Siouxland Observer


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Nostalgia Wins Big

In a humid clime, "swamp coolers" do not work very well.  But this did not deter a man named Carl. He tired anyway. A maintenance worker at Swift and Company, Carl couldn’t afford air conditioning for his young family.  Instead he found a coarse piece of burlap and stretched it out over a wooden frame. By adding water, and an industrial exhaust fan, the Swift and Company handyman tried to cool his family on hot, humid Iowa nights.

Initially, improvement came best (at least for his two sons) late at night when the boys hunkered down behind the burlap wall.  A powerful fan in the kitchen (found somewhere at Sears), pulled warm air out of the house and replaced it with air streaming in from open windows (and in the case of the boy's back bedroom, through a burlap sack drenched with water from a garden hose).

Interestingly, there were already "swamp coolers" out there.  They came readymade, albeit far different from the burlap sack hanging on a wood frame. (This picture shows a store-bought evaporative cooling unit, and was originally seen on Wikipedia.  It is reproduced here in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 legal code.)

Still, the boys didn't know this.  Back in the day, learning about such things came with research or worldly experience. Those "in the know" went to the library, grabbed a good encyclopedia or talked to someone from Arizona perhaps, where such units were common. But this was beyond the purview of the boys in the back bedroom.  They only knew that dad had another bright idea and, of course, that the family couldn’t afford real air conditioning.

This didn’t stop Carl thought (and many fathers like him); when the project failed, he went on to another one.  The classic tinkerer.

And so, just like in countless basements and workshops across America, dad disappeared into his sanctuary.  It wasn’t long though before the powerful fan (taking the house's warm air outside) worked its wonder, and especially on cool nights.  Sometimes it even brought up the mysterious smells from the basement: an eclectic mixture of sawed wood, smoke and dust, burnt wire and solder.

Today esoteric fare is easy to find.  Instead of the library, learning comes from a computer search, tablet or iphone. The site for some of the information here came from, and was "dialed up" from a desktop search engine called Copernic Agent Basic.  It took maybe 30 seconds.

Yes, there were real evaporative cooling units out there.  Nostalgia wins big.  Dad wasn't a total idiot after all.