Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Let There Be Light

I think I may have related some of this information somewhere in my blog previously but a while ago (sorry I'm a little tardy on this) Susan at e-i-e-i-omg! asked me how long we lived without electricity when we moved up here. So here are the details again. Feel free to travel on to some other more interesting blog if this is old stuff to you.

When we moved from Illinois, we settled on 80 acres we had purchased a number of years previous to the move. The land had originally been homesteaded (in the true sense of the word) in the early 1900s but had then been abandoned since 1917. The original settlers had cleared some land for pasture, hay fields and gardens. They lived in a very small log cabin while they built their house which burned down, sadly, sometime in the 1940s, long after the family had left the land.

This piece of land was almost 20 miles outside of our little town and the first year or so we had NO neighbors anywhere near us. There was also no electrical service available.

But where there's a will there's a way. We started out living in a 10' x 50' mobile home we had had moved up to the property from Illinois. The trailer was nearly 20 years old and had next to no insulation. (Yup, fine structure to live in in a part of the country that gets down to 30 degrees below zero in the winter.) But our living accommodations and the related trials and tribulations could fill many blog posts.

We did this not only with our daughter who had just turned two when we came up here but with a small herd of dairy goats, one donkey, a flock of chickens and 3-4 horses. No, the animals weren't in the trailer with us; the only structure on the piece of property was the original hand-hewn log barn which we fixed for the animals by putting a new roof on it.

Back to our lack of electricity. For light, we started out with Coleman camping lanterns. We had three of them. I can easily recall the hissing sound they made. The fumes probably weren't the best for us to breathe either, but then the trailer had enough gaps and cracks to let in plenty of fresh air.

Next we graduated to good old-fashioned kerosene lamps. At least they were quiet and created a little softer ambiance.

Hubby says we then found some Coleman lanterns that burned kerosene (rather than white gas) but I don't remember those so I don't think we used them for long.

Next? Aladdin lamps. Wow, they gave a lot of light. Wow, the mantles caught fire easily. I can't tell you how many times one of us had to grab a lamp and rush out the door before anything inside caught fire. I am still not fond of Aladdin lamps.

We had an L.P. tank of gas for our combination wood/gas cook stove so when we could afford them, we bought two wall mounted gas lights. They gave off so much heat that we hesitated turning them on when it got dark in the summer time. Our tin can of a house that was so cold in the winter, did a good imitation of an oven in the summer.

Then . . . ta-dah! . . . hi-tech set in. We bought some old, used telephone company batteries and a used (very used) Onan diesel generator that when fired up scared wild animals for miles around. Each Saturday we would start the generator which would then charge up the batteries. This enabled us to run 12 volt fluorescent lights off the batteries for a week. Best of all Saturday was bath day! We filled a galvanized tub with water (by hand with buckets of heated water) and hubby rigged a small motor that would pump the water up and through a shower head. It wasn't pretty but it sure was an improvement over the sponge baths we had to make do with the rest of the week.

We kept refining the system as we could but it wasn't until we had lived there for 12 years that it was possible to get grid power brought down our road. By that time there were two other full time families living within a couple of miles so we all went together to get electrified.

Until we got power brought in we were living without running water, of course. I've always said I'd rather do without running water than without electricity. I had my own efficient system set up for water but now marvel at all I did when each and every drop of water had to be hand carried in from the well. But inadequate lighting was difficult for me to deal with. For much of the year, it was depressing because I couldn't see well enough inside unless it was a very sunny day. Trying to accomplish anything before the sun came up or after it set was nearly impossible.

But we survived and I honestly think it made us stronger. If nothing else, because of what we've done and been through, we're probably better equipped to deal with anything that might come our way. Plus our daughter was raised seeing a family functioning very well and happy, thank you very much, in circumstances that most people today have never even experienced.


Jane said...

Thanks for that great story. I am curious, once you got electric did you use very little or did you go a little wild. I would think you went so long with out it, that you didn't have a whole lot of use for it but lights?

Erin said...

As soon as I saw it was going to be one of your stories, I had to run to get my dinner plate to eat while I read! Thank you so much for sharing these stories, I love them! It is truly amazing all that you have dealt with in stride, and I am sure every time you stepped up in convenience, you truly appreciated it and never take things for granted because of it. It warms my heart to know that such family togetherness, good hard work ethic, and knowing what's truly important in life is what is getting Chicken Mama through the past year - you have indeed shown by example! Excuse me, I have to go cry now... and seal some gaps around my doors and windows!

Susan said...

All I can say is, "WOW".

Anonymous said...

Why did you move there to start with?

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Oh that is amazing! Yes, I too would like to hear more about transitioning! What was your food storage situation? Did you say outhouse? And you are right, you are much better equipped than most of us! We could all take lessons!

Mama Pea said...

Jane - I think we've remained on the conservative side. The one thing I wanted right away was a freezer! It made food preservation so much easier. But I'm not a gadget person in the kitchen so I don't have a lot of appliances. No microwave or dishwasher for sure. Hubby appreciated power tools when we got electricity because doing everything by hand was so SLOW.

Erin - You're so right. When I was getting worn down from all the preserving this summer/fall, it hit me how much EASIER it is with running water . . . and I stopped my grousing. And I NEVER get in the shower without appreciating it all these years later. And having an automatic washing machine at home?? H-E-A-V-E-N!

You are so kind with your sweet words. But if you're going to keep crying over my posts, I'm going to have to stop doing them.

Susan - You are a woman of few words. ;o)

Spiderjohn - All the wells around us in Illinois were becoming polluted with toxins from the farm spraying. We wanted to be in an uncrowded area. We took a canoe trip up here and fell head over heels in love with the area. We kept coming back and met some wonderful people. And that was that!

APG - Yupper, we had a very nice biffy (outhouse) with a scenic view!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I was too young to know the situation at the time, but my grandparents lived in (sided) log house that had a generator in some outbuilding for power. My mother tells me how lucky I was that they had added an indoor bathroom by the time I came along because it wasn't always so! I do remember my grandmother doing laundry in a wringer washer though.

Ah, memories!

I think my father lived much as you described when he moved back, before they built their present house. I stayed in old, original house on the property on my honeymoon and I can attest it was well ventilated and the well water was VERY REFRESHING!!!

cmarie said...

Hi - I'm new to you but I know my endearing NE MN very very well and I am so happy to have you on my reading list! Yes I agree electricity is fine and dandy in life but in home water faucets are even better!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

Oh, this is fascinating. Thanks for sharing. You guys are way cool in my book:-).

growmyown said...

Thanks for sharing a piece of your past. I am new to your blog and don't know the history. I think the perception of living without modern conveniences is one thing and the reality, quite another. I have never lived without other than short camping/backpacking trips where it seems romantic. I bet the romance wears thin, especially with a small child. Great post.

Kelly said...

You were brave to make that move w/ a toddler in tow. I give you credit, the idea of no running water sounds very unpleasant. I actually read this out loud to musband last night, but nevr had a chance to comment; he was equally impressed. :)

Mama Pea said...

Jen - When we first here and told people we wanted to learn how to garden in this climate, someone told us to go see your grandparents as they always had a fantastic garden. My memory of the meeting is a little dim but I do remember their log house and standing in their big garden talking with them. They were very kind and sharing with us "newcomers."

Um, you had a bit of a rustic honeymoon!

cmarie - Hello and welcome! Thanks for commenting. I just hope I never have to give up running water OR electricity!!

ThyHand - Thanks for your nice words. We may have also been a little stoopid. It was REALLY hard the first several years. :o)

growmyown - Welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment. There wasn't much romance to daily life; plenty of hard work though! It definitely gave me new respect for the pioneer women who raised large families under probably harder same circumstances.

Kelly - Well, we really wanted to be here and financially we couldn't do it any other way. It was quite the journey.

Free Poker Money said...
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mtnchild said...

Love hearing the stories you tell. I think I could have done it when I was in my early 20's, but now 40 years later - OH, NO WAY!! If things were to go backwards a bit, I could live a little bit rustic, but water and power, I don't think I could.

Way back in the late 60's & early 70's there were a lot of my friends who moved out into the wilds and loved it. But there aren't many 'wilds' left where I grew up. (Los Angeles area)

I'll send Erin a box of tissues, but please keep telling stories!

Mama Pea said...

thanks, Yvette. Yes, the big hippie movement when so many "went back to the land." I'd love to see statistics of how many stuck it out and how many chucked it after a year or two and went back to civilization and are now bankers and stock brokers!!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I never pass by their old place without remembering my summers there as a child and the tire swing they had by their garden for us (and eating fresh raw peas for a snack!)

My grandmother died last week at 101 1/2. They don't make them like they used to anymore.

Leigh said...

What an interesting post! I love that you were committed to your goals enough to work toward them no matter what it took. Which reminds me, I need to get a new mantle for my Aladdin. (We keep it on stand-by status in case we lose power. You're right, they really do produce the most light of any kerosene lamp on the market.)

Mama Pea said...

Jen - Oh, Jen, I had no idea she was still living! Bless her soul. You are so right . . . I hate it that all the hard-working, honest-as-the-day is long, caring folks who toiled so endlessly in this area are nearly all gone now. They DON'T make 'em like that anymore!

Leigh - We did learn to use the Aladdin's in a more responsible way! (Except for that next occasional time when they would be ornery and flare up again!) We still keep a couple of them for emergencies, too.

Chicken Mama said...

Erin, your words, "It warms my heart to know that such family togetherness, good hard work ethic, and knowing what's truly important in life is what is getting Chicken Mama through the past year - you have indeed shown by example!" are so true. Mama & Papa Pea taught me how to be (and I say this without ego, if you can understand that) a STRONG person. I truly feel that I can do anything I put my mind to . . . because THEY have.

Jenyfer, I remember thinking, when your step-mom told me that you two had stayed in that original cabin for your honeymoon, "Reeeeally? Hmm. Interesting choice!" ;)

And, I have to relate this story about one of the local "old-timers". The daughter of this particular old farmwife works in my new office building, and her mom ("Granny", she's now called) comes in fairly regularly. The first time I met her (again) was during a coffee clutch we were all having (all of the building's renters are women, which is super cool). She sat down next to me, and after all the brief introductions were made, I turned to her and said, "You probably don't remember me, but I grew up in ______ (the same tiny burg she raised her family in) and remember you well! My folks are Mama and Papa Pea."

She got a big smile on her face, took my hand, and crooned, "Ohhhhh! Well, any daughter of Mama & Papa Pea is a DEAR FRIEND of mine!"

Mom, I'd love to hear you tell some of the stories of HER life and all the things she did to support her husband! And, yes, THANK YOU for finally getting these stories out. You know I've been trying to get you to do it for Y-E-A-R-S!!

Mama Pea said...

Chickie Mama - Well, I don't look or feel very strong right now. My eyes are so bleary with tears I can hardly see my monitor!

Oh yes! I SHOULD write some of the stories about "Granny!" Now there is a woman who could put all of us combined to shame. She's 83 now and doesn't look a bit different than when we first met her 37 years ago, does she? Salt of the earth personified! One who would do anything for you with no questions asked. For all the hardship she's gone through, she always has a smile on her face and kind words for everyone. I hope I'm half the woman Granny is when I grow up.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

LOL - we stayed in that cabin because we were young, in love, and POOR!!!! We had our love - and thankfully a couple of sleeping bags my dad left in there - to keep us warm ;)

Literally the last time I camped!

Mama Pea said...

Jen - My husband suggested a canoe trip for our honeymoon. We compromised (ha!) and took a car trip!

Isn't it funny how that old "poor" factor enters into so many decisions? :o)