Sunday, July 25, 2010

Electricity and phones

The questions asked were: Did we have phone lines and poles when we were kids? Did we have electric lines and poles? Which went underground and when?

The short partial answers are yes and yes and I'm not sure!

There was a telephone coop with farmers as members who would follow the lines after a storm and fix the broken lines by themselves. Someone in the coop had a set of pole climbing spikes. One member would collect the fees and pay the bills; Henry Saxowsky Sr. was one who did that and so was our uncle Lenhart Ziegler. It could have been two different coops although one lived less the a mile east of our farm and the latter lived about two miles west and north.

Members of the coops were on party lines meaning that when a phone rang there was a unique ring for each member and everyone could hear the ring and rubber (listen) in to all conversations. Our Saxowsky grandparents were on our party line and the Ziegler grandparents were not. Phone numbers were four digits, 5074 was ours and our unique ring was a short and two longs.

REA (Rural Electric Administration) subsided the construction of poles and lines and brought electricity to the farmers in the late forties. Our farm had a gasoline generator in the basement with a bank of batteries which were charged periodically. The generator had to be started when we ironed clothes. During the transition days, when a light switch was turned on, the bulb would glow very brightly for a brief moment and the burst with the much higher voltage.

The Ziegler farm (our mother's childhood farm) had a tower with a wind charger on top. The location by the house as you entered the yard made this obvious. The Saxowsky original farm, our father's childhood home had a wind charger on a tower behind the house and was easily forgotten.

When electricity came to our farm, the wires beyond transformer were buried from the "yard pole" in the middle of the yard somewhere between the barn and house. A light fixture to light the yard set at the top of the pole. When our farm started to sell raw milk in the late 50's, a backup generator was set by the pole and run with a tractor during power outages to keep the milk refrigerated.

While electricity came relatively late to western rural North Dakota, it was in the 1980's when many of our members finally were connected to electricity around Trapper Creek, Alaska. Everything is relative.

Somewhere there are documents that would give dates for each of these events but for now it has to be what we remember.