Westport school

Have you ever thought about the things that have changed in the world since you were born?

I’ll never forget the time my mother, born in 1902, told me about the first airplane she saw, so it was a delight to learn what changes George Cann, born in early 1930s, has seen.

He tells of changes in the world, the farms, in schools and even geography. Many readers know George Cann. He was a teacher, and something we especially appreciate, he has written three books about the Westport area.

George wrote that when he was born in the early 1930s, ..the Great Depression was just ending and most people were trying to recover from it. World War I had ended about 15 years earlier and it was supposed to be ‘The war to end all wars,’ but we soon found that it didn’t. Great dust storms were happening in the southwest, and the law had caught up with John Dillinger. The Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped, and Amelia Earhart had been lost in the Pacific. The 1937 flood was one of the worst in history.

In the early 1930s around Westport, many farmers were still using horses; tractors were rather small and slow, and threshing machines were still being used as the first combine in the county didn’t arrive until about 1941. There was no electricity in rural areas until about 1939, and even then it was slow in reaching all areas. Even in town, where electricity was available, most homes had only minimal wiring and most families used electricity only for lights and ironing clothes. People started buying refrigerators in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but before that they used the old ice boxes.

He heard from some of his 1951 classmates that they had no indoor toilet facilities or running water when they were young, and sometimes it was very cold in their rooms at home; so cold, in fact, that they could see their breath, and the window glasses frosted over. But for the most part, they had plenty of bed covers and clothing and plenty to eat. Most homes were heated with stoves and fueled with wood, coal or gas. A few homes had furnaces, but not many of them did. I can recall seeing a layer of smoke lying over the entire town of Westport on a zero-degree morning.

Smoke lying over the entire town of Westport! Yes. Cann wrote, “There was no air stirring to disturb it, and the town was just nestled there, quiet and cold. Even the schoolhouses were hard to heat in the dead of winter, whether they were the one-room schools or the old buildings at Letts and Westport. The boiler at the Westport School could only stand six pounds of steam pressure, and the kids were asked to bring in hedge-apples to use in the repair of the steam pipes.”

Cann wrote that according to Dave Wonn’s remarks, the boiler at Letts was just as bad. But Louis Holtzclaw said, “I have never felt that going to a small rural school was a disadvantage. Quite the contrary, the pluses have far outweighed the minuses.”

He wrote that their third and fourth grade teacher, Miss Mary McCullough, had a little hectograph machine on which she made copies of worksheets.

“It consisted of two drums or rollers and a flat surface between them. One of the rollers supported a roll of gelatin-like material which would unroll onto the second roller. To make copies, she had to make a master copy. She did this by using an indelible pencil. She used some type of fluid (probably alcohol) to dampen the gelatin-like surface. Then she had to press the master copy and each sheet of paper against it in order to make the copies. When the copies started picking up stray ink-stains, she would turn the rollers forward to get a new, clean surface. But, it worked!”

Cann wrote that Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) was bombed on the birthday of three members of the class of 1951: Bud Cunningham, Doris Froedge and Morris Froedge. He wrote, “There had been talk for several months. We had been selling scrap iron to Japan, and some were warning that, ‘They will throw it back in our faces.’”

More next week.

Decatur County resident Pat Smith may be contacted via this publication at news@greensburgdailynews.com

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