Fetch some cold water; don’t forget to pump

By Elizabeth Donaldson
Special to the Times

When I visit the farms now I take for granted the conveniences and equipment that make work faster and easier. This hot dry weather though reminds me of another thing that is very different. That is turning on a tap indoors or out and having water gush out.

Every drop of water that was needed for us on the farm in the ‘40’s for the animals came from a tall Beatty hand pump with green lettering that stood in a weathered wellhouse. To reach this pump from our house yard we had to climb over the fence on a stile rather than through a gate. This is built with few steps up each side to a little platform over the fence. It was not always the handiest when carrying two pails of water but we were used to it. Countless trips were made carrying water for the household needs and to the barn for what was needed there.

One very cold morning while pumping for the cows I kept looking at the raised lettering on the pump. I touched one letter with the tip of my tongue. I did this only once!

All year round water was carried for the chickens and pigs and water dishes for the barn cats. The water trough at the well house had to be kept full in the summer. We would see the cows come from grazing in the bush and head for the trough. If the horses were stabled when working they would sometimes be led to the trough to drink and then put back in. Our horses were not the proverbial type that would not drink when led to water.

We were never short of water as long as we kept pulling that pump handle up and down. It must have been a deep well and many times we heard the command, “Run and get a pail of good cold water. Be sure to pump.” Though very cold, good tasting and crystal clear the water was “hard” and soap would curdle in it as these were the days before detergents. There were different methods to soften the water on laundry days some of which involved small amounts of Gillette’s lye flakes. Certain kinds of soap could be used for hand washing and bathing, perhaps Lifebuoy.

Our drinking water stood on a stand by the door with the long handled dipper that everyone used, terribly unhygienic, but it seemed that anyone that came had a drink. If the visitor was special fresh cold water and a glass was supplied for them. The tea kettle was filled from the water pail. The stove had a reservoir that held several gallons, handy for washing dishes etc. All these things required trips over the stile but wash day took many extra pails. The night before, the wash boiler was filled and set on the back of the stove ready to heat. In the morning the wash tub had to filled and refilled as the washing and rinsing proceeded. In the summer we helped carry water but in the winter Mom was on her own as we trudged off to school. No wonder my mother made so many references to wash day in her little diary.

The snow barrel which stood behind the stove in winter was taken out and became the rain barrel under the eaves. This lovely soft water was used for washing up at the wash stand or for washing our hair. Sometimes the rain barrel dried up. So many of those long ago summers seemed hot and dry and if possible no water was wasted. On wash days the tubs of used rinse water were carried out and splashed on the garden or Mom’s pansy bed. Some wash water with soap was used to scrub the floors or the outhouse. Anything with peelings etc from the kitchen was kept in a pail and carried to pigs or chickens. On very hot days we carried water to put in the tin bathtub placed in the shade of the big chokecherry bush near the house. By afternoon it had warmed enough that Marion and I could splash and cool off in it. Later it went on the garden or on some little shrubs that we were starting. There were always places where water could be used.

Nothing was wasted and so many times were heard the command, “Run and get some good cold water. Be sure to pump.“ It was almost like a panacea and one time, after chasing cattle and closing up the barb wire gate, the wooden handle flew up and hit my mother right on the bridge of her nose. The blood gushed and she nearly fell but my brothers helped her to the house. Not knowing what else to do I ran to ‘get some good cold water’ and we made cold clothes to put on her injury. The doctor was rarely called for accidents such as this.

Water is such an elemental part of life and I still feel bad if I have let a tap drip as it reminds me of that well and the Beatty pump that yielded countless gallons of water. For all I know that well could yet be supplying water to the people who live there.