Power sources on the farm were few and far between in the 20's and 30's. Petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene and lube oils were available, but the combustion engine was still in its infancy and quite expensive. Most farms had one or more small one-cylinder gasoline engines that were used for various power sources. Light sources were mostly candles, lamps or some other means of combustion. The Coleman lamp and the Aladdin lamp were popular. Electricity was available in metropolitan areas, near the power generators. Rural dwellers had to generate their own electricity.
Grandpa relied on horsepower from horses and mules for his farming. However, Grandma couldn't very well use horses to run her washing machine, pump her water or saw her wood. So Grandpa purchased a rather large, one-cylinder gasoline engine. It was somewhat like the engines that today power the oil wells out in the country. They were not easy to start, especially in cold weather. When running, they would go "pop, chuffa-chuffa, pop," etc.
Grandpa belted one up to a long line-shaft in the washhouse. The shaft was belted to a big Great Western generator for lights in the house, the washing machine, the cream separator and a pump-jack outside the wash house. It had enough power for any two of these at one time, but not for all of them. As there were no batteries, the engine had to run all the time for lights. Grandpa would put in enough gasoline for three or four hours running time each evening so we could have lights in the house. In those days it was a pretty neat arrangement
After Grandpa was gone, Grandma had a Delco lighting system installed. The old house was rewired so that there were light sockets and switches in every room. The Delco system consisted of a gas engine with a built-in generator. There were 16 glass-encased battery cells lined up on a shelf behind the generator and they supplied 32 volts of DC current. The system was automatic, and the gas engine was supposed to start whenever the batteries needed charging. The system worked for awhile, but finally wore out from overload.
In 1935 the Federal Government established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). This new government agency provided funds to provide electricity to the rural areas. Arrangements were made to purchase power from generating plants and to build power lines in rural areas. At long last, the farmers could have convenient sources of electricity for small electric devices the same as their city cousins. The REA helped propel rural America into the Industrial Age.
Those electric lights in the old house sure beat the kerosene lamps, the Aladdin lamps and the Coleman lanterns. The best part was that I didn't have to pump water and turn the cream separator any more. As a bonus, Grandma would make ice cream in her new electric refrigerator. No one appreciated electricity more than I did.