Fifty some years ago there lived in Webster City a local character who was known for his quirky sayings. On a stiflingly hot day he would say, “It’s hotter than Fort Dodge.”
Fort Dodge, just 20 miles to the west, was the largest city in the region and was never warmer than neighboring towns. There were more things to do there so I imagine more than once it was said that someone had a hot time in Fort Dodge.
Before this summer is over, we can expect it to be hotter than Fort Dodge in our own community at least once. With the near universal status of air conditioning we have become a society of heat weenies.
Several decades ago most homes and fewer cars were not air conditioned and in our small farm towns many businesses also lacked air conditioning.
It was not uncommon for a Main Street store to have a small sign on the front door featuring a picture of Mr. Kool, the Kool cigarettes’ penguin, and the words “It’s cool inside.”
So how did we survive? As much as I appreciate air conditioning today it didn’t seem all that difficult. For one thing, we children spent most of our day outside during the summer so when we came back into the house for supper and for the evening, an 80 degree room seemed cool.
The two-story house we lived in when I was ages 8-12 had no southern windows on the second floor where we all slept. On really hot evenings, Mom spread quilts on the first floor living room (which did have southern windows) carpet and aimed a single oscillating fan in the direction of our make-shift beds. To the Huisman boys this was a great adventure and the lack of a mattress seemed to be of no concern. Our parents’ bigger problem, I recall, was to get us boys to shut up and go to sleep.
At church our Sunday school rooms were in the church basement and it was naturally cooler there.
Upstairs in the sanctuary it was much warmer. Back then adults still generally dressed up for church. Though many of the men switched from suits to short sleeves in the summer it was still hot.
In the country church we attended until I was 10-years-old a very large chrome-plated fan moved the air around but another six or seven fans would have been welcome. Church bulletins doubled as fans.
In 1958 my parents switched to a nearby church which worshiped in a then two-year-old sanctuary. A short time later it was announced that the church was going to install air conditioning. Oh what a treat, I thought.
Unfortunately, frugal men governed the church and the air conditioning wasn’t turned on until Sunday morning. When we arrived at the church it was somewhat cool but by the end of the service a hundred and some bodies – each generating about 98-99 degrees – had overcome the meager amount of cooling produced in the first few hours of the morning.
After a season or two of sweltering Sundays, wiser minds ruled and the air conditioner was activated on Saturday night. Much nicer.
My wife and I purchased our first home in the summer of 1970 – a modest ranch home without air conditioning. The next March Sears advertised an early-bird sale on window air conditioners. We drove to Fort Dodge in a snow storm to order a unit at the lower price.
We became proud air conditioner owners when the unit arrived in May and my neighbor, Gary, helped me lift the heavy thing into the window frame. This window was on the south side of our house and our bedroom on the north side. A couple of fans pushed the air down a hallway to give us relative sleeping comfort on the really hot days. Though not a perfect arrangement, we were thrilled to be able to sleep comfortably.
Nearly 40 years later most businesses, churches and other public buildings are air conditioned as are many homes.
When it’s hotter than Fort Dodge the most uncomfortable part of the day is running to and from our hotter than Fort Dodge cars.