First-Hand:Transition from Animal to Machine Power Spurs Farm Boy's Electrical Interest

Submitted by M. E. Scoville

Born in 1905, I grew up as a poor farm boy. Several different farms we lived on had no electricity, no running water in the house and no refrigeration for food. After 1916, we drove a 1914 Model T Ford. Cooking was done on a kitchen range burning corn cobs, wood or ear corn when corn prices were low. Vegetables from a large garden, fifty bushels or more of potatoes and possibly a few bushels of apples were stored in a cave for winter use. We milked four to ten cows from which some cream was sold. Chickens provided some eggs for sale. Cream and egg sales resulted in money for very limited groceries bought to feed seven children.

Farming and living know how was learned directly from parents or neighbors. My father and mother finished eighth grade country schools. Mother taught school for two years before getting married. Nearly all our farm crops of corn and forage were fed to our farm livestock consisting of horses, cattle, pigs and chickens. All farm work was done with horses.

My father, being mechanically inclined, owned a corn sheller and power wood saws which were used to do custom work for neighbors. About 1910, the power for these machines was literally an eight-horse circular horse power drive. This worked as long as I sat with a long whip to keep the horses pulling when they heard the saw start on a large log. The "horse" power was replaced in about 1915 by an 8 H.P. single cylinder gasoline engine.

During my last year in high school, I finished a correspondence course on electricity which was more stimulating for me than any of my high school courses. But my experience with electricity was very limited. We had a hand cranked telephone with dry batteries, a Model T with magneto ignition, and no other electrical devices. Lightning during thunder storms was always intriguing. High school teachers urged me to consider going to college. Less than ten percent of high school graduates from Sumner, Nebraska, went on to college in 1924. I had only my own earnings to support college expenses and no fixed plans as to extent of college attendance. After minimal correspondence with three colleges, I selected the University of Nebraska primarily because it was the least costly. When I had enough money, I would start college and continue on as long as I was able to earn money for college expenses.

I worked in a threshing gang and husked corn in the fall of 1924 for neighbors. I earned about one hundred and twenty-five dollars for tuition and room for one semester, starting in January, 1925. Also I ordered a partially assembled OZARKA battery radio, the first in the community, hoping to demonstrate and sell several to neighbors. But reception was unreliable and farmers had no money for radios. The one set was sold at cost.