For more than 29 years, Jeff Lawson worked with the community he grew up in.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Lawson said. “If you would told me in high school how things would end, I would have never believed you.”
Lawson retired earlier this year after serving as the foreman of the Farmington Electric Department. He also worked with the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as a stint with the Farmington School District.
After joining the work force right after high school in 1977, Lawson would find the various careers he had throughout his life were explicitly linked to high school sports.
“After working six years at Western Auto, Jack Richardson, my former football coach, asked if I wanted to be the head custodian at the middle school where he was the principal,” Lawson said. “After two years there, Bud Norman asked if I wanted to come over to (Parks and Recreation Department) and be the park foreman. His father was a teacher at the high school and took the stats for the football team and eventually I took over doing that.”
Lawson didn’t stay with the parks department for long. After one year, an opening in the electric department became available and Lawson transferred over.
“I just thought it was just another step, so I went there,” Lawson said. “I thought working with electricity would be interesting, so I started out as meter reader and worked my way up.”
During his tenure with the Electric Department, Lawson saw Farmington change and begin to grow.
“When they tore down Mercantile Bank, where US Bank is now, that was the first thing I was really involved in,” Lawson said. “I was one of those who kind of wanted to stay the same, especially after you saw the brick walls that were underneath.”
According to Lawson, the look of downtown had begun to change. Old building were torn down and new ones put in its place. But the real change began when a new construction boom hit Farmington.
“During the ’90s and into the 2000s, we strictly worked on new construction,” Lawson said, adding the growth of the city added to the crew’s schedule of keeping up with maintenance for the department.
One of his crew’s projects was building the new line pole into place with the construction of Walmart in the late 1980s. Lawson remembers joking about not ever having to worry about those poles again.
“When we were putting the poles in, our foreman told us that we wouldn’t have to ever touch these poles again. He even said they would probably outlast most of us,” Lawson said. “It was just a few years later we were moving them to make room for JC Penney and the other stores at Maple Valley.”
During that same time period, Lawson and his crew began converting the city’s power grid over to 7,200 volts from the outdated 2,400 volts.
According to Lawson, if the city would not have done the conversion, Farmington would have been in real trouble. The old system would have exceeded its capacity.
It was during the same time period that Lawson and his crew built two new substations and retro-fitted five old substations.
“When you retro-fit an old station it’s like gutting an old house,” Lawson said. “You have to take everything out and replace all of it.”
Although Lawson saw some big changes in the Farmington, it is some of the smaller things that he misses.
“When I started 30 years ago, we still had meter books for the electric and water meters,” Lawson said. “If the customer wasn’t home, the ladies in the office would estimate the bill. We have gone from form books to computers.”
When Lawson first began at the electric department, he remembers how he knew everyone in the community’s name.
“We were never given an address,” Lawson said. “We would just give a name and everyone knew where to go. I kind of miss that. You can be working today and go three or four days without seeing someone you know.”
Although Lawson maybe retired, it doesn’t mean he will not be remain active in the community. Presently, he is the treasure and a member of the Farmington Board of Education and is still active in Farmington High School sports.
“For the most part, I am going to just play things by ear,” Lawson said. “If I want to do it, I will.”
Craig Vaughn is a reporter with the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org