In those long ago days before the advent of paved streets and air conditioning, (and that was a heap of time ago), the hot summer days could be eased a mite by following the huge water wagon as it sprinkled the dust along the main street of my hometown.
It may be difficult for my readers to visualize how a now-sleepy half-abandoned village of today could have been such a thriving and vibrant town so few years ago. Perhaps Sumner, like many other towns of that era, became the victim of progress. First came the newspapers with their citified lures that made people forget their needs were so few, and instead made their wants so great. Then the automobile came along and with it the ‘hard roads’ so that people could range far and wide and their world was not limited to what a horse could cover. I well remember the canopy-covered board sidewalks that flanked the wide spacious dirt streets, which, in turn, were covered with a bevy of horse-drawn wagons, carts and buggies, as well as a few of those new-fangled gasoline-powered automobiles. The traffic beat the hard clay soil into a pulp, and pulverized it into fine, powdered, hoof-deep dust that covered everything. The grayish brown layer soon became mud when the infrequent rains swept across the open fields from Claremont way.
The merchants would pool their money and hire one of the Gray boys with their water wagon (that was used during the fair in Bridgeport and out on the oil lease roads), to sprinkle the streets from time to time to ‘lay the dust.’ Of course, the ‘laying’ was only temporary, but since it was almost always done in the evenings, the very sound of the gushing water would send an illusion of coolness sweeping across town and give a slight lift to jaded spirits. It also provided the boys and girls (tomboy girls, that is) the opportunity to frolic in the mist from the huge tank wagon as it was drawn down the main street.
The wagon held perhaps 10 barrels of water at a time, and was filled from the waters of Muddy Creek, usually by parking the wagon on the steel bridge, just off Tick Ridge, and a few miles north of the huge gas tank that Uncle Charley teasingly called ‘The Submarine.’ The driver would drop the hose off the bridge into the creek and with several men taking turns, the hand-operated pump soon filled the container.
The tank was mounted on a close-coupled wide-tired wagon with a canvas cover over the spring seat. The pump itself was carried on one side and a hose rank on the other. Across the back was a six-foot-long perforated pipe that had a big valve to turn the water on and off. When the valve was opened, the force of gravity and the weight of the load forced the water through the many small holes in the cross pipe and the wonderful cool water would gush out and spray all with in its reach.
That was when the kids and dogs made sure they were within reach of that wagon. The fact that the water generated instant mud was of no matter. The cold water, flowing over bare feet and splashing on legs with turned-up britches, was worth the effort of a footbath when it came to bedtime. I suspect that some of the girls like Clete and Alyene Westall were defying their mother’s admonitions when they tucked up their gingham dresses and, with pigtails flying, sought heat relief along with the likes of the Caldwells and Malone boys, and, oh yes, the Pipers. In those long ago days, the stores stayed open until at least 10 p.m., or until the customers quit coming. Fred Westall had a rule that said, ‘If we are here, then we are open.’ And they were usually there and usually open.
The sprinkling was always a Saturday event in the summer months, and often Wednesdays too, so that the prayer meeting goers would not be covered with dust that had to be shed along with their sins, once in the church. Saturday however, was the big day and night in Sumner, as it was in most towns. That was when the farmers brought their young’ns along with maybe a three-gallon shotgun can of cream and a basket full of eggs to cover the cost of the family’s needed supplies. The various stores would vie for the best allowance if the pay were taken in trade.
My father would usually make the first stop at Daub’s Poultry and Ice House, for there, if I remember right, Ross Cunningham had a buying station for Sugar Creek and paid a premium for sweet Jersey cream. Since he and Dad had been in the same high school class it was to be expected that he would give the best test and weight, or so Dad believed.
CM. Schuder had the big general store across from Westalls but Charley Saxton had a rather complete grocery store right next door to the north, where Cally Jones often times slipped me a stick of horehound candy when Dad let them have the eggs that Mother had packed in her basket.
There was always an immense flock of pigeons following the water wagon and frisking after the horses. In fact, the tops of buildings on both sides of the street would usually be lined with these cooing and billing birds, and they were in constant motion, darting down to pick up a dainty morsel, or just being pigeons. Come to think of it, I would suspect that these were the justification for that wide canopy over the boardwalk that ran the length of Main Street.
Last week, I stood at the door of the still-imposing Westall building and looked across that now-paved and empty street, and in my mind’s eye, recreated the horse-drawn water wagon, the flitting pigeons, the strolling neighbors and the carefree children. Isn’t it wonderful that the Good Lord, in his great wisdom, let us remember the good things of life and helps us to forget the others?