One for the Books: Co-op Lineman Turns Bucket Into Little Library

Oahe Electric Cooperative’s Tory Smith shows off a lending library he built by hand using an old bucket from a co-op truck, along with PVC board and other materials. The miniature vehicle sits in the entryway of the co-op’s South Dakota headquarters. (Photo By: Valerie Marso)

A cracked bucket no longer safe for an electric cooperative bucket truck has a happily-ever-after ending, thanks to the creativity of a longtime lineworker.

Oahe Electric Cooperative members of all ages can take a book from the new lending library now at the co-op’s South Dakota headquarters. (Photo By: Sam Irvine)

Oahe Electric Cooperative’s “bucket truck” lending library is the creation of Tory Smith, an aspiring carpenter, who modeled the miniature vehicle after the Little Free Libraries that have cropped up in communities nationwide. After making its debut at a recent member appreciation event, the little book truck now sits in the entryway of the co-op’s headquarters in Blunt, South Dakota.

“I think it’s good for kids, and I’m all about doing things for kids,” said Smith, who’s worked at the co-op since the early 2000s.

The inspiration for the library struck during a co-op safety meeting, said Chief Financial Officer Valerie Marso. When a lineworker mentioned the old bucket in passing, Marso and others remembered a collection of books acquired through a collaboration between Touchstone Energy® Cooperative and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a grassroots literacy program created by the country music star.

“We had a lending library in the back of our mind, but we didn’t know how we would do that,” Marso said. “It just kind of came to fruition, everybody talking all together. Tory said he would build it and I gave him a budget. He stayed under it and did a really great job.”

The lending library kept the 4-foot-tall bucket out of the landfill. It has become so popular that there is an overflow box for books. (Photo By: Sam Irvine)

For Smith, a busy father of two teenagers and 12-year-old twins, the opportunity was a welcome chance to break out his miter, jig and skill saws and his array of cordless power tools to cut PVC board for the truck’s chassis and body and its built-in bookshelves. He worked on the project off and on over the winter.

“I didn’t really have a plan. I was kind of making it up as I went along, and it worked out,” said Smith, whose father taught him carpentry skills. His wife, Teri, helped by showing him ideas from Pinterest.

The project also ended up having a sustainable element by keeping the 250-pound, 4-foot-tall bucket, which had failed a routine inspection, out of the landfill. And it serves as a drop-off point for books needing a new home. In fact, there’s an overflow box next to the little bucket truck.

“When people come to the lobby to do something, they stop and go, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’” Marso said.

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.