Saturday, October 23, 2010

J.R. Kay, lighting up Cuba City and foiling bank robbers

J.R. (Joseph) Kay was Cuba City's electrician in the early 1900s. The Cuba City Centennial book (1975) has this to say about him:

"J.R. 'Joe' Kay, if not the first city electrician in charge of the power plant and water system, was on the job very soon after these utilities first became a reality here. He carried on, doing everything including reading water and electric meters and being on the job 24 hours a day. He died about 1929 or 1930 and was succeeded by John Obel." [According to the village board minutes of 1917, J.R. Kay received a salary of $70 a month for his services. A relation of Joseph Kay's pointed out that this death date is incorrect. He died on May 14, 1936.]

Kay truly was on the job 24 hours a day, as the following anecdote from the Centennial book illustrates:

"Power distribution at first was limited. It was turned off at the source at 10 p.m. That was true as late as 1925 for street lighting here. This circumstance helped to foil an attempt to rob the First National Bank in that year.

A gang of yeggs broke into the bank in the early morning hours and blew the door of the safe. A relocking device on it worked and they could not open it, so they started to dig through the vault wall. Meanwhile, the late Alec Richardson who was asleep in his upstairs room in the bank was awakened by the explosion. He crawled across the hall to an office for which he had a key and called to J.R. "Joe" Kay, the water and light superintendant. Kay ran up Washington Street to the powerhouse. Richardson looked out his south window and saw the gang's lookout. Kay had thrown the switches and Richardson heard the lookout call to his pals, "Come on, let's get out of there! They are lighting up the town". Richardson watched the gang come out of the bank and walk down the alley east of Main Street. They got nothing but left the bank interior a shambles. They were never caught."


**UPDATE--According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article (November 9, 1921), the attempted burglary described above occurred in November 1921, and the Cuba City State Bank was involved, not the First National Bank.

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