Richard O'Neil
Concord Municipal Light Plant

Interviewed July, 1987

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

It's time enough after 37 years to retire. During those years I have served the light plant as lineman, electrical engineer, assistant superintendent, and since 1970 as its superintendent.

I have lived in Concord since 1936 at the age of 10. I first began work at the light plant on February 20, 1950. Concord was a real small town then, where everyone just about knew everyone else. I was a lineman for the telephone company and was working as a gas station attendant following a layoff when Everett Pierce, who managed the light plant approached me to work.

Almost four decades later, I manage a light plant that has experienced a dramatic increase of energy use and consumer demand. Concord's light plant has converted to a distribution system of 13,800 volts from 4,160 volts and now has additional capacity from the Boston Edison substation in Maynard. Keeping up with the energy demand is a situation that has to be addressed constantly. But in Concord 85% of our cost goes to the purchase of power.

Despite the recurring legal hassles with wholesale supplier Boston Edison over rate hikes that are appealed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington D.C., I think it a blessing that local light plant boards haven't moved Concord in the direction of nuclear energy dependent on the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in NH which has not yet seen use.

It was back at a Town Meeting on March 30, 1896 that Concord voters first authorized the construction of a municipal light plant, which was started in 1898, and was completed in 1900. Until 1929 Concord generated its own electricity in the brick building adjoining the light plant, while today almost all of the town's power supply comes from Boston Edison.

My experience for 13 years as lineman has given me the special advantage of growing with the system. Linemen are a different breed. There is the daily danger of contact with high voltage. They are very proud of the job and it shows in the good track record we have in restoring service in ice and snow storms and hurricanes.

Mechanization may have made the job easier, but no less dangerous. Hydraulic diggers now dig holes for the poles in half- an-hour or less while digging by hand with an eight-foot bar that weighed 50 pounds and a scoop would take between one and four hours.

The most innovative boon for the lineman is the hydraulic bucket that eliminates climbing up poles on a pair of hooks, though a new man is still required to know how to climb. I never got to sample the convenience of working out of a bucket. A back injury I suffered on the job in 1959 brought me indoors as an electrical engineer for the light plant in 1963, the year the bucket came to Concord. It was a transfer that took four years of college study and three nights a week of preparation.

While demands on the light plant have grown, mechanization has kept the seven-lineman crew divided among three trucks as the clerical, engineering and administrative staff have increased.

Text mounted 8 May 2013. RCWH.