Tongue River Electric Coopertive, Inc was Incorporated January 22, 1946 by Orval W. Gentry,
P.T. Bennet, Edward M. Hanson, Julian Terrett, Stephen B. Smith, Perry Hason, W.C. Wiechman, & F. L. Kamhoot. These
men were the original Board Members as well. TRECO services were first energized on September 9, 1949. Currently
TRECO serves 2,630 members with a history of over 4,966 members served.
Tongue River Electric Cooperative History
Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act as part of his stimulus plan to get us out of the
great depression of the 30's. The Act provided low interest 35 year loans. It was hoped that the electric
power companies serving the cities and small towns of America would take advantage of these 2% loans and begin to extend their
lines to rural America. This did not happen or at least not fast enough to satisfy the people out in the country and
as a result, the electric cooperatives that we take for granted today stumbled into an uncertain existence under the supervision
of the Rural Electrification Administration.
The first cooperatives in Montana developed in the denser valley areas
between 1937 & 1939 and were serving customers before Pearl Harbor precipitated the US into World War II. Lack of
materials and other problems put the development of new cooperatives on hold until the end of the conflict in Japan in 1945.
But in 1946 people in the thinly populated dry lands began to stir and looked first to the already established valley coops
to extend their lines into new areas but to most valley boards that looked like a losing proposition for their members and
it did not happen.
Tongue River Electric came into being when ordinary folks with an extraordinary vision one of which
was Orville Gentry embarked on a perilous journey to determine whether the ranchers and farmers spread out over eastern Montana
could create an organization that could supply electricity to them and survive with the help of REA loans and guidance.
enough people signed up in an area to be served by a proposed line and show the REA that feasibility for repayment of the
money to be borrowed was the challenge for a number of years. The first line to be actually energized was built in the
Terry area. Other lines followed but it was a slow process. In at least one case the signers had to commit to
a special surcharge before REA would commit funds.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had built a line from Colstrip
to Lame Deer and Busby in the early 30's to serve their administrative facilities and schools but very few Indian homes
were reached and the BIA was starved for funds to maintain, extend and operate their system. Negotiations were begun
and resulted in the acquisition of the BIA lines and the beginning of extensive electric service to almost all areas of the
Ashland folks got their electricity from a diesel plant which stuttered from time to time and electric
lines which required maintenance so those customers became part of the TRECO system. Perhaps the need of Ashland for
more dependable service was part of the impetus for the founding of TRECO. Judge Jones in Broadus operated a diesel
plant and distributed electricity to the businesses and homes in the village. As TRECO's lines extended toward and
around Broadus, it was beginning to be apparent that TRECO might survive and Judge decided it might be time to retire from
the electric business and did arrange to sell out his operation to TRECO. Those acquisitions over the years rounded
out the TRECO system and made it possible to extend lines farther into the hills than would otherwise have been possible.
members today have paid in full for nearly 30% of a well maintained reliable system. A great deal more valuable to them
than even the books record. The 70% balance is financed over 35 years at reasonable interest rates.
to time our members should give a moment's thought to those pioneer directors who had faith that an electric cooperative
serving the thinly populated dry lands of eastern Montana could succeed. Nor should we forget the managers selected
by the board to guide the day to day operations of the cooperative over the years: Orval Gentry, Eugene Morgan, A. W.
Mills, James Richards, Harold Hanson, and Alan See.