Historical Tribute to Plant Operators

by / Wednesday, 21 February 2018 / Published in Featured Stories

AVEC has overcome countless obstacles since it first started providing power to a few remote villages in 1968. The cooperative philosophy of providing at-cost electric power required members and staff to work together to build the infrastructure and then operate and maintain it.

Last year AVEC added its 58th community, expanding our service territory and membership even more. None of our success would have been possible without the efforts of our dedicated power plant operators.

Below is a story about a former multi-talented plant operator that was first printed in the October 1973 issue of “The Village Voice,” a newsletter that was an informative joint effort of Rural CAP, CEDC and AVEC.

“Joe Jerue – Our Man in Anvik

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is a cooperative in every sense of the word; meaning it takes all the Cooperative members and staff working together to bring continued electric service at the lowest possible cost to its 48 member villages. Every person connected with the Cooperative is important in that sense, but if one position were to be considered more vital than the other, it would be the position of the power plant operator.

This man, the plant operator, is responsible 24 hours a day, seven days a week for an electrical installation averaging at a cost of about $100,000 for each installation. All of these men are capable, while doing only their required duties, of keeping down high maintenance costs and preventing costly accidents. One such man is Joe Jerue, AVEC’s plant operator in Anvik, an Indian settlement on the Yukon River.

Joe, a 62-year-old Athabascan Indian, has been AVEC’s plant operator since AVEC first came there in 1971. Although Joe has had little formal education (fifth grade), his work experience and natural aptitude for mechanics has gained him the respected reputation as one of AVEC’s best plant operators.

In his younger days, being a very ambitious man, he supported his family with a nine-day trapline, for eight years. He then worked eleven years at the mines in Stuyahok and Flat, which is about 80 miles southwest of McGrath. When World War II broke out he worked at the Galena airfield, then got a job rafting oil drums down the Tanana River from Nenana to Tanana for the Army. In 1947 Joe started his own sawmill which he operates to this day in the summer months. As a result, he has built his own two-story home, which has a beautifully varnished hardwood planked floor and dark-stained interior trim.

Since 1957, he has been the maintenance man for the village school. Until Anvik received AVEC power three years ago, an important part of his job was to keep the school generators running. The school still employs Joe. “He’s fantastic, it’s amazing what he can fix with nothing,” an Anvik school teacher remarked. “Before we got plant, it was awful bad,” commented Joe. “The school had the only reliable source of power. Some families had small generators, but they wore out fast.”

During the springtime, Joe copes with annual floods that overturn fuel tanks and flood the generators. “Once the generators stood underwater for five days. I blowed and dried them out, it took seven or eight hours and my alternate helped. They still worked,” said Joe. “The meters went underwater, but drained out and never gave no trouble,” he added. In fact, one house was saved from being carried down the Yukon by the lines connecting it to the meter box, although it now faces a different direction.

In the winter when temperatures often drop to 60o below or better, the plant must still be checked three times daily, meters must be read and recordings made, even emergency repairs on snapped buried powerlines from frost heaves must be made. Joe’s ability to continuously match wits with machines and Mother Nature, and usually win, is amazing, but to Joe it’s just part of the job. Speaking of his job, Joe routinely describes his prowess, “that’s all I did all my life. Ever since I was old enough, I worked on engines and generators. There were always instructions to go on.”

Joe Jerue, like many of AVEC’s plant operators, does not waste time cursing misfortune. They are men who capably rise to the occasion when needed, and needed they are in this cooperative sense: The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is not just a utility being operated by a management staff, but a Cooperative whose success depends on every individual member sharing, and helping to carry the load.”

A big thank goes to all of our “Joes” throughout the years.