We used coal oil lamps and farm lanterns for several years after our fire and the construction of our new home. The cost of connecting with city electric lines was beyond the reach of Dad and Mom and several neighbors who had investigated that. Our family’s solution was to install a carbide, or gas, lighting system.
Though carbide was a big improvement over coal oil lamps, Dad was one of the most enthusiastic boosters of the idea of farmers working together to bring electricity out into the rural areas. In 1936, when farmers were forming cooperatives that could borrow money from the federal government, Dad was one of the volunteers who promoted the idea widely. He was O.D. Meyers, whose name joins others on a plaque at the present headquarters of Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia.
Many farmers signed up and paid the $5 fee to hook onto the lines, but few realized how electrification could change the operation of their farms and the lives of their families. Most felt that the small fee was justified for light for the home and maybe an electric iron for the wife.
Others wanted nothing to do with it; a few were actually afraid of electricity!
Dad owned and operated our family retail dairy farm, and he knew electricity could pump water, milk the cows and make farm life safer and happier for the entire family. What’s more, he’d be relieved of the chore of charging the carbide gas unit that ran out of granules at the most inconvenient times. For weeks, in 1935 and ’36, he knocked on doors and discussed the value of using electricity. The lines for the electric co-op could be extended where there were three customers per mile. In the Harg neighborhood, near Olivet Church, Dad visited with two friends, cattle feeders who had their own Delco Light Plants. They insisted that they didn’t need the Rural Electric Association. Dad paid their $5 initial fees so the electric line could extend beyond their homes.
In the 1940s, many people were still reluctant to spend the extra money it took to change from oil lamps to electricity, even when the lines were adjacent to their property. Some gave easements for poles on their farms but still did not hook onto the lines. Some said, "We have battery radios, our windmills pump water," and a few said, "Our carbide gas lights illuminate the entire room at one time." The affluent ones still had their own Delco generators.
Electricity came to our home and dairy in 1937. The power was purchased from the city of Columbia; the lines extended in all directions out of the city. Our dairy was four miles east of downtown, and the first electric poles, fitted with everything except the main power wire, were unloaded along our half-mile driveway in April l937. Digging the holes and setting the poles was later done by what we now call "primitive" labor; it took several fellows to set each pole.
In the late 1940s, my husband, the late W.F. "Chub" Gerard, was employed by the local REA and for many years as a wiring inspector. There were no restrictions on the wiring, and it was not unusual for "handymen" to do the job or for farmers to wire their own property! Of course, some installations were dangerous and had to be rejected.
Some schools put in wiring that first year, but in our Carlisle School District the three directors laughed at the idea of electricity in a school, saying, "They go to school in the daytime!"