"Eb Patton, a cousin from Mobeetie, used to say he didn't know
his given name until he was 12 years old because all the family had
ever said to him since birth was, 'Go get wood.' " ...
the beginning, man's desire and need for fire has kept him busy in
search of fuel. Gathering firewood, the traditional fuel, was about
as important as gathering food. From cave-dwellers to early day settlers
in the West, each day required many hours dedicated to finding fuel.
Eb Patton, a cousin from Mobeetie, used to say he didn't know his
given name until he was 12 years old because all the family had ever
said to him since birth was, "Go get wood."
The greatest drawback in settling the plains was the absence of wood,
but the problem was solved by burning buffalo or cow chips. Every
plains traveler, from freighters to trail-drive herds, moved across
the prairies gathering twigs and chips into their "coonies," a dried
cowhide hung beneath their wagon. Cooks quickly learned the expertise
to heat with this prairie coal.
Wives and children of the settlers gathered chips and sotol or bear
grass stalks, building long ricks of fuel by the side of their dugouts.
The stalks kept the ricks from falling, and canvas, wood planks and
grass topped the piles, keeping the fuel dry until needed.
improved, wood use gradually changed to coal. Some areas, like our
old ranch in New Mexico, which is today's Collins & Sons Ranch north
of San Jon, had streaks of crude coal showing above the surface.
In the 1950s, old-timers in the Road To Ruin Saloon in Logan, N.M.
told of digging in this vein of coal and placing the pieces into gunny
sacks, but only after killing off all the rattlesnakes nesting in
the mine shaft. I think I would have cut wood instead.
Our little Sunday school at old McMillen southwest of Perryton was
heated by the members bringing small buckets of coal from home each
Sunday morning. My only recollection of coal was at 9 years of age
when I built a World War II airstrip out by our coal pile by using
the large lumps for mountains.
not sure when "coal oil" became kerosene. I do remember filling lamps
and lanterns with a small metal can using a potato over the spout
for a lid. I also remember spilling kerosene on the linoleum while
trying to place an over-filled glass jug into our living room heater.
Mother cooked on a "jug fed" kitchen stove for a while, not liking
to trim and clean the wicks trying to improve the heat.
My "part-timers disease" prevents me from remembering the exact year
we acquired rural electrification and propane. I think both came at
about the same time as I remember Mother standing over our new floor
furnace, dress billowing out from the rising heat, smiling from ear
to ear as she watched the new overhead light bulbs glow.
Our ranch home, built in 1918, does not have the best of insulation.
We still use nonelectric wall heaters, burn old fence posts in our
fireplace and use lap robes in extremely cold weather. In fact, during
the last winter, the only time I got warm was when I broke out in
a sweat writing out the check for our monthly butane bill.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
15, 2004 column