Utilities Alexander Manitoba


Utilities Alexander Manitoba

(rough copy)

Growing in Alexander Manitoba I got see a lot of changes over the years. The biggest change was the telephones because the phone service was very limited when outside of town on the farms. If we were working or visiting a farm and tried to call home it was a struggle. The farm was on a party line and when you picked up the phone to dial out there was someone talking. You had to wait for them to be done their phone call before you could use the telephone. Then when you called home, the line was busy or no one there plus no answering machines. Plus the phones on the party lines at the farms had different ring lengths. If the person was not home the caller would keep trying and trying and everyone on the party line would get upset at the phone ringing all the time and it was not their ring. Now days with call waiting the phone beeps and they people know there is another call coming in. All phones now have call display or built in answering machine. Plus the cell phone coverage is excellent for communication. But I guess 40 year ago life was also much simpler too. A lot of communication was handled by stopping by to see the person which was done when you picked up the mail.

Manitoba hydro supplied the power to Alexander and gave good service when I was growing up. The power only went out when the summer thunder storms rolled through and hydro would have the power back on with in a reasonable time. Even during a couple of big blizzard when the power went out hydro had it corrected with no big dramas. I know people on the farms will tell a different story. When dad and mother bought a computer in the early 1980s. The computer would not work during the day but at night it had no problems. Someone suggested it was hydro related problem because the Manitoba Pool elevator had just completed and expansion on the grain elevator. Mother got a hold of hydro and they put a box by our hydro meter for a week. Sure enough during the day there was power surges at certain times when the grain elevator returned from lunch and started up all the equipment. Hydro changed out the transformed on the pole by the grain elevator to create a better even current and we had no problems with the new computer.

The town never got it’s own water and sewer until I had long moved away. Growing up the water came from water wells on everyone’s property so some people had good water supply and other had terrible water supply. Just after dad and mother bought the pink house the water system took a turn for the worse. We had a lot of days with no water and had to borrow jugs of water from the neighbours. By the middle of January the pipe going to the water well in the front yard broke and the well had to be found and dug up. Back in 1974 there was not really any good back hoes like in the year 2020 that could dig frozen ground. Dad was not happy when I bought a ½ ton truck load of coal at the garage auction on main street for $1.00 when we arrived that summer. But he sure liked the coal burning to heat the ground all night to thaw it so it could be dug by hand to find the top of the well. Dad and his friends stayed up all nigh manning the fire and shoveling coal to keep the fire going. It was not bad digging the thawed ground the next day which we had to do because dad was too tired from staying up all night. Once we uncovered the well it was not good, it had collapsed and the new well could not be dug till spring. Times have changed because in 2020 the cold weather stops nothing because all the improvements in equipment made over the years,

To keep the house in water, dad would bring water in a tank mounted in the back of the truck from Brandon each night when he returned from work. I had to heat the valve to thaw it out to dump the water while dad went in the house to relax after hard day at work. I even got to park the truck and make sure the block heater was plugged in so the truck would start in the morning for dad to go to work. Then if I forgot to close the valve when the tank was empty, dad found out when he went to put water in the tank in Brandon. The valve was frozen open so he had no way of heating to get it closed to bring water home. I never heard the end of that little mistake for a long time. The well drillers showed up in the spring when the frost was out of the ground and they could drill the new water well. All winter the old timers of town told dad that there was a good well on the property that fed the horse teams and never went dry. Which was good to know and dad told the well drillers. To be a good well driller you have have knowledge of the area and be able to do divining rods which not everyone can do. The divining rods are thin steel rods that are bent to hold in your hands and point straight out. As you walk over an underground stream of water the rods will move. The more the rods move the better the stream or water source.

The well driller walked around the front yard and told dad there is a stream of water going east to west. When the fellow was not looking I grabbed his divining rods to see if I could do it and the rods moved faster and better when I did it. Dad was not impressed because he is paying a lot of money for a drilling rig and crew to stand around while they watch an 8 year old kid play with steel rods which is classed as witch craft. The well driller like the action of the rods when I did it just east of the of the house. So that is where they set up the drilling rig. Alexander is know for a high water table but the drilling rig drilled a deep gopher hole and dad was not impressed. Dad was getting very concerned because there was no more money to pay for another gopher hole to be drilled. The well driller told dad the water was there and he could tell by the ground as he drilled it. They went home for the night and everyone in town stopped by to see the deep gopher hole in the front yard. Nobody ever seen a dry hole in Alexander. In the morning dad was outside hoping the deep gopher hole filled up with water but it did not. When the drilling crew came back dad told him there is no more money for anything. There was only enough for one hole and it was to have water in it. One things about growing up in the 1970s nobody talked about money, death or why babies arrived in less then 9 months after a wedding. The well driller assured dad there will be water and was very surprised that the dry hole didn’t fill up. He told dad that he guaranteed a water well for that price given and he will honour that agreement. They fired up the drilling rig and clean out the dry hole and still no water then the drilled a little deeper which hit the water stream. The dry hole filled up very quickly and every one was smiling and happy. When they went to drive the drilling rig off the front yard. The back wheels broke through the wooden lid that had a dirt covering on the original water well that the old timers had told dad about. Now if the drilling rig had broken through when they back in to the front yard this would have saved a lot of money. Now the drilling rig had to have heavy equipment come in to get it out of the hole the wheels had sunk in to. Plus dad had to hire the local gravel contractor to dig out the old water well cover and put railway ties over the hole and cover with dirt. But we had a good source of water and could have bath any time with water over our knees.

The community rink was the next place to get a water well and indoor flushing toilets. Dad and mother were on the rink committee and worked hard to get better bathrooms and kitchen for the rink because the rink was getting rented out to people from Brandon. These people did not like going to the bathroom and then having to dump the 5 gallon pail afterwards. To flood the rink, water was hauled from the Assiniboine River to make the ice and the people who volunteered to haul with water tanks in the back of their trucks had frozen ice berg trucks from the water splashing and over filling. The same company that drilled dad and mother’s water well did the community rink. I helped with the divining rods and they drilled a good well to supply the water for the rink. This well drilling company went on to be the biggest and the best in Manitoba all based on good service and good prices.

One of the problems with having a water well on your property back in the 1970s is the water pumps were of a poor design. Yes they were cast iron and terrible to keep and hold their prime on water. Everyone in town always had pump problems with the pump casting freezing and splitting which I learned how to weld at a young age. Plus loosing their prime so the pump would not pump water. If you were good with pumps and understood how to prime then then you were busy. Dad could never get his pump to prime and always had to get someone in to help or to fix it. The local plumber drove the square body ford truck and threw everything in the back of the truck which would fall off from being over full. If you found plumbing tools or parts on the road you stopped and picked them up and called the plumber guy to stop by. But he did know his stuff when it came to plumbing. Once I got old enough I was the one in the crawl space working on the pump to get it working so I could have a bath. Now water well pumps are down the well so they don’t lose their prime and last for ever.

Every house in Alexander has a septic field for when you flushed the toilet or drained the bath tub. The septic field had to be covered for the cold winters with flax straw which came from the farms around town. It was usually a cool fall day just before the snow came that everyone would be hauling flax straw to town to cover the septic fields. There was flax straw on the roads that fell of the trucks or trailers because nobody tied anything down because we were only going a short distance. Then in the spring the flax straw was hauled to the dump east of town. Of course some one would set the dump on fire at night and the wind would blow the smoke to town. That smoke was hard to breath and hung low till the wind changed or the fire department went and put the fire out. The flax straw was a lot of work which people don’t seem to do any more but then again people are not emptying out 300 gallon water bed down the bath tub drain either. Too much water to fast would flood the septic fields and cause them to freeze like a skating rink. Not sure who came up with the idea in the 1970s to put 300 gallons of water in one spot in your house then try and sleep on it. Or even better, try having sex on it which created waves,,,,,,i’m told.

To empty the septic tanks because the liquids flowed out to the field and were soaked in to the ground. There was a fellow in town that had an old septic truck that could suck out the septic tank. The truck was basically hay wired together and he only had to travel to the garbage dump east of town to dump the sewage on top of the garbage. So if the truck broke down it was not the far of a walk back or he caught a ride with someone coming back from the dump. At a young age I would help out the fellow with the septic truck because I could help fix it and the smell of poo did not bother me. The biggest problem in the 1970s with septic tanks was the invention of tampons for the ladies. They do not work well in the septic tanks and are not suppose to be flushed down the toilets. But being new on the market and ladies were trying out the latest invention. I was skinny kids and the smell of poo did not bother me so I was usually volunteered to be lower in to the septic tank upside down by my feet to lift off the cover on the pipe that filled the tank from the house. Under the cover the pipe would be plugged with swelled up tampons. Yes tampons increase in size by 100 times when wet because they are designed as a plug which are not installed very long. Once the pipe was cleaned I was raised back up out of the tank and thought nothing of it. The lady of the house was shown the mess and usually never had to clean the pipe again. So most teenage boys learn about that time of the month in other ways but I learned from getting to unplug pipes. Now days if family service found out about hanging a kid upside down in a septic tank there would be hell to pay.

The town garbage dump in the 1970s was just east of town and open 24 hours with the best recycling plan. People drop off their unwanted garbage and others picked it to bring it home. Going to the dump was a social occasion and lots of visiting between people of the community. Then in the early 1980s they moved it farther east and put the dump up on a hill with the fence around the bottom of the hill. Plus a locked gate and only certain hours to drop off the garbage. We could never figure why the fence was around the bottom instead around the top to keep the garbage from blowing away. But oh well it was something to chat about when at the post office or the Table of Truth at the cafe’.

Sept 2020 -- My Wasted Youth Alexander MB Book 5th book