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Phone, Power & Water

Change is inevitable, even in Anderson Valley. Some aspects of the valley have changed markedly from when I first arrived in the late 1950s and some hardly at all. Back in November, in my article “That’s Entertainment,” I detailed how – with the rise of television dishes, computers and homegrown options, and the disappearance of the television translator and radio dramas – the valley’s entertainment landscape changed. To a lesser extent, basic services like phone, power and water also have changed, though most of the changes won’t be obvious to casual observers.

Telephones in the 1950s through the 1980s – in the valley and nearly everywhere else — were land lines. For business reasons, my parents had a dedicated line to our house, but many in the valley had party lines. For those unfamiliar with the term, a party line was a line shared among several homes, each of which had its own number and own distinctive ring. I remember visiting a friend’s home near Boonville and hearing their party line ring with a mixture of short and long rings. The main problems with party lines were that only one customer on a particular party line could be on the phone at any one time and everyone on the line could listen in on the call. Privacy, NOT!

In that pre-digital – in almost every way – era, phone prefixes weren’t just numbers, but also words. In Anderson Valley, the prefix was “TWinbrook five” (one only dialed the first two letters of the word) and that’s how Anderson Valley phone numbers stayed until the 1970s. The phone population in Anderson Valley must have been pretty small then, because local phone numbers were all – or almost all — “TWinbrook five-three one ____ ____.” Only the last two digits varied.

Also, direct dialing was almost non-existent back then. The number of phones in use was so small in the late 1950s that the 707 area code had not yet been established: the 415 area code reached from San Francisco to the Oregon border. To make a long distance call, one dialed “0,” spoke to an operator (an actual person), and provided the city or town and the telephone number. The 707 area code was established in the early 1960s and direct dialing became prevalent in the mid-1960s.

While the advent of “off the grid” solar panels, converters and batteries have changed the valley’s electricity landscape in recent years, standard electricity — i.e. PG&E — in the late 1950s through late 1980s was similar to the way it is now. My parents’ property was only two miles from the Philo substation, but the power lines ran through heavily timbered country and tied in to only a couple of neighbors along the way, which meant we were anything but a priority when the power went out. With plenty of rain in our corner of the valley and occasional big winds, outages weren’t unusual. A power outage for us lasted anywhere from several hours to several days. Fortunately, we had wood heat, a propane cooking stove and a water system that worked via by gravity in a pinch, so we kept the refrigerator door closed, used candles and flashlights, and waited until the power came back.

Then, like now, everyone had their own water system. We had an “open source” system, which consisted of a spring box to catch water from our spring, more than a thousand feet of pipe (which moved the water by gravity), several water tanks (the number grew over the years, as my parents’ summer camp grew), a sand filter, and a pump and a pressure tank. Even back then, our system was a bit of an anomaly, as most homes and ranches already had transitioned to less problematic “sealed source” systems featuring a drilled well (with a well seal on top), a submersible or jet pump, and a pressure tank. Still, it was less bizarre than the water system used there in the first two or three decades of the 20th century; a hand-dug well up the hill, with a siphon that brought water to the house without benefit of a pump.

With a complicated water system like ours, stuff happened. The supply line would break, valves would get stuck, the pump would fail or some truly weird problem would develop. Assessing and fixing a problem could take days, so we kept close tabs on the amount of water in the tanks. On a couple of occasions, when the water supply situation became dire, we pumped irrigation water from Rancheria Creek – which was potable back then (I’d be surprised if it is now) — into our water tanks through a pipe-and-double-valve interconnect.

Today most water tanks – where tanks are used — are cement. Ours were redwood – big old uprights salvaged from wineries. Mostly, they worked well. However, on one occasion – due to some problem — we drew water from a recently arrived wood tank for the first time. The water –not surprisingly – bore a striking resemblance to fermenting wine, complete with color, fermentation bouquet and “fizz.” We had to drain and fill the tank several times over the next week before its water could be used.

Our old water system is gone now, replaced by a subsequent owner with a “sealed source” system. A couple of years ago, I drank a cup of water from the old spring box outflow: it was as good as I remembered.

A quick story about that old hand-dug well I mentioned previously. It had filled in completely by the time we arrived in Philo in the late 1950s, but in the late 1960s my brother decided we should bring it back as a water source. He rigged an A-frame, pulley, bucket and rope system for moving dirt, and he, his friends and I began digging. Interestingly, we could see pick marks in the clay from the original dig as we progressed. It was a part-time project, but we got down 24 feet (the original likely was 30 feet deep), put in a liner and were working in serious mud before we finally gave up two years later. Believe me when I say that standing in a hole 15 feet deep and four feet wide with only dirt walls above can make anyone claustrophobic!

One Comment

  1. Todd Lesser November 25, 2015

    The water from the spring box was the best I have ever tasted. Especially on a hot summer day. I even liked drinking the water from the sinks in the cabins. I assume so but does the water from the “sealed source” system not taste as good? I hope all is well.

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