When Mom and Dad bought a farm in 1915, it was four miles from Ninth and Broadway in Columbia. That was too far from the city for electric lines to reach them.
Dad and his helpers did farm chores in the dark, carried coal-oil lanterns in one hand and hung those feeble lights on a nail in the barn while they fed and milked the cows. They heated water using an upright steam boiler, like those on steam engines, for washing and sterilizing the vessels and glass bottles. They "harvested" ice from the pond in winters and stored it in an in-the-ground icehouse to cool those bottles of milk in summers.
When I was a preschooler, Mom used corncobs to start a fire in her big iron Majestic cook stove to make coffee and fry meat and eggs and bake biscuits for breakfast. She would add wood, cut to stove length, and keep the fire going all day. There was a reservoir of water on one end of the stove, so she kept a low fire to provide warm water all day for cooking, laundry and household chores. She would fire up for cooking meals and to heat several sad irons on ironing day.
Farm children carried lunch boxes a mile or two to country schools, which had two privies and a well pump in the play yard. When it rained, the school’s only room was the playroom. People brought oil lamps for pie suppers and Christmas programs at night.
Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "lighting the way" in May 1935, the government loaned money to help groups of farmers finance their own electric lines.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Watson, farmers in the Midway area, were the first Boone Countians to write to Washington for information. That started the ball rolling. The Rural Electric Administration made government loans to local groups and set guidelines for them.
By 1936, Boone Electric Cooperative was well on its way, and in the summer of 1937, the poles were set, wires were strung and buildings were wired and ready to receive service. Rural electrification changed the lives of millions of people all over America. Boone Electric Cooperative extended lines north to Hallsville, west to Midway, southeast to Huntsdale and McBaine, east to Harg and south to Deer Park.
Ours was one of the first farms to be ready when the power was turned on.
"Lighting the Way" author Jacki Gray tells the story of Boone Electric from its beginning.
There’s a snapshot of a big man taking a bath in a small washtub. There’s a close-up of a man holding the milk bucket between his knees and milking with both hands - in the dark. And there’s also a man saying "goodbye" just before they burned the privy.
My husband, W.F. "Chub" Gerard, was power use adviser for Boone Electric after World War II. It was his job to teach people that electricity was "the best hired hand you could employ."
Some people continued to draw water with a hand pump and milk cows in the dark and said, "We’ll just use house lights and an electric iron."
When the monthly minimum amount was used, one family switched back to oil lamps for a few days each month.
Others said, "Yes, you may build electric lines across our farm, ... but we’re afraid it might burn our house."
A woman who didn’t want an indoor toilet told Chub, "If I didn’t go outdoors to the toilet, I never would get any fresh air."
All who have lived on a farm will enjoy the book "Lighting the Way," available at Boone Electric, 1413 Range Line St., Columbia, Mo., 65202.