Down on the Farm


| March/April 1986



Sketch of carbide light generator

8006 Watson Lane, Wichita, Kansas 67207

I was born in 1927 on a farm near Stockton, Kansas. We started out without electricity, wood being our main source of heat and for cooking. I remember the saying that a person received heat twice from wood first from cutting it up and then from burning it. I recall the Monday washing routine. In the warm season, water was heated in a cast iron kettle by building a fire around it and, in bad weather, heating it on a wood cook stove. The washing machine was a hand powered one, with hand powered wringer. The only source of water in the house was a pitcher pump, with water coming from a cist'em if there had been enough rainfall to collect in the cistern. It was dry a good share of the time in the thirties. Our water supply was furnished by a windmill. On windy days, it would pump water into a supply tank that was made from an old steam boiler standing up on end. Pumped water could be sent into the tank, or to a concrete holding tank where its over-low passed on to the livestock water tanks. This concrete tank also provided the cooling for milk and cream. Needless to say, the amount of time that milk could be kept before souring wasn't the greatest. Our first refrigeration was a Servell that burned kerosene. In later years, we converted it over to bottle gas.

We were better off than some in regard to house lighting. We had carbide lights. The house was plumbed with ' pipe to each room, and the generator was out in the back yard. When I became old enough it was my job to clean out the tank, which was a cylinder buried in the ground to prevent the water from freezing. The system would hold one hundred pounds of carbide, which would last close to a year, if I recall correctly.

I also recall vividly the dust storms that would come rolling into the area. The day could be clear, and a dust storm would roll in and, in some cases, cause enough darkness that the Stockton street lights would come on. I recall one storm that blew in as we were attending a church meeting one night in Stockton. The wind was exceptionally strong and we all stayed quite late until the wind let up some. We finally made our way the two and a half miles home. I will always remember that enough dust filtered into the house that colors of a quilt on a bed were not distinguishable. In later years, we dismantled part of that old house and it was a very dusty job, as a lot of the thirties' dust was still in the attic.

The circular drum contained gasits weight created the line pressure to the house. As gas was consumed, the drum would descend until it hit the center plunger. This would allow some carbide to fall into the water, creating more gas which in turn pushed the drum upward. There was a hand pump that would reach the bottom of the tank that had a large cone-shaped disc that was used to mix the water and sediment so that it could be pumped out. This mix was used at times to whitewash the inside of the chicken house. This system was used for many years, until the tank rusted out and too much gas was lost.

Another problem in those days was the shortage of livestock feed. I recall that the crop that was doing the best was what we called Russian thistles or tumble weeds. There were a couple of machines in our neighborhood that I have never heard anyone else write about I have been curious if those two were unique or if there were others in the country. A local blacksmith (by the name of Charley Crowell, if I remember correctly) built both of them. They were built from the front beater and cylinder of an old threshing machine. There was a rattle type conveyer on the front to carry the thistles in, and a conveyer on the rear to carry the ground feed away and into a pile. There was a screen on the back of the cylinder that would pass the material when it was ground small enough. These thistles and what other feed was available was all the livestock had to survive on. I heard of an attempt to make silage from thistles, but they turned into a soggy mess and the idea was scrapped.