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From the cistern to the city water

web1_RickHouser.jpgBy Rick Houser –

When you fill a glass up with water or draw up some water for a bath, do you ever stop and think just how convenient water is today? Today water comes to us much easier than in the past and I think we sometimes forget just how good it is to never question if water will run from the tap when it is turned on, but drawing up a bucket of water had a much different meaning so many years ago.
When I was young, one of my first memories was a hand pump attached at the sink in our kitchen. At this time this was referred to as running water. I know My Aunt Ocie and Louise Maus had sink pumps for longer than we did but this was mostly out of choice but it wasn’t too much longer before faucets took the pump’s place.
At that time no one had city water. As far as I know there was a well, a cistern, or a spring. We had a spring and cistern for supplies and truthfully the two supplies had to work hard to meet our needs and our needs were rationed, decided by my mom. When the faucet and water pump systems were installed in the farm house, the farmer’s wife had her life made so much easier. At least that’s what the husbands thought, but I’m not certain that the wives felt the same way.
As people became more and more accustomed to easier accessibility to supplies of water, homeowners were building larger cisterns to hold a larger supply. The surface of a cistern was used as the floor of an extra room or in some cases became the front porch. Either way the homeowner saw to it that he got as much use out of the investment as he could.  It is only fair to say that in the period from the 1950’s even into the 1970’s there was still a noticeable number of homeowners who would transport containers to community wells and fill the containers and haul their own water supply.
In the township where Fruit Ridge (our home) is, there were three or more public wells and I remember them more was because my Dad was a trustee and the trustees of that time felt it their duty to make certain the public wells were always in operational condition. I was just a boy then but knew most all the families in the township because I was Dad’s sidekick when he went on trustee business.  I’m not sure how conversations began and maybe the people we met at the wells just liked to talk but it seemed I always ended up in longer than usual conversations. (You can learn so much from a good conversation.)
It always surprised me, the number of people who would rather pump water than invest in a cistern. Out of the conversations I learned that most who hauled their water had chosen this method and saw no reason to alter how they had been doing things for years. Once they gave me their side of the story and I watched how they did it, I respected these folks even more.
One winter our water supply lines froze and the only way we were going to get water, just for the essentials, was to go to the spring house that was  over 300 feet away from the house and then descend 20 steps to even enter the spring house. Then we had to carry the five gallon bucket all the way to the house with the bucket full and while climbing uphill.
I recall telling my Mom how I felt I really wanted to relive the good old days. Mom handed me the bucket and said I was so lucky and here was a chore from the good old days I could do. By the second trip uphill to the house I decided I really didn’t want to re-enact those good old days.
I would also have never been one that hauled water from the wells.  There was a man from Moscow named Howard Altman who hauled water in  quantities of over 1000 gallons and in dry or very cold weather was a regular visitor to our home. In those days Howard was a regular to almost everyone’s house in the neighborhood. Another benefit of using Howard was that he would haul you your needed water almost any time around the clock. (Look for that perk today!)
Let me move forward in time. My wife and I had moved to the home we bought on the corner of Smyrna and Felicity-Higginsport. The water supply there was a 2,000 gallon cistern that also served as our front porch. Since there were just the two of us we felt we had traded up to an abundant supply of water and for the first two years there it looked like we were right. However in January 1977 the area endured one of the coldest and snowiest winters, with huge wind drifts like I had never experienced. The winds were so cold that the water in our cistern froze and no water trucks were able to get to us due to the snow drifts, so for three or four days my wife and I would collect all the snow we could put in bowls (and we used them all), melt the snow and then warm the melted snow and pour it into the tub to get a bath or warm the water to wash up our dishes. Finally we got Bucky Jarman to get a load of water to us and I felt like we had been given back the necessities of home. The next winter brought the blizzard of 1978 and undoubtedly the worst winter storm I’ve seen to this day.
In the spring of 1980 Jim Napier, a farmer who lived near us, stopped and ask if we were interested in getting city water.  I don’t think the papers to sign ever left his hands because we couldn’t sign fast enough. It took over two years before the water lines came by us and when they hooked up, I still think it was one of those days in your life you never forget. I know I had already lined up Terry Dunaway to connect my house to water that ran 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The men from the Water Company and Terry were outside in a deep talk and this caused me a little concern.
When the water company left, I went out an asked Terry what was that all about and he said “well, you have a big decision to make before I can connect.” Now what?
“They say you have that big cistern that has to be disconnected,” Terry continued. “Water from it can’t run through the same pipes as the city water.” Very worried now I asked Terry what should be my next move. He smiled and said, “Hoss, just hook it up to your outside faucet and water your garden and wash you cars or whatever you want for life.” Free! I’ve been on city water ever since and am so very grateful that I am. I guess I’ve really seen almost the entire evolution of household water.

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