Childhood Memories: Delco Light Plants and School in the 1940s
As I’m only a few days shy of my 79th birthday, I feel the urge to reminisce about some of my childhood memories. I hope you’ll indulge me.
There was a Delco light plant in the corner of the cellar near the outside cellar door. This device consisted of a small gasoline engine, a generator, and a number of large storage batteries that provided us with 32 volts of DC electricity to operate lights, etc.
About 1937 or 1938, I remember watching out the window as a lineman hooked up our electricity at the pole. Dad got an electrician to wire the house and barn and my Uncle Dave, who was an electrician for J & L Steel in Aliquippa, Pa., rewired several strings of Christmas tree lights so they would work on the new 110 volt AC current, rather than the DC put out by the Delco plant.
A neighbor who lived farther south of us, where the electric line wouldn’t reach for quite a while, bought our Delco plant. I remember him dragging the concrete base for the light plant up the dirt road behind his old Ford car.
I don’t remember this, but when I was a baby, the open fireplace in the living room at the bottom of the stairwell was used for heat. One winter night, Dad woke up, smelled smoke, and found hot coals had fallen beyond the brick hearth and had ignited the wooden floor. I don’t think the fireplace was ever used after that and that’s probably when a coal-fired space heater was installed in its place.
I remember running downstairs on cold winter mornings to dress by that coal stove, as there was no heat upstairs, other than what went up through the stairwell. We had a coal range in the kitchen besides the coal stove in the living room. There was a fireplace in each of the two larger bedrooms upstairs, but I don’t remember them ever being used.
We lived on a dirt township road that was probably half a mile from the Pennsylvania State Route that we called “the upper road.” During the late 1930s, the WPA paved that road. A layer of crushed rock was put down and then black-top over that. My conservative Republican parents always complained about the lazy WPA workmen, just standing around leaning on their shovels, however, the formerly gravel road did get paved.
At that time, our township had five or six one room schools, and I started first grade at one of them in the fall of 1939. Miss Haley was the teacher; she was young and pretty and I liked her very much. Mom had taught me to read and write before I started school so Miss Haley moved me into 2nd grade that first year; no wonder I liked her.
At recess, we played different games. One we called “Andy Over,” in which the kids chose up sides with one team being on either side of the schoolhouse, out of sight of each other. One side threw a rubber ball over the peak of the roof and the other team attempted to catch it. If they failed, they threw it back over the roof. This back and forth continued until someone caught the ball, whereupon the lucky team ran around the building and attempted to tag a member of the opposing team with the ball. A tagged individual then switched sides and, if the game went on long enough, the winning team ended up with all the players.
We also played “Red Rover,” but about all I remember of it was the call: “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy, or Sue, or Sammy, come over.”
We played a lot of softball that we called, “Move-up.” I’m not sure how we chose initially, but there was a kid in every position on the field. There were 2 or 3 batters who got to keep batting if they didn’t get put out. When a batter was out he went to left field, and the rest moved up a position. The move-up order was (I think) left, to center, to right field; then to shortstop, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st base. From 1st base to pitcher, then catcher, and finally to bat.
Another big source of recess time entertainment was the fairly large creek which ran alongside the school house. We played in and jumped over the creek in nice weather, and caught sucker fish, which were plentiful. Winter was the best time for playing on the creek, however. We spent every minute sliding on, and often falling through, the ice. Even though I wore 4-buckle arctic boots in the winter I usually ended up with wet feet, which meant a paddling when I got home for Mom abhorred wet feet.
The school building had a raised platform at the front upon which was the teacher’s desk. In front of her desk was a long wooden bench to which the various classes came to recite their lessons. A pot-bellied stove stood in the center of the room, and on either side were several rows of desks. Behind us was the only entrance through a small vestibule in the bottom of the bell tower. There was a bell in the tower, but the rope was broken and I never heard it ring. On either side of this vestibule was a row of hooks for hanging coats, and a water bucket and a dipper that everyone drank from. Behind the building were a well and a hand pump, located dangerously close to a long narrow building that housed the girl’s and boy’s outhouse on either end, with a space for coal storage in the center.
That’s all I have space for now. Maybe I’ll tell you more some time.
My 5th grade school picture from the spring of 1943. That’s the entire student body at that time, along with the only teacher, Mrs. Majors, at the far left. I’m kneeling in front, 2nd from the left, with my best buddy Thornton Harn.
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