160 – Ralph Jarvis Was Electrifying

What was going on in Larned in the spring and summer of 1916? We’ll pick up on three story lines to find out.

  1. Larned’s new electric plant was coming on line.
  2. Ralph Jarvis, 22, was in Larned, working as a lineman converting houses to the new electric system.
  3. Chleo Webb was coming of age at 16, living in the Rock House with her mother Anna.

Larned’s Electricity 1914

The Tiller and Toiler – January 16, 1914

The meeting of the city council in February 1914 is an important date in local history. The meeting is recorded as the time and place when the decisive step was taken towards giving the City of Larned the right to own its electric lighting system as well as water works.

Larned’s Public Power: Then & Now

Larned’s citizens had voted for a municipal electrical plant, needing reliable power to pump the deep water well to supply the city’s water.

Previously, some businesses and residences were supplied electricity by C. E. Smith Electric and Ice Company.

The new Electric Plant

Larned’s new municipal electric light and power plant was to be located on the Rahn lots at Main Street and Santa Fe Trail, facing the main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad. The announcement was made January 1915. The city expected the new plant to be a sightly affair set in the middle of a park with trees, shrubs and grass surrounding it. Hence it was thought desirable to have it on the railroad, so that persons passing through Larned on the train could see it, thus obtaining advertising value from the plant.

Larned’s Public Power: Then & Now

The C.E. Smith Electric and Ice Company filed a lawsuit. The city of Larned was usurping its customers and business. After a year of litigation and delays, Smith lost the lawsuit at the state Supreme Court, and the construction of the new electric plant commenced.

Engineer and Contractor

The engineers were Worley and Black of Kansas City.

In 1915, the Engineering News Record reported the reorganization of E.B. Black’s previous firm, Worley & Black, under the name of Black & Veatch. In its first years, the new company employed 12 people and established an office in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Black and Veatch – Company History

The contractor was Taylor and McCoy, also from Kansas City.

Planning the cut over

Larned Chronoscope – February 24, 1916

The electric plant was nearing completion in February 1916 and ready to test.

When the plant was complete, the “cut over” would begin, moving the service from the old C.E. Smith distribution network to the new city service.

Linemen were needed. Experienced linemen would handle the high tension wires. Less experienced linemen would dismantle the old system of wires and poles.

Ralph Jarvis was in Salina in February

The Salina Evening Journal – February 19, 1916

Ralph Jarvis was in Kansas. We first find him in Salina, Kansas in February 1916, where he was hospitalized for relapse of mumps. He was rooming at the YMCA.

Was he working in Salina? Was he working as a lineman? Unfortunately, we don’t know.

The Electric Plant is complete!

Larned Chronoscope – April 20, 1916

On Tuesday, April 18, 1916, Larned took possession of its new electric plant. That evening, the new plant supplied electricity to the town.

But the cut over for the residential areas of town was yet to be done.

The city would run distribution lines up the alleys, where the old system had poles and wire in the streets. Then, each house would have to wire incoming service from the alley lines instead of the street lines.

The experienced linemen would run the poles and wires through the alleys. Less experienced linemen would dismantle the poles and wires in the streets.

Then the homeowner could arrange for the city or a private contractor to change the service from the new system to their house.

Larned Municipal Power Plant shown soon after the building was completed. Coal was the fuel used to fire the boiler. Tiller and Toiler – 1916

In April, Ralph Jarvis is in Larned

Greensburg News – April 28, 1916

In April 1916, two months after we found Ralph in Salina, he was in Larned. In late April, he was hospitalized with pneumonia.

Ralph’s a lineman

Ralph was working on the project to cut over the residential areas of Larned to the new electrical system.

We don’t know if he was one of the experienced linemen or if he was learning the trade by demolishing the old system. But by the end of the project he was likely an experienced lineman. He would work in this industry for the rest of his career.

Larned Chronoscope – July 6, 1916

In the July 1916 list of expenditures for Pawnee County, Ralph is paid $29.00 for “outside wiring”, as are several others. I think “outside wiring” means the new connection between the city distribution lines and a resident’s house. He was probably contracting or moonlighting by hooking up houses to the new system.

Ralph Jarvis (center) and linemen – c 1917

Finally, Ralph Jarvis meets Chleo Webb

As the story goes, Ralph was working on a utility pole near the Rock House. There was a young lady on the porch. Ralph whistled at her, and she waved back. That young lady was Chleo Webb.

Here’s the same story from Webb/Jarvis archives. I’ll attribute this one to Doris Gibson, wife of Abner Gibson. Doris was sister-in-law of Phyllis Gibson Jarvis, who was wife of Don Jarvis. Don was Mel Jarvis’ brother, and these two were sons of Ralph Jarvis and Chleo Webb Jarvis. Doris did a lot of family genealogy.

So the romance began. But Chleo was age 16, and still in high school. And Ralph’s life would be interrupted by a stint in the army in World War I.


  • Quotation – Larned’s Public Power: Then & Now – City of Larned – http://www.cityoflarned.org/183/Larneds-Public-Power-Then-Now
  • Quotation – Black and Veatch – Company History – https://www.bv.com/company/history
  • Photo – C.E. Smith Electric and Ice Company – The Tiller and Toiler – Panorama of Progress – 1972
  • Photo – Larned Municipal Power Plant – The Tiller and Toiler – Panorama of Progress – 1972
  • Photo composites – The Rock House and lineman – base photo from Jarvis Family Documents – Chleo Webb Jarvis collection
  • Photo – Ralph Jarvis and linemen – Jarvis Family Documents – Chleo Webb Jarvis collection
  • Photo – Anna and Chleo Webb – Jarvis Family Documents – Chleo Webb Jarvis collection
  • Story – Chleo Webb met Ralph Jarvis – Doris Gibson – Jarvis Family Documents – Chleo Webb Jarvis collection
  • Newspaper articles – Newspapers.com

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