By Jo Cross
M. Josephine “Jo” Cross, local author and former La Veta mayor, joined the Huerfano Journal in July of 2008 in order to write a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant series reminiscing about the funny things that have happened, and about the people that have made things happen in the Cuchara Valley. She told the Journal in November of 2008 that she expected that many of her pieces would be published posthumously. She died Dec. 5, 2008 at the age of 93. We honor her memory by running the remainder of her stories this summer.
Lanterns & Loos
CUCHARA– Most if not all of summer residents in Cuchara came from homes with running water, standard bathrooms, and electric lights. They happily came to Cuchara and dealt with outhouses, buckets of water dipped from the streams, and artificial lighting. One of my household jobs was cleaning the fireplace and laying the fire for the next evening chill. The other was getting the lamps ready to use again, this was a major undertaking as we had many lamps. We had one Coleman gas lamp that gave a bright, white light. It had to be refilled with gas, air pumped in with a hand pump, and the shade washed and dried. Rarely, a wick had to be replaced, as they last a long time. The old wick had to be removed, and the new one tied on with the string that came with the wick, then set afire to change it from a thin, slack bag into a neat round globe. The lamp had two wicks. This lamp hung in the center of the living room from a rafter.
Our other big lamp was a Coleman kerosene lamp that gave a more golden glow. It was a beauty made of copper and brass that stood about a foot high with a tall, slender glass chimney at least another foot high. It had a circular wick that was 3 to 4 inches in diameter. This had to be trimmed each morning to remove bits of char. The chimney was really hard to wash and dry, as it was so small. We also had three small lamps in brackets that hung on nails on the walls. Two other portable kerosene lamps stood on handy tables.
This is the way it was until 1937, when Wanda (Powell) and Albert Jameson took over from Charley and Annie Powell. Albert put in a small Delco plant sufficient to light the hotel, store, shop and pavilion.
When the pavilion was built a few years later, Albert installed a large Delco plant so that all the cabin owners who wanted to could subscribe to one drop light with a 25-watt bulb! Eventually, TVA and the REA brought electricity to Cuchara.
Sanitation was a long time coming, though, as everyone thought it would be too expensive. As one woman told me, she couldn’t afford the expense. I looked at her hands, each with five diamond rings, and had to bite my tongue to keep my thoughts to myself. Many of the cabins on Dodgton Creek and the Cuchara River had no septic tanks, but dumped waste water directly into the streams. On up the valley, several homes were built where the water table was high and septic tanks could not be forced underground. Solution? Simple. They poked holes in the metal tanks to fill up with water.
It was not until the health department threatened to close down the whole area that the die-hard gave up and a sanitation system was installed in the 1970’s.