Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Did They Ever Survive This Heat?

We are traveling in the southwest in our RV right now and when we arrived at the RV park today our air-conditioning just couldn’t get the trailer below 95 degrees until the sun went down. We got by mind you, and it was noting like the time it couldn’t get below 105 but that time it was 117 outside. But this really got me to thinking about how miserable the heat must have been for Arizona’s pioneer women in their layers of undergarments and long dresses. I wonder if they ever just slipped on their lightest weight dress without all those underpinnings.

Now we are spoiled by modern air-conditioning but there were a few things that helped a little back then. For one thing adobe was common for homes. I remember going into an old adobe structure at a national monument on a hot day and I was amazed at how much cooler it was inside. Nothing like AC mind you, but better than the 105 degrees that day.

But as the” modern” world came to the southwest there was a great cooling system that helped folks make it through those long hot days of summer. It was the swamp cooler and it helped people cool down from the 1930s until air-conditioning became widely available in the 1950s and 60s. Actually some people still use them preferring them to the cold blast of air-conditioning.

I love that name “swamp cooler”. It sounds so down and basic, nothing highfaluting like “air conditioner”. I’ve read they are sometimes called desert coolers but I’ve never heard a southwesterner use that term. These coolers do a pretty decent job through the dry, hot months because they work by blowing air though dampened materials. But they only work well when the humidity is low and aren’t worth much once the monsoons hit Arizona.

Before swamp coolers people did what they could to stay beat the heat. One solution was to sleep out on the porch with wet sheets hanging down from the rafters to make the breeze feel a little cooler. Sort of a very crude swamp cooler. Hurray for the resourcefulness of the human spirit!

(photos from Wikimedia Commons)