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Environmental Studies

CU Powerline & Activism



Organization Begins

Citizen Action

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Why History Matters

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Citizen Action

The towers are falling one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The towers are falling one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The towers are falling one by one,
It's down with the towers and up with the sun
As we all go marching out—to the fields
—with a wrench—in our hands
Boom, Boom, Boom!. . .

The towers are falling four by four, hurrah, hurrah
The towers are falling four by four, hurrah, hurrah
The towers are falling four by four,
We're beginning the energy war
As we all go marching out—to the fields
—with a wrench—in our hands
Boom, Boom, Boom!

—  from The Towers Are Falling by The Unity Theatre, Minneapolis (271)

     With the route and need decided upon and the hearings closed, there was no remaining outlet for the farmers’ voices and concerns. They took matters into their own hands with non-violent, creative, and persistent protests to stop the surveyors from putting up the HVDC transmission lines. Tuesday, June 8, 1976, was a turning point in the power-line struggle. As the surveyors were working their way across Virgil Fuchs’ land early that morning, he rammed the tractor into one of the company pickup trucks.  In retrospect he says, “Don’t ask me why I did it. I wouldn’t know. I don’t know why I did it. I suppose a guy would think it was to bring to the public’s eye what was going on out here.” [1] Fuch’s actions  certainly spurred action in other farmers and attention from the cooperatives.

     Five months later on November 5th 1976, the surveyors reached Constitution Hill where the farmers made their stand.  Scott Jenks said to Al Kingsley, UPA field representative: “You just force your way through here.  You don’t care who you hurt.  You don’t care about nobody but the power people.” Jenks drove his truck in front of the surveyors and the sheriff came and told him to move his truck or face a three hundred dollar fine or ninety days in jail.  Jenks moved his truck, and Dennis Rutledge pulled his truck in right after.  The sheriff had to talk to Rutledge and as soon as Rutledge drove away, the over fifty farmers that were there continued.   Eventually the surveyors just left. Later that week was “Chainsaw Day” when Scott Jenks took his chainsaw up to Constitution Hill and let it run, the noise interfering with the surveyors walkie-talkies, which again caused surveyors to leave.  The next day the farmers got a permit to repair the road leading up to the survey site so the surveyors couldn’t work. The “Monkey Wrenching” continued as farmers piled boulders around holes for tower bases so the concrete could not be poured, parked trucks with keys broken off in the ignition to block cement mixers, released manure spreader upwind of a utility crew, and mounted horses to chase surveyors off their land On November 16, 500 farmers took their concerns to the state and rallied at the state capitol in St. Paul to protest their treatment at the hands of the courts and state agencies in Western Minnesota.  Still, nothing had been done to put a full-scale stop to the building and surveying. [1]

     In January of 1978, two years after the protests had begun, farmers were continuously planning events and organizing resistance. In what was to be known as the confrontation on the prairie, surveyors returned to fields in Lowry. One-hundred farmers carrying American flags chased power-line crews and marched en masse towards state troopers guarding the entrance to the power-line material yards in Glenwood.  Companies tried to file enormous lawsuits which intimidated the farmers, and Governor Perpich ordered 215 of the 504 highway patrolmen to Pope County. On January 9, the national media showed up to cover the two-hundred protesters again carrying American Flags and marching toward the state troopers.  When the protesters reached the troopers, they halted their march and pulled out carnations, home-baked cookies, and hot coffee to give to the troopers.  This tactic caused the national media to lose interest and withdraw reporters. [1]

     In February, twenty-one protesters were arrested for using the passive resistance tactics of the civil rights and antiwar movements. They lay down in front of cement trucks; they blocked workers with sit-down demonstrations; and, making creative use of the materials available, they covered themselves with pig manure and challenged police to arrest them. By the end of July 1978, the power companies were worried and ‘Bolt weevils’ were out nearly every night removing bolts from the tower bases.  On August 2 near Lowry, the first tower fell, and the same night another tower fell a few miles to the east. Taking down towers was a dangerous, desperate act of rebellion.  Only a few short years before, almost all the protesters would have abhorred such vandalism, but it was a necessary tactic. [1]

     The protests were able to slow down surveyors and buy some time, but the overall effectiveness of these protests was minimal.  The biggest change that speaking out against the CU Project was able to achieve was the differing corridor selection which ended up just impacting a whole new set of farmers.  How could the farmers and other concerned citizens have influenced the government or the cooperatives and changed the policy and decision?  The protestors knew that action was necessary, but what outlet would have gotten their message heard?  The importance of their concerns was minimized in the hearings, and their non-violent protests got the police on their tails. No matter what the farmers did, the decision makers looked the other way.  Phil Martin, general manager of UPA said, “People keep asking me what I’m going to do now.  Do you want me to say I’m going to hire my own army?  Do you expect me to roll over and play dead?  I expect the law to be carried out.  I’m going to build a transmission line.” [1]

[1] Wellstone, Paul, and Barry M. Casper. Powerline: The First Battle of America's Energy War. Mineapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
[2] Losure, Mary. "Powerline Blues." Minnesota Public Radio 09 Dec 2002 May 2008 <>.

Figure 11: Virgil Fuchs in his field. [2]

Figure 12: Farmers protest plans for a transmission line through their farmland. [2]

Last updated:  5/6/2008


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