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Electricity Today

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Interview excerpts from people who remember life before electricity


January 27, 2000

  • Gordon Eastman bio

    When lights came through to Lovell it was on the main roads. That was where they came in first, as you ride up Route 5 and 1 or 2 other adjacent roads there and it didn't get back up into this wild country until much later. It's nice. It's convenient.

    It isn't the lights that was so important in my book in the way I think that probably people felt was. Refrigeration was a big thing for a lot of people for the farmers, the hotels and so forth. Previously of course they had to cut ice in the winter and have ice cut and store it and pack it in tremendous quite large icehouses. There wasn't any real good answer to keeping things and so forth.

    We got along quite nicely without electricity. In my case, '28 I guess '29 is when we used gas lights, straight gas and if you pumped them with a pump and they had a very nice light. And we didn't get power here until probably close to the 50's.

    We had Aladdin lights as well and Aladdin lanterns they gave a nice light. Of course they were somewhat of a nuisance, but it worked out very well really, good light. The big I think was this ability to pump water, we'll say and the central heat, fans and whatever. But again, probably the key to the whole thing was having refrigeration in these places for ourselves.

    Yes, we liked the lights but we got along quite comfortably. We didn't give it much thought not having lights. We just enjoyed it, of course I was just 8 or 10 years old in those days...we were up and going before light in the winter. And they had lanterns as well as gas lanterns and lights, kerosene lights as well as gasoline ones. We were very comfortable actually. We thought we were we didn't know the difference I guess.

    But again the farmers you can understand if they had a barn full of cattle and you had to pump water it was quite a tedious operation to have a barn full of those and to go out to the well with them and pump and pump and pump. And the same with milking and various other things and as to the stores and keeping their produce and so forth it was quite an operation.

    They did have at Lovell village, they had which I never knew or pursued, I should have found out about it was carbide lights for a few houses and I guess a store or two. I never did get into the operations of those it was gone before I was interested enough to find out about it I guess. But again, and of course there were a few places where they had engine operated generators but they were kind of a nuisance of course old fashion deal of going and charging the batteries and so forth, quite a lot to it and I don't think too many got into that so they were apparently glad to get out of it, the business of having to produce their own power, it was quite interesting when they started in.

    As I say, for that main reason of refrigeration, nice lights of course helped, and I don't think we got too carried away with this you understand, back here. Sure they were interested at that time, that was in '28 we had all on dirt roads, we used horse and buggies a lot in spring of course you had mud roads it was much different then than it is now. The use of electricity cut back on the amount of ice that was harvested. We did continue to have some delivered same as up here where we didn't have power a gentleman who came around for several years delivered ice to our icebox. In the barns you had a big box which took ice and you cool the milk and in the house you had a regular ice refrigerator. Gradually it cut back and as soon as we had the power we gave that up and that was one of the changes, major change I guess.

    But of course the use of electricity all over not just lights did dramatically change the way things went. Like pumping water...to your house and various electrical gadgets.

    Radios of course, we had had battery radios one little old battery radio with ear phones, on of those around. We could get KDKA, Pittsburgh and late at night you could get a few others. It was a small one with maybe 2 or 3 sets of earphones. You'd hear a lot of squawks and squalls. Just listen, that was the only value of it, music, some news, well, they wouldn't have rock 'n roll, any of this so-called modern music wouldn't fit in there and, I guess we also had some preachers on there occasionally. I can't remember all of it, maybe a sit-com of a type, they would talk the play through, you didn't see any of it of course, and interestingly it created interest for people. That was a form of entertainment you see. We really went for that I think all people did and still do. But news was one of the big things of course.

    Certainly electricity did lighten the workload all over the place: in the house, outdoor, on most any of the other jobs around the farm or business.

    That was a great gain. But it came on gradually, this electricity use and it built over a period of years as to what you could do with it and how it would help you and so forth. Yes, it was great improvement for a farmer's life or anybody's life that is. Manufacturing and so forth.

    I was thinking again about the ice storm we had a couple of years ago. Of course we lost the power here for 11 days. But again I was, we were quite lucky one of my grand-daughters came to stay with me for a while and we had a couple of gas lights out in the other room there and you light those, wood stove and water comes in on gravity. We were sitting around and she thought it was wonderful. The peace and quiet. And of course no one was running around much. She liked it. She could see the difference, I guess, how it used to be, I guess, and how it is now. Due to lack of power. But we survived very nicely. It's sort of a throwback to what it was like. We didn't have gaslights we had a kerosene light or 2. We had a nice time.

    Gordon Eastman GORDON EASTMAN BIO

    Gordon Eastman is 82 years old and grew up in western Maine outside Fryeburg in a town called Lovell, where he still lives on the family farm. His family got electricity is 1950. Some of the town's residents didn't want electricity when it arrived because they didn't see why they had to pay for something that they could generate for free themselves from their own generators. Today, Lovell's residents continue to enjoy their rural way of life in a town with a population of 888 people.

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    HOME: The Story of Maine on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network was made in partnership with the Maine State Museum. Major funding was provided by the  Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency committed to fostering innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning. Additional funding provided by Elsie Viles.
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