Mason County News
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At the Top of Erna Hill
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 • Posted June 21, 2013

On occasion, I have learned that such a thing as writer's block occurs and this is the case, more or less, on my next article of the industry development of Erna, which was the establishment of the Leon Gin and Milling Company. I have information but I am unable to closely identify residents with a picture I have, in order. As I once said, I operate under a Hold Harmless clause so I only aim at the mass. The following is a fill in while I gain some knowledge on the gin.

I am thinking about the development of communications and basic needs just in my lifetime since 1930. Around 1880, as this area was settled, the form of communication was by word of mouth and mail service. Telegraph service was available from major towns and eventually, phones began to appear in Erna, but few had such modern extravagancies. There were a few news papers that filtered their way to Erna but local papers only arrived after 1900. The London Graphic was published in the ‘20s by Marvin Hunter, Jr., of which I have copies of the June 1929 edition. It is interesting reading as the subject of most news items are one liner’s and no embellishment involved.

I remember my first need to use a phone and in those days, it had to be, usually, a message of bad news. At about 14, I was delegated to go to London and call my Uncle Roy Andrews in Eldorado and relay some sort of bad news. I sweated bullets while waiting for Central to get my party, which was about 15 minutes of cranking and changing plugs on the switchboard and I finally relayed the message. I guess I thought that the receiver on the phone would shallow me up. The telephone was not popular until about 1954 when the co-op installed rural phone systems. Now check out the phone usage, as everyone has one installed on the hip.

Many do not understand how the early crank phones worked nor have they ever seen one. The phones were a wall phone with a mouthpiece and a receiver on a short cord and a dry cell battery inside for power and in order to make a call, one had to lift the receiver and crank the crank on the phone in certain ways. The lines ran from a location called “Central” to outlying areas with up to as many as twelve phones on one line and the line was given a number, such as 32 F and the phones on that line were given a number such as 12, always a two digit number, which became 32 F 12. To call out to another line, you had to crank central with one long crank,(two turns) and wait for central to answer and ask what number you are calling and central would connect you. To make a call on the party line, to say number 22, one had to lift the receiver, crank the crank two long turns (2) and two short turns (1 time) or two longs and two shorts. As local calls were made, most everyone on the line would listen in on the conversations. After about 4 eves dropped listeners, the batteries could not produce enough power and the conversation would be so faint that those listening in had to guess at what was being said thus gossip became the norm. Seldom was a message repeated correctly. My dad only had about three favorite jokes and one was a party line joke. It seems that two women were talking and one said that she gave her baby one drop of castor oil and he passed one worm and the other women said that she gave her baby two drops and he passed two worms and this little boy listening in had to top that and he said “That’s nothing, I but three drops of turpentine in a cat’s hind end and he passed two motorcycles and a police car.” Kids always have answers.

We had a radio by the time I was 5, 1935, and we were allowed to listen to WOAI News at noon when Henry Howell came on with the weather report and always reported shotgun showers for the summer, which meant that one could stand a double barrel shot gun up by a fence and it would rain in one barrel and the other would remain dry. But the joy of the lunch break was being able to listen to Lum and Abner on KNEL Radio, Brady, for 15 minutes immediately after Henry Howell. Lum and Abner was the absolute requirement of my Dad’s listing pleasures. The two programs were for 30 minutes and that was all for the day, as the dry cell battery power had to last for 5 to 6 months. Then, we would re- order from Monkey Wards or Sears-Rareback along, maybe, for a pair of new shoes and pants. Our under ware was made from emptied cotton salt sacks on the family sewing machine and many of our shirts were made from the emptied flour sacks and chicken feed sacks, which were a printed fabric. Mama would start a project and she may have to wait for two or three orders of feed to be in store before she could repeat the original patterns.

Then, in 1938/39, REA came to Erna and things changed in a heartbeat. Other than the electric lights, our first purchases were a Norge refrigerator and a Monkey Wards electric radio, which for the first time, allowed Mama to listen to the soap operas in the afternoon as she ironed with an electric iron. I remember Stella Dallas, Lorenzo Jones and Young Widow Brown as the three she listened to, but, the best of all, was the fact that with an ice maker, we could have iced tea at lunch while we listened to Henry Howell and possibly Lum and Abner for a while but I think they went off the air at KNEL about 1939, but this did not interfere with a long leisure lunch break enjoying two or three glasses of ICED TEA and garden fresh eats during the hot summertime. You know, it was hot then and we did not even know of global warming.

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