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    THE POWER
    WE LONGED FOR

    by Robert G. Cowser
    Robert G. Cowser
    In the years just before and during World War II two unpaved roads led south from Saltillo. For seven miles there was a distance of almost a mile between these roads until they approached the Greenwood community. There the roads converged. Those of us who lived on the road that started from the east side of town used kerosene lamps and wood-burning heaters and cook stoves. No farmer living on this road had a milking machine. Those who lived on the road that ran from the west side had the benefit of power supplied by an Rural Electric Administration co-operative in Greenville. A few of the farmers had milking machines. They could freeze ice cream in a tray in their refrigerators.

    In the evening while our classmates on the west road worked their math problems at the kitchen table by light that came from a bulb dangling from the ceiling, my brother and I read by the much dimmer light from a kerosene lamp.

    Once the United States entered World War II, we knew there was no hope of getting electricity until the Axis forces were defeated. Waiting for electrical power was one of our sacrifices for the war effort.

    After the war ended, both my brothers-in-law returned from military service. One sister and her husband bought a farm on the east road. They built a house and joined the rest of us without electricity. My sister used an iron that burned kerosene and bought a kerosene lamp with a special wick. The brand name was Aladdin.

    Early in 1947 my brother-in-law decided to circulate a petition in the community. The petition asked the Wood County Co-Operative in Quitman to install poles and power lines along the Hopkins County roads where residents did not have power. I accompanied my brother-in-law on the visits to the neighbors. Most agreed to sign the petition, but a few did not. They seemed content to live as their grandparents and parents before them.

    Eventually, Wood County Electric Co-operative agreed to extend its line from the western part of Franklin County into Hopkins County. The next problem was finding an electrician to wire our house. A second brother-in-law and another World War II veteran had gained some experience as electricians in the military; they agreed to wire the house.

    My sister took my mother shopping for light fixtures for each of the five rooms in the house. For one bedroom she chose an opaque glass fixture with a beige rim. It was attached to the metal bulb holder with four small chains. Many is the time I had difficulty re-attaching the bowl after I had taken it down in order to clean it. For the kitchen my mother chose a milk glass fixture with blue daisies in a chain.

    The day the workers came from Quitman to connect the power to the house was one of the most exciting days our family had ever experienced. As we celebrated, we waited for the water to freeze in the trays we had placed in the new refrigerator. My mother plugged in the new iron she bought with the pennies she had saved for months. There was even more excitement after the sun went down. My younger brother and I paraded through the house, switching the lights on and off and then on again. When I resumed reading Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street, I could hardly believe how much clearer the printed pages were.

    Years later when I told my sons and daughters about my family’s long wait for electricity, they were dubious. But there are a few former neighbors at Saltillo who can verify my account.


    © Robert G. Cowser
    August 23, 2011
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