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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Dad had a ball with newfangled electric

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Today, when we need electrical power an electrical outlet is usually within reach or at least in reach of an extension cord. I can remember when this was not always the case. Our family progressed from kerosene lamps to an electrical generator before the REA finally reached our farm home. But, even then, electrical outlets were few and far between because of the cost of installation.

Immediately after store-bought REA electricity arrived, salesmen began calling at the farm. Each had newfangled electrical tools, appliances or gimmicks to demonstrate that we couldn't do without. Each time Dad bought a new electrical tool he had to buy mother an appliance or kitchen gadget in order to keep the peace. At our house my favorite was the electric fans to move the hot summer air across our bedrooms. Dad's favorite was the trouble lights used to work on equipment.

For a period of time after electrical power came onto the scene, not everyone was blessed with the convenience. Remote areas had to wait another year or so for electrical power. My father had a Western dance band called The Perryton Playboys all through the Depression years most of which was before the arrival of electrical power. In about 1936 he purchased a public-address system complete with a microphone the size of a gallon bucket, an amplifier that weighed 50 pounds and a 12-inch speaker mounted in a wooden case. The unit was made by Gibson, the guitar people.

It was not powered by the modern 110 volts but by 6 volts provided by our car battery.

Each dance, after the instruments were unloaded, the car was parked by a window near the bandstand. Jumper cables were attached to the car battery and extended inside to the amplifier.

Mother took Dad's pocketwatch, watched the time and every hour went outside to start the car motor to charge up the battery to power the amplifier for another hour. Imagine comparing that sound equipment to that of a modern rock band in concert today.

A friend in Clayton, N.M., related a similar story of when he was young and played in a local Western dance band in the Clayton/Des Moines area. It seems a large country school located on the Cimarron River north of Des Moines hired the band for a local community dance. When asked if they had electricity, the answer was, "Oh yes, we have electricity."

The night of the dance the band arrived to play and found the school electricity consisted of a large 32-volt wind charger, not near powerful enough to run their electrified amplifiers.

Fortunately, the instruments were standard with added pick-up microphones and could be played normally but certainly did not play very loud.

My friend stated, "I guess it all turned out alright but we sure had to "thump hard" and "sing loud" to make ourselves heard.

The crowd even passed the hat several times for money and we didn't get to quit playing until nearly daylight."

This story brings to mind the old adage, where there's a will, there's a way."

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" December 2, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
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