Drum Powerhouse named after powerful man

By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Thousands of motorists see it daily, just north of Baxter on Interstate 80: the Drum Forebay exit. Then there’s Drum Powerhouse on the south side of the Bear River in Alta. But that’s not all; the massive company known as Pacific Gas and Electric, with its more than 20,000 employees, has the Drum Division. The latter basically comprises the Placer County core of the company’s local operations. So who was Drum? Frank G. Drum grew up in Oakland and attended St. Ignatius College, now known as the University of San Francisco. After his 1881 graduation he became a member of a surveying party laying out new rail lines in the state of Nevada. Early on he showed a drive and developed a reputation as someone who gets things done. He joined the offices of Haggin and Tevis in San Francisco as a property manager. His skills grew and he became the company’s principal adviser overseeing properties that included the Kern County Land company and various corporations with vast acreages in New Mexico, Arizona, Oregon and California. In 1903, Drum partnered with a group of pioneering hydroelectric developers in a public utility enterprise. This was shortly after Eugene DeSabla, John Martin and R.R. Colgate put together a merger of gas and electric properties and created the California Gas and Electric Corporation. The trio got off to a rough start, and they were teetering on the edge of failure when DeSabla went to the offices of Haggin and Tevis in the Mills building in San Francisco. His goal was to secure possible bond buyers to allay a financial collapse. However, instead of finding the company principals, he found Frank Drum minding the store. Drum listened to DeSabla’s presentation and asked, “How much do you need?” DeSabla thought for a moment and responded $200,000 – equal to more than $5.25 million in today’s dollars. Drum took the set of drawings and the business plan and wrote his name across the cover, assuring the company that he was in for the full ride. Two years later, the enterprising businessman, now 42, played a lead in negotiations with N. W. Halsey & Company of New York. The result was the purchase of the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company and the amalgamation of the two properties to become the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The real test of Drum’s mettle came the following year when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed the new company’s assets. Buildings were razed, equipment damaged beyond use, gas lines broken and water systems demolished. John A. Britton, a PG&E executive and long-time friend of Drum said of him, “He was the one who never lost heart, and whose vision saw over the heads of others. He made it possible for us to see also; he went forward and took us with him.” Drum went on to lead a financial reconstruction of the company as a member of the firm’s executive committee and in 1907 was elected president, an office he held for 13 years. He resigned from that position because of ill health and demands of his other business interests. He remained on the board as a director and member of the executive committee until the day he died, Aug. 28, 1928. Drum was a giant in the business world of that era of industry and growth. Britton called him a natural fighter and that he was most productive when cornered. Fitting to have a powerhouse named for him.