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Water, water, everywhere
Random Thoughts - July 21
Random Thoughts by Wendell Smith

MUSCODA - Perhaps it was because Muscoda’s downtown water tower and tank were coming down last week that I began to think about water in my life. Although I don’t remember the year, I recall standing in Duffey’s Service Station (now the Mini-Mart) watching workers take a tank down and replace it with a new one, which is now gone. Apparently I outlived a village water tank.

Water towers are often part of a community’s history or image, especially if the tank features a special design or message. Not all communities have water-towers, especially if a nearby hill can be used for a tank location.

I don’t know how many elevated water tanks Muscoda has had. However, the book ”Muscoda – The First Hundred Years” has some information. It notes that the business section of the community had several serious fires, often difficult to fight because of lack of water. A notable fire, on September 1, 1894, started when children were playing with matches in a barn located in the center of town. The resulting blaze destroyed a long list of businesses, homes, barns, etc.

Through the years there were more damaging fires. A bad one in 1911 changed the looks of Wisconsin Avenue. It was in 1938 when a referendum was held regarding establishing a water and sewer utility. Government grants would be used to hire depression-era laborers and it was expected to employ 50 to 60 men during construction. The project was approved with 233 Yes votes and 90 against.

When we purchased the land for our current house in the late 1960s, at the corner of our West Nebraska and North Ohio lot, was a sizable capped iron pipe coming out of the ground. We were told it was an early fire hydrant – actually a sand- point well, that fire fighters could attach a pump to if needed. At one time there were several of those pipes in the village.

Also, when we came to town there were two elevated tanks – one on the village tower at the Nebraska – Second Street location, and another one, not in use, near the southeast corner of the village. We were told that at one time the local furniture factory had its own water system tied to that tank.

Water and its availability, has been an important part of my, and everyone else’s life. As a high school kid in the 1940s I worked part-time with a crew building the first water system for our village. Prior to that the water source for residents was rainwater collected off house roofs and stored in cisterns, with a “town pump” for drinking water.

The town pump served another purpose – it was an excuse for kids to get out of the house to go after water at a time when they thought a special friend might also be on a similar errand, or perhaps washing a first car there.

I also worked with a traveling oats threshing crew that went from farm to farm. Some of those farms had elevated wooden “supply tanks” feeding a water system. One such tank had no cover. Looking overhead at the flying birds, I went to work carrying my personal drinking water in a canvas bag.

Later, when in service and arriving at 7th Infantry Division Headquarters, riding the back of an open truck on a cold January day, one of the first things I saw was a lot of activity along the bank of small frozen river. There were many people, bonfires and 50-gallon barrels. I learned those folks were Koreans, breaking ice to get water and then heat it over open fires to use when washing laundry.

That was a shocker for me! I had recently enjoyed hot water - any time in any amount as a civilian, with just the twist of a handle.

Another thing I soon learned – it could be a long 100-yards walk or run between a tent residence and a shower tent – especially on a cold January or February night.