Growing Up on Muddy Creek


| August 2001



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In those long ago days

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.