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Sweeping Changes

How electric co-ops and Electrolux brought the modern age to the plains of Texas

My two sisters and I stared wide-eyed as a car we had never seen rumbled over our cattle guard and drove slowly to our yard gate. Mother joined us. It was no one we knew. Two men dressed in Sunday suits got out, and they took time to put on their dress coats and straighten their ties before they walked up to the door.

My father was down at the barn and saw them, too, because he came to the house just in time to answer the front door. We didn’t get many strangers in our bend of the river.

My parents had built our house in 1941, and they wired it for electricity in anticipation of promised power lines. We lived 10 miles south of Seymour and another 2 miles off Throckmorton highway, in a bend of the Brazos River where there was plenty of sand for the wind to toss around. My father raised cotton, wheat and cattle on our family farm.

The Rural Electrification Administration was bringing electricity to rural America. But on December 7, 1941, everything changed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. All domestic programs were put on hold while our country prepared for war. People far out from town had to wait to receive electric service until the war was over, so it was 1946 before power reached our farm.

We eagerly watched from the window of the school bus as linemen worked closer and closer to our place. First, poles went up with an anthill of red soil pushed up around the base. The poles made their steady march, and at night we could follow their progress by the glow of electric bulbs in widely scattered houses—tiny points of light spread out like earthbound constellations.

I’m sure there was a celebration when the lines finally reached our house and the power came on, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is the day the salesmen came down our road in 1946.

That spring, the sandstorms had been particularly strong, and sand seeped in under the doors and around windows, coating everything in a fine dust. My parents suffered for weeks with allergies from breathing the dust.

The men at our house introduced themselves. They said they were just discharged from the Army and had followed the new power lines out from town. They were selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners, they explained, and they would appreciate a chance to demonstrate their product.

My parents exchanged glances. They didn’t know what a vacuum cleaner was or what it was capable of, but they were curious.

We all sat as the two men reeled out an electric cord and found an outlet. They set a gadget about the size of a large loaf of bread in the center of the room. It had two metal runners under it like a sled, and it was covered in shiny chrome. One man hooked a long hose and a metal wand to one end. Then he flipped a switch and guided the brush across the hardwood floor. We thought it was a miracle. The brush cut a clean path through the sandy veneer that coated the room.

I’m sure we all gasped. I think my mother may have cried a little. My father recovered his voice and blurted, “I’ll take it!”

The two men looked up in surprise.

“I’ll take it,” he repeated, and then, as an afterthought, he added, “How much does it cost?”

“Yes, sir, that’s great!” one of the men said. “You can have this one right here.” He glanced at his partner. “But if you don’t mind, I’m training my partner here, and it would be good for him to go through the whole demonstration. Would it be OK if we cleaned the rest of the room and showed you all the attachments?”

We sat there fascinated, all five of us, as that wonderful machine sucked up all the dust. The man switched attachments to clean the drapes and upholstery; then he used the narrow wand that could slide down between the cushions before ending the demonstration with a round brush that dusted the door frames, baseboards and tables.

I think my mother cried a little more between oohs and aahs. No more sweeping and pushing that sand about. No more breathing in the dust.

There were other electric gadgets my father bought in the following weeks. He purchased an RCA radio and record player that brought news and music to liven up our evenings. My mother got an electric iron to replace the old flat irons that she had to heat on the stove, and in an uncharacteristic flash of whimsy, we even acquired a waffle iron for the kitchen.

The march of the modern age had reached the lower plains of Texas.

Author Irene Sandell is a member of South Plains EC. See her work at