Power from the Past

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

| August 2006


The original limestone building built in 1903.

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.