Opinion: Imagine if you can ... life without air conditioning

Dad's invention wouldn't qualify for a patent or even a prize at the State Fair, but during one hot spell in the early 1950s, it was a godsend. To this day, I can hear the roar of the oversized fan outside the house and see the old truck radiator...

Dad's invention wouldn't qualify for a patent or even a prize at the State Fair, but during one hot spell in the early 1950s, it was a godsend.

To this day, I can hear the roar of the oversized fan outside the house and see the old truck radiator that he had inserted into the window frame. Apparently he'd had enough of the triple-digit temperatures, and so he'd devised his own homegrown cooling system.

Dad never went beyond the eighth grade. As the eldest of a large farm family, he began doing a man's work early on, but a lack of formal education didn't stunt his interest in innovations that made life on the farm better or easier.

He completed his homemade air conditioning system by running a garden hose through the top of the radiator to provide a reliable supply of well water. The fan rattled away, pushing outside air over the radiator's fins, blowing a cool but moist breeze into the house.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all.


I liked standing in front of the radiator's blast, but I sure didn't like the noise.

Since the invention didn't become a fixture in the future, it apparently didn't accomplish everything that Dad, or Mom, had hoped for.

Years would go by before a real air conditioning window unit was installed, but the odd thing is, I don't remember suffering from the heat in those days.

During the summer, a long, screened-in porch often became the family bedroom -- unless a high wind and thunderstorm forced a retreat indoors. But then, as now, that was a rare occurrence. And before bedtime on many evenings, the family would sit outside in wooden Adirondack chairs, enjoying the sounds of summer and each other's company.

Hot weather affected everyone, of course, not just country folks.

My father-in-law's first optometry office in Chamberlain was on the second floor of the Gamble's building on Main Street. One day, a salesman told him he had the sure-fire solution to the discomfort caused by old Sol and that it was a real step up from circulating fans. The salesman called it a swamp cooler, and if properly used, it would provide enhanced comfort to waiting-room and examination room patients.

My father-in-law, Bob Winjum, was properly persuaded. He purchased the unit, had it installed, and it worked as advertised.

He was so impressed that during one particularly long hot spell he decided to expand its use. After work one day he went home and informed his wife that he was leaving the unit on all night so that the office would be nice and cool when the patients first arrived in the morning.


Upon unlocking the office door the next day, he discovered to his horror that most of the wallpaper had fallen down in the waiting room. And what hadn't come off the walls was bubbled and loose. Dismayed, he called Helen, his wife, with the urgent request: "Bring thumbtacks, or pins, and bring them fast. We've got to put the wallpaper back up!"

With the advent of central air, hardly anyone suffers from the heat any longer except those who work out-of-doors. We sit in our air conditioned offices and drive our air conditioned cars or trucks to our air conditioned homes. And we're thankful for it, especially this summer. It makes me wonder how we survived without it.

This comfort comes with a cost, of course. We're not just cooling our homes, but our workplaces and public buildings.

A bill for $2,300 arrived in the mail this week. That was to cool down the office here at 120 S. Lawler for June 27-July 27. But that's a pittance compared to what the city pays to keep the Corn Palace comfortable for tourists. Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said the monthly billing from July 10 forward likely would be $8,000 to $9,000.

And as homeowners, we're all willing to pay for the comfort of air conditioning and the relief it provides.

In fact, some of the younger people at the office cannot imagine life without air conditioning.

I can imagine it, but that's one aspect of the "good old days" that can remain in the past.

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