By Bill Grosboll
Sept. 29, 2007

Modern conveniences were a little slow to arrive on the farm for various reasons but probably the number one reason was finances. One must remember that the great depression was just a few years prior to my birth and recovery from it was slow, not from my birth but from the depression, although Mom might have different thoughts. Electricity had not been available all that long and was not the most dependable. Power failures were a pretty common occurrence whenever we had storms or high winds, but people werenít affected nearly as much then as now simply because the old timers still had memories of how it was without electricity. Mom and Dad kept a couple kerosene lanterns and a barrel of kerosene for just such emergencies, plus Mom always had a good stock of candles on hand. There were still manual well pumps so we had water, fireplaces for heat and a supply of logs were kept on hand, and the best part was the family grouped together during these outages. I loved it when the power went out at night and Mom would light the kerosene lanterns and candles! Everything in the house takes on a different appearance under the light of a kerosene lantern and the flicker of a candle. The only real problem with the power failure was the refrigerator, therefore it was taboo to open the refrigerator door for any reason because Mom didnít want to lose the cold air. It wasnít until the mid fifties that Mom finally got a freezer and then an extended outage would cause serious concern because of the large quantity of food that would be lost if the power was out for a long period. I can only remember one time that the folks had to throw everything out which meant the dog ate like a king for a couple of days! Dad also had a couple of the old kerosene lanterns with handles that allowed you to carry the lantern around and believe me, nothing is scarier than an old barn that is illuminated by a lantern. Everything moves, or at least the shadows do!

If the outage was during the winter and quite probable because of ice storms, then Dad would light the fireplace in the living room and that was our source of heat for the entire house. When we had the old coal furnace we didnít have this problem because the hot water from the coal furnace would travel to the radiators via convection but when Dad upgraded to an oil furnace this wasnít possible because the furnace required electricity to operate. I guess an improvement is only an improvement when everything is working as it should. A fireplace is not considered a modern improvement but at least it works when nothing else will. When nightfall arrived and it was time for bed, Mom and Dad would go to their bedroom which was next to the warm living room and use extra blankets while we three kids would make our nests on the floor in front of the fireplace. It was great!

During the day, Dad would go to the ďshopĒ which was just an old garage that was out near the barn. He would build a fire in the wood furnace that he had in the corner and in about thirty minutes the shop would be as warm as toast, so that is where he would spend his time until the power came back on. I donít know if Mom ever figured this out, that she was suffering in a cold house with three kids while Dad was doing his thing in total comfort. I imagine that if I asked her, her response would be a somewhat sarcastic ďOh, yes, I knewĒ! The reason I know what Dad was up to is because when I got older, I would go hang out with him in the warm shop.

Looking back at some of the old appliances that Mom had to deal with, I remember when she got her first electric stove to replace the old wood burning unit. I donít remember too much about the old stove because I was really young when she got the new stove. Another appliance that was relatively new on the farm was the refrigerator and although I do not ever remember not having one, I know they hadnít had it too long before I was born because it was always referred to as the ďice boxĒ. I donít think I stopped calling a refrigerator an ice box until some time in the sixties. We still had the old ice box and it was used in Dadís shop for storing seeds that he wanted to keep away from the mice. For those of you who donít remember ice boxes, they worked by placing large blocks in the upper portion and the cool air generated by these blocks fell into the lower part where the food stuffs were kept. Simple but effective. Ice was still in demand when I was a kid because Petersburg still had an ice house or ice factory. Not to get away from the farm theme but Iíd like to mention some of the old industries of Petersburg that disappeared as I grew up. Probably the oneís I remember the best would be the brick yard, ice house, slaughter house, green house, four auto dealers, three farm implement dealers, cheese factory (gone before my time), blacksmith, glass works, and two train depots. There were probably others but these are the oneís that stand out in my mind. Just proof that Petersburg was relatively self supporting, which all changed with the improvement of transportation. Alas!

Letís talk rugs! Howís that for a change of subject? As I was growing up, shag carpet didnít exist, or at least it hadnít made itís way to rural Menard County. The reason I mentioning rugs, it was my responsibility to take the small throw rugs out to the clothes line, hang them over the line and then beat the heck out of them with a heavy wire looped rug beater. Man, would the dust fly and it was good therapy. One of the few jobs that I had that I could take out all my pent up frustrations that a small child can have. Now that Iím older, I donít know why Dad didnít do this instead of taking out his frustrations with me on my hind end. Before Mom got her first upright Hoover vacuum sweeper, all the carpets were cleaned either as I mentioned before or the large carpets were cleaned with a mechanical sweeper that had two rotary brushes that rotated as the sweeper was pushed back and forth and these brushes would kick up the particles into a tray located between them. This tray had a door that opened and usually had to be taken outside to be cleaned to avoid dust and lint from going all over the house. It wasnít too efficient but it was better than nothing. The hard wood floors were cleaned by tying a cloth (usually an old pillow case) over the bristles of the broom which was then wiped over the floor. We also had what was called a dust mop which did the same thing. The rag over the bristles of the broom was also used to get rid of the spider webs in the corners of the walls and ceilings. Spiders and farm houses seem to have a natural affinity to each other and are very good at building unnoticeable webs, at least until we would have company over and they would point them out to Mom, much to her chagrin. It was then pointed out, by Mom, to my sister Pat and I that we had been shirking our duties. I donít want to make this sound like a commercial for Electrolux but Mom purchased one during the late fifties and she still uses it to this day. Now that can be construed a couple of ways; that the machine is tough or Mom is lacking when it comes to vacuuming, which I know is not the case.

Well, I think Iíll call an end to this chapter and will continue with my childhood at a later date.



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