Reminders of Daily Living at the Turn of the Century

Old appliances serve as lessons about how life was at the turn of the century

| December 1998

The technology of daily living has changed so dramatically in the past century that it's hard to comprehend how people used to live ... hard, that is, unless you're Lester Walch. Lester has accumulated a variety of appliances and tools from the turn of the century and the early 1900s. The collection is a natural extension of his electric and appliance shop. Fascinated by changes in technology over the years, Lester has created a small museum that gives a snapshot of life in the early years of this century. A visit to Lester's is a step back in time, and a chance to see how much easier daily living is now, thanks to modern technology.

Located on Main Street in the quiet Illinois town of Raymond, Walch Electric is a combination of appliances and household goods. Even though the museum itself is down the street, some of Lester's favorite items are displayed at the shop. His latest acquisition is a Horton washer that occupies a prominent spot in the shop's front window.

Lester opened his shop in January 1950. It's been a family operation from the beginning: His wife, Mary Frances (better known as "Toots"), and his son Carl also are involved in the business, as are his nephew, Ross Walch, who's worked there for 20 years, and his sister, Leona Carriker, who worked there until she retired.

Customers have come to expect family ties at the business: Nancy Scroggins, who took Leona's job, said customers ask how she's related to the Walches.

Lester's easy-going sense of humor is shown in a plaque hanging on his office door: "You know you're getting old when you think Happy Hour is a nap," it reads. But between his business and his collection, Lester has little down time. A "keeper," Lester has every receipt for every item he's ever sold, and in his office he displays the first tool he ever used: a blow torch to solder electric wire. Although he's expanded his operation (to buildings on either side of his shop), and changed locations a couple of times, the shop has always been located in the center of this farm community.

Lester, who grew up on a farm, has first-hand experience with many of the old appliances he's collected. Although he hasn't farmed since 1949, a collection of toys lining a wall in his shop reminds him of the machinery he once used on a daily basis.