the field, he was hired by the utilities as a lineman and spent the next 37 years on the job. He even came back for three years after retirement to help what was a young crew at the time. “Ron would always say, ‘Melvin, I think you forgot more about this job than anyone else knows,’” Meier said.
In those days the linemen also did meter reading, and Meier recalls things like getting bit by a dog in someone’s backyard, and putting on snowshoes to get to meters in the winter.
The first utility truck he used was nothing more than a four-wheel drive pickup with ladders on the back. He recalls being on top of a ladder once when it began to fall. He was able to grab the transformer, stabilize the ladder and carefully make his way down.
Another time he was on top of a pole which he did not realize was partially broken on the bottom. The pole began to give way and Meier would have ridden it to the ground—with the pole on top of him—had another employee not quickly stabilized it by grabbing a wire.
Meier even helped save fellow employee Gene Gustafson’s life after a boom struck a 7,200-volt wire. As fate would have it, Meier was just jumping off the truck at the time or he also would have been electrocuted. He found Gustafson unconscious on the ground and administered life saving measures until help arrived. Another utility crew happened to be coming up Cindy Lane just after the accident happened and saw the tires of Meier’s truck on fire.
Gustafson lost five toes in the accident and had a hole burned in his side where his keys were, but he returned to work about a year later.
While Meier admits the job has its perils, he also said he never feared electricity. He also lasted all those years with New Holstein Utilities despite being called out to emergencies at all hours of the day and night—including holidays and family gatherings.
That is the kind of commitment which has been demonstrated over and over again during the first century of New Holstein Utilities. Wink recalls an ice storm which occurred in the 1970s while he was mayor. “Our crews really worked around the clock,” he said. Meier recalls that power was fully restored within 48 hours of that storm. New Holstein Utilities employees then went down to Plymouth to assist that city which had been hit harder by the storm.
Wink also said employees who were on call before the era of cell phones and
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pagers had to stay close to home in case they were needed. Today’s technology provides better communication and a little more flexibility for those employees.
A nother sign of changing times, Steffen said, is the fact New Holstein and other utilities now provide multiple programs to reward people for using less energy. While that might seem counterproductive for a utility, he said New Holstein Utilities wants to help people save money and do what is right for the environment and the country’s resources.
Water consumption has actually dropped in communities with the advent of more restrictive shower heads and toilets, but Wink and Steffen said one thing which has not changed over the years is the quality and good taste of the drinking water provided by New Holstein Utilities.
The two commissioners also commented on the good job New Holstein Utilities does maintaining its equipment and facilities. “The Utilities buildings always look good,” Steffen said.
Greuel grew up in New Holstein, moved away for a while, but always kept an eye on coming back here to work. “Ernie had a good utility,” he said. “Everything was done first class.”
Greuel said NHU’s relationship with city officials was always good, and the utility was wise to get involved with Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI) right from the start.
After retiring from New Holstein Utilities, Greuel spent another five years working for WPPI helping other member utilities which needed an interim superintendent. In most of those situations, New Holstein Utilities was held up as a standard for what other utilities strived to become.