Power from the Past

100-plus-year-old building home to old Fairbanks engines

08-06-036-PowerPlant-1a.jpg

The original limestone building built in 1903.

Content Tools

When the Granbury, Texas, Flywheelers, of which I am a member, found the old Granbury Light Plant, it was used for city storage. The Flywheelers cleaned out the building, finding three old Fairbanks engines, all of which are now running. What is so amazing is the incredible originality of the entire building and its contents. Here is a little history of the old light plant.

The old limestone building was constructed by the Granbury Milling Co. in 1903. The company sold the building to the Frisco Railroad in 1905. The railroad, which served Granbury, ran a light and ice company in this building. Five years later the plant was purchased by R.A. Grundy, and he named it the Granbury Water and Light Co. The manager of the company agreed in 1912 to furnish lights to city residents all night long. Many residents still remember the old engines thumping away.

The city of Granbury purchased the plant from Grundy for $13,000 in 1923. At that time, residents were paying 20 cents per kilowatt for the first 30 kilowatts; 15 cents per kilowatt for the next 120 and around 12 cents per kilowatt for the next 40. The minimum charge for electricity was $2 per month.

After purchasing the plant, the city expanded its water and electrical service to everyone who lived in Granbury. The first engine purchased was a 50 HP single-cylinder Fairbanks Model Y diesel. As the need for more power developed, an additional 2-cylinder Fairbanks Model Y was purchased. The 50 HP FM engine was replaced in 1938 by a more modern Fairbanks 2-cylinder 120 HP engine and generator. Shortly after that, they installed a 3-cylinder 180 HP Fairbanks engine and generator.

Four men ran the power plant on a 24-hour basis during the 1930s and 1940s. Workers remember the open, uncovered 150,000-gallon water tank behind the light plant that stored the city's entire water supply.

The three diesel engines served about 1,000 customers during this time, but in 1949, the city's electrical demands outstripped the plant's capacity, and the city decided to purchase its power from Brazos Electric Co-op. Both an increase in population and the demand of modern electrical appliances put a strain on the old plant. The plant was used as standby power during blackouts and brownouts until the 1960s and had not been run until the Flywheelers got them going again in the past several years.

Notice the gray paint on the old plant's windows. During World War II the windows were painted gray so the plant could operate at night with lights on and not be seen during a possible bombing attack.

The two original 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse engines and directly coupled compressors supply air to the four large upright air tanks. This air supply is then used for air starting the large upright Fairbanks engines. It is just absolutely amazing that nothing has been salvaged out of this original limestone building after all these years. The original control panel is there, the original cooling pumps and tanks are there, the original Fairbanks air compressor engines and air start tanks and gauges are there, just like they were in the 1930s. Finding original power is about as common as winning the lottery. The only change to the building was to replace the original corrugated tin roof with new corrugated tin that matched exactly and did not leak. We want to thanks the Flywheelers for helping preserve this original old power house.

The Granbury Flywheelers have their yearly show in the city park where this old power plant is located. You can see these old Fairbanks engines running at their show, which is held the second Saturday of October every year. Contact their president, Bill Keene, for more information at: (817) 834-5756.

Contact Jerry Toews at: 619 E. Main, Goessel, KS 67053; (620) 367-8257; jtoews@mtelco.net