Ferguson powers down 39-year career at McGregor Municipal Utilities

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Joe Ferguson powered down his career as McGregor Municipal Utilities’ power plant operator and water superintendent at the end of April, bringing nearly 40 years of service to the community to a close. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Joe Ferguson powered down his career as McGregor Municipal Utilities’ (MMU) power plant operator and water superintendent at the end of April, bringing nearly 40 years of service to the community to a close.

Ferguson took over as the power plant operator and fire, police and rescue dispatcher at MMU on Oct. 9, 1978, after working for the city of McGregor for four years.

“I was on the city street department and was asked if I was interested in coming over,” he recalled.

Over the years, Ferguson has “done a bit of everything,” spending time in the office and engine room, performing maintenance duties, testing water and more. He’s dealt with regulation changes, especially in regard to water testing, and watched technology improve—gone are the days of getting out of the vehicle and physically reading meters at someone’s home; now, the data can all be collected through an electronic reader just by driving past the property.

“Mother nature has been one of the biggest challenges,” Ferguson admitted.

He’s battled everything from a tornado to harsh blizzards. Floods were always the worst, though, he said. 

Before the flood wall was built around MMU in 1999, sand bagging was needed to protect the equipment from water and keep McGregor from losing power.

“It was tiresome checking pumps all the time and checking sand bags to make sure there were no blowouts,” Ferguson shared.

In his retirement, Ferguson said he’ll miss the people he works with, as well as members of the public, the most. 

However, he won’t be sorry to leave the heat of the engine room in the summertime, when the temperature could reach as high as 130 degrees.

“It’s a sauna,” he noted.

Having more freedom will also be nice, Ferguson added.

“I’m 24/7, 365 on-call. I’ve even been called off vacation,” he said, remembering a time when he cut a break short due to the substation being struck by lightning.

Having local utility operations is especially important in those situations, Ferguson said.

“We have a faster response time for power outages,” he said. “In other communities, worst case scenario, it could be several hours before they show up.”

That commitment won’t be easily replaced. At MMU, three workers will be utilized to fill Ferguson’s duties.

If you would like to wish Ferguson well in his retirement, a party will be held in his honor on Saturday, May 5, from 1 to 5 p.m., at the Backwoods event center, in McGregor.

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