They had been hoping for a great crop this year. Last year they had lost about forty acres of wheat to a rain storm. When it rained hard, the land north of the house flooded because it was the lowest point in several miles. Much of the top soil from around their place had, over the years, washed into the area they called “the lagoon.” The soil was great, but if it rained too hard you could never harvest the crop. People at the Co-Op always said that Ott should plant half wheat and half rice in the lagoon.
One year they had cut wheat in the lagoon and it yielded eighty bushel to the acre. If only they could control the rain. You had to have rain, but not too much rain. Two summers ago they had tried to empty the lagoon. Ott and Hank had this idea that if they drilled a deep hole in the lowest part of the lagoon and stuffed some dynamite into the hole they could open up the land so it could drain.
Bob remembered the day of the big explosion. A well digging rig had been brought in and they punched a hole in the ground about one-hundred and twenty feet deep. Then they had wrapped several sticks of dynamite and crammed them down into the hole. People from all around had come to watch.
“We’re gonna pull the plug on this lagoon,” Hank said as he pushed the plunger to set off the explosion.
There was a deep rumbling sound and a two foot high splash of water just above the hole. Everyone waited for the water to drain out.
Call Hank. The idea of it was exciting to Bob. Not just because it meant he would see his brother-in-law and sister sooner this year, but also it meant he could watch his stepfather use the telephone. When Ott made a call it was an attack. He would accost the phone box mounted on the wall like a cat working a mouse. First he would move from side to side and then he would pounce on the crank with one hand while grabbing the earpiece with the other. He would spin the crank around a full turn and look at the wall-mounted box as if it were in his way to completing the call. When the operator came on to say, “Number please,” he would shout into the mouthpiece, “I need to call Denver.”
“What number in Denver, please?”
“I’m calling Hank. It’s 742-3388. Hank’s number.”
“Thank you, sir, I’ll put you through. . . . The lines to Denver are busy right now. I’ll ring you as soon as I can get through.”
Ott’s part of the conversation was so loud that Bob always thought he probably didn’t need a phone line. And when it was long distance his voice rose to another level of volume.
Within a few minutes the phone rang one long and one short. That was their number, 019R11, where the one-one meant one long and one short. As his stepfather picked up the phone earpiece and stood close to the mouthpiece, Bob could almost hear the clicks of others on the line picking up to listen in.
“Hello!” shouted Ott, probably causing severe damage to the ears of party line listeners.
“Your call to Denver is ready now; I’m ringing it now.”
“Hi, Ott. This is Peg. Hank is still at work. I’ll get him to call you back when he gets home.”
“OK. Thanks, I need to talk to him.” Ott shouted, “Yeah.”
The idea that voices could be transported on number twelve wire all the way to Wray and then on down the line to Denver had never registered with Ott even though he was responsible for maintaining the phone lines that ran along his property line. The line ran along the side of the county road and was a single wire hanging from glass insulators on twelve-foot high posts. How the voices traveled along that wire was a mystery. It was more puzzling even than how electricity would travel along the highline wires that were beginning to be built in some areas of Colorado closer to Denver. There was talk in Washington, D.C. that within five years the government would have REA electricity to all of the farms in the country. Bob was hoping that they would hurry because electricity would change their lives so much. They would have an indoor toilet. Running water. Hot running water for showers. They would finally have bright lights instead of gas lanterns to read by.
“It would be good to join the twentieth century,” he thought.
Peg, his oldest sister, had married Hank in 1943 when Mom had married Ott. “My mother and my older sister were married in the same year,” Bob always said if asked about marriages. Peg and Hank had moved into the house on York Street, the family house, until the family began going off in all directions. Hank was a Nebraska farm boy, who had tried his best to join the Army in the war but who had been found to be 4-F. As a kid, a kernel of wheat had lodged in his left ear. He had not complained until the pain became severe. The doctor found that the kernel had sprouted and broken the eardrum. Peg and Hank had married just before Bob, Beth, their Mom, and new stepfather had moved to the farm outside of Wray. Bob remembered one thing about their courtship. Every evening when it was time to do the dishes, Hank would call.
“You go ahead with the dishes and I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Peg would say, running to the phone in the living room. But the call went on and on, usually until the drying and cleaning up was done.
Hank was a plumber by trade. Like Ott he was a born and bred farmer, and both of them could fix most anything mechanical. Neither talked much, and around the farm equipment they worked quietly in an unspoken bond of knowledge. One of the early lessons they passed on to the boy was, “If a man made it, a man can fix it!”