He relates memories of the water issues from dry prairie country which were triggered by a conversation he had with a fellow crew member from an aircraft squadron based in Jacksonville, FL in 1965. As is usually the case when I’m preparing MBOBs, initials only are used to reference those he mentions by name.
On April 20, 1965, while at 30,000′ traveling at 450 kts (520 MPH or 8.5 miles a minute), I had just turned the cameras off as we finished the last flight line in mapping the flooding Red and Pembina Rivers in North Dakota for the U. S. Geodetic Survey. As navigator, I gave the pilot the heading to take us to St. Paul International where we would spend the night.
The pilot, Commander P. C., Commanding Officer of VAP-62, a Douglas RA-3B long range navy photo reconnaissance and mapping aircraft squadron, operating out of Jacksonville, Florida, came to the new heading. Then, as he leveled off, he asked me, “Do you require your children to drink all of their water before they leave the table?”
We had also mapped the flooded Northern Tributaries of the Mississippi River in the previous days and we had seen a lot of water, but the skipper’s question left me a total blank. After a long pause I answered, “Yes, we do the same thing in our home. We drink all of our water before leaving the table.”
As we headed for St. Paul, he told me that he knew that I had grown up in drought-stricken Northeastern Montana in the thirties. He then told me that he had grown up about 100 miles southeast of us during that period in the same kind of environment north of Dickinson, North Dakota. That evening we compared notes, and talked of how water, or the lack thereof in our youth, had affected our lives.
My memories of water on Grandpa’s place where I was born were of the water in the dam. I remember the ripples made when we threw rocks into the water, and the frogs there in the water. My one job then, at five and six years old, was picking the eggs but when we moved up on the hill after Dad bought the J place in late 1934, it became my job to help bring water from the outside cistern into the kitchen for Mother. At first Dad or Mother helped, but within a couple of years that was my job and later D [a younger brother] was helping me do it. The cistern was located just north of the house and the water was pumped out by hand.
There was no electricity on the farm until 1948 or so, long after I had joined the Navy. The only well water on the farm came from a wind driven pump in a 350′ deep well down by the barn. It had a heavy soda content and was not fit to drink. The cattle drank it, but since the well produced only about a barrel a day, they got most of their water from the dam which was about 1/2 mile southwest of the home place.
The water that was in the cistern came from the one room school house well located 2 1/2 miles north of us. Dad hauled it from there in a 150 gallon tank in a wagon with a team of horses. He pumped the water by hand from the well into the tank. By 1938 [my brother would have been 11 years old in 1938] , I was driving the team and D was helping me pump the water from the well into the tank into the wagon. It took the two of us on the pump handle to do it. We’d drive the team home and dump the water in the cistern. Then, slowly but surely over the weeks, it would all be pumped back out of the cistern and carried into the kitchen for Mother.
After bringing water into the house it was stored in the 4-5 gallon warming radiator built into the kitchen coal range. Here then was warm water for washing, bathing and for cooking. A large tea kettle filled with water was generally on the stove top. The pail in which we carried the water into the house was left filled near the stove. Often another pail of water stood in the washroom for washing up. The wash room was just that, a counter top with a wash basin.
If the water could not be used for any purposes after it had been used in boiling food or washing, it was discarded into a “slop” pail. This pail also received potato and turnip peelings, egg shells, food that would spoil, squash, pumpkin and fruit peelings, pits and seeds. Any non-useable parts of meat like fat, bones, gristle, cartilage or skin trimmings also went into the slop pail. When this four or five gallon pail was full, D and I carried it down and poured it into the hog trough for the pigs. They ate most of it and drank the water.
My added note: The outhouse was about 40 feet from the back door. Electricity came about 1948 and made electrical water pumps possible. The wonder of indoor plumbing made its appearance in 1954.
Late add for clarification: the water in the cistern hauled from the well 2 1/2 miles away continued to be the only source for water for the house, for laundry, kitchen, drinking and bathroom through the years. As far as I am aware, to this day that is the only source for house water in that community. It was still so in the 1980s.