Column: Take a deep breath and be happy we've got powerAll across the local region there is no question we can delight day by day in quite clean, pure air, even fresh air from the Arctic. There are no smokestacks looming on our horizons.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Nearly every day — every week, certainly — we read or hear something about smoke lifting from power plants and industrial plants in America or Germany or (especially) China. Beijing lately was choked by smog. Not long ago, Salt Lake City was shrouded in a choking fog of black that originated from smoke stacks and settled out of the atmosphere into the Great Basin where the city is located.
All across the local region there is no question we can delight day by day in quite clean, pure air, even fresh air from the Arctic. There are no smokestacks looming on our horizons.
It was not always so. A century ago — three-quarters of a century ago — people here were breathing a great deal of smoke. There was black smoke lifting from the chimneys of every house. Trains puffing great clouds of smoke rolled into Worthington 16 and 18 times each day. Smoke lifted from the stacks at the municipal power plant, the Southwest Sanatorium, the Worthington creamery, Boote’s produce, the greenhouse. On winter days when gray clouds hung low, there was no mistaking that smoke was drifting across every city block. White snow banks turned gray and then black.
All of this is past.
It is puzzling in this light that the nation, the federal government, seem stymied in their efforts to ease air pollution. Politicians talk of cap-and-trade schemes that would curb the smoke and toxic emissions from industrial plants. Nothing much gets done. Coal-fueled smoke still lifts over our big cities.
We have to wonder if towns in our area were pussycats when it came to eliminating smoke pollution. Most of the larger towns in our region were supplying their own electricity — Worthington, Luverne, Sibley, Jackson — on and on. And people were proud of their power plants; they boasted of new turbines and expanded capacity.
Then one day The Government —federal, state — said, “You are polluting the air — you’re going to have to close down your power plants, bring down your smoke stacks.” We all complied, community by community. There are town houses and condominiums where Worthington long had its giant brick power house along Lake Street.
This brings the mind the fears and woe of a long ago winter day. It was 9:50 a.m. on a Monday — Nov. 19, 1959. Municipal Judge Henry Fauskee was walking across Third Avenue between City Hall and the National Guard Armory. Henry watched as an iron manhole cover lifted from the street, climbed as high as the power lines and then fell on a trash barrel with a great thud. Judge Fauskee ran to the police station, opened the door and said (in effect), “We’ve got trouble, right here in River City!”
The main line from the power plant that fed electricity to Worthington was reduced to a tangled, charred mass of wires. The city was suddenly without electricity and soon without heat as electic starters on home furnaces failed. The entire community was cold and dark.
The teletypes, the linotypes, the presses at the Daily Globe stopped. I remember this well. Everything was stopped. There were automatic doors that wouldn’t open. Clerks in stores stood in darkness. Cash registers in grocery stores were useless. Coffee inside candle-lighted restaurants grew cold. Business machines in the city’s banks were idle. Pumps at filling stations were “dead.” Beside all this, it was a cold day and a stiff northwest wind was blowing.
Postmaster Ray Schisler and Dundee’s mayor, Charles Christensen, began calling for emergency generators through all the region and they had success — power was restored at the Crippled Children’s School, at the Ludlow green houses, at nursing homes.
It is possible Worthington never attracted more attention. Television reporters for CBS, NBC, ABC came to town. All the regional newspapers sent reporters. Daily Globe and KWOA reporters, unable to do their own work, talked on phones with reporters from Atlanta and New York.
For 19 hours Worthington residents huddled in front of gas ovens and lighted their houses with candles. No street lights. National Guardsmen patrolled streets in Jeeps.
Worthington came to be proud of the city workers who got electricity flowing once again. They worked heroically, and they succeeded.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.