictured alone with a man who is somewhat better dressed than the rest of the men—perhaps the work foreman or an engineer? 2011-11-23-014a

Comparing Clyde’s face to what few dated photos I have of him leads me to believe that the photo was taken between 1920 and 1940, and probably between 1930 and 1935 (see the ca. 1933 photo below for comparison, and note the electrical lines in the back).

circa 1933 (assuming boys are 16, 17 years old)

circa 1933 (assuming the boys are about 16 and 17 years old)

Portions of the license plates of two of the three vehicles in the photos are visible. The license plate from the largest vehicle begins with “X 28”, which I believe means that the license plate was granted in 1928. If so, that means the photo is no older than 1928, although it could be many years later.
Truck license plate Car license plate

One of the younger men has braces on his legs and is wearing a work apron.
The apron has what appears to be a logo and a business name. As best as I can determine, it says “East Chicago Lbr., Lumber & Coal.” I haven’t yet been able to find any mention of this business, but that may also help firm up the date of the photo.
Detail of chicago coal apron Detail of apron 2One of the more promising clues is also one of the most puzzling. There is writing painted on the front of the smallest vehicle, underneath the windshield, and on the passenger door. On the front of the vehicle at the top of the radiator are painted the letters “WE” (Western Electric? Wadena Electric?). Under the windshield are the letters “LEANI…….. OF …..”.  On the passenger door are the letters “DE…”.
Words on car

If you can help me decipher these letters and words, please let me know in the comments section.

The hood ornament/radiator cap on the largest vehicle bears a striking resemblance to that of a 1930 Ford. If you can identify the make, model, and/or year of any of the vehicles in these photos, please let me know in the comments section below.

08-ford-model-a-365-days Hood ornament

While the few clues we have point to the photo being from the first half of the 1930s, it is also possible that the electrical lines and distribution transformers were being installed as part of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of his New Deal. Minnesota, however, appears to have been leading the curve in terms of rural electrification. Completed in 1923, the Red Wing Project’s experimental rural electric line was the nation’s first rural electric line, providing the model later used by the REA in providing electricity to rural areas elsewhere in the U.S.

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