Carbide generator similar to the one used
At the Museum
September 3, 2006
(Sources for this article include: Bettye Kate Smith, local historian; information from "Hamilton County Museum", internet site, McLeansboro, Illinois (article by Doris Nelson, dated March 20, 1997), "Wales History" BBC internet site, and Google’s "This Day In History" site.)
We sometimes forget how fortunate we are to be living in this day and time, despite the difficulties we face. We’ve become accustomed to staying in nice hotels or motels when we travel (though few of us locally often have the experience of enjoying a "five-star" hotel). We do enjoy the (usually) clean rooms, private bathrooms, and large beds that most of today’s lodgings afford. Our children think there must be a swimming pool, and we often enjoy "continental" if not full breakfasts that are also very often available to us, "at no charge".
Not so very long ago, travelers were fortunate to find a room in some cases. That room didn’t have nearly the amenities we’ve come to expect.
The Smith Hotel was certainly one of the nicer places in this part of the country in 1913. The Casa Amarillo Hotel was completed in Littlefield about one year prior to completion of the Smith Hotel, and was quite a nice hotel for its time. The only draw-back to the Casa Amarillo was that it was located approximately 3 blocks south and 1 block west of the depot. The Smith Hotel was much closer and easier to reach for train passengers and railroad workers. In fact, it was the first building one saw when they disembarked from the train. As a result, the Smith Hotel did a "land office" business for several years.
The builder and owner of the Smith Hotel was Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Smith. "Much of the lumber for the hotel was hauled to the building site by Smith’s sons, Ben and Bob, who hauled the lumber from Abernathy. Some of the other lumber and supplies the Smith boys hauled from Canyon and Lubbock. Everything was hauled in three wagons hitched together and was pulled by a team of six horses or mules, most often mules. Ben and Bob often said they ‘sharpened their shooting skills by shooting the nails on the telegraph poles along the routes during these trips’".
The hotel was built with an eye toward business. Mr. Smith and his family already had a family home. They didn’t need accommodations for themselves. "The hotel contained 16 rooms in all, with 13 bedrooms for boarders, 10 upstairs and 3 downstairs. In addition to the bedrooms, there was a kitchen, the large dining room, the lobby, or ‘office room’ as it was referred to, and a parlor."
"Carbide lights were used throughout the hotel, rather than the more common kerosene lamps. The carbide gas was provided from a ‘pit’, as it was called, but was actually a generator that the railroad men had helped Smith to build for the hotel. It was buried behind the hotel, to help maintain an even pressure and for safety.
"Carbide granulars, or rocks about the size of or smaller than gravel was put in the top of the generator. Water was put in the bottom. When needed, a certain amount of the carbide was dropped into the water in the bottom, to cause a gas to form, which ran through the pipes to the various rooms.
"The carbide lamps had wicks, like Aladdin lamps, that were lit each night. ‘The flame made such a bright light, you could hardly look at it.’ Carbide gas was not unlike butane, except butane is heavier and settles, whereas the carbide gas was light and would rise through the pipes of its own accord. Whenever the pressure began to drop and the lights began to dim, it was time to replenish the carbide and water in the pit.
(Notes of interest: "Carbide lights were also used in early coal miners’ helmet lights, in stage lights, and even things like irons to iron your clothes." Also, "the gas pressure was controlled by a regulator called a carburetor which was on or near the tank," and that "cloth mantles" were used on the lights themselves. How about the "old lamplighter" in Wales, who carried a carbide torch? "The torch works by mixing carbide crystals or powder with water in the hollow handle. A steady drip of water onto the crystals produces acetylene gas. This passes up the tube and ignites to produce a clear, steady flame." By the way, the first gas lights were installed at the White House on December 29, 1848.)
"Heat for the rooms was provided by the large old kitchen range that was vented upstairs, via a flue, and by the big heater that sat in the office/parlor section. It was vented through a chimney flue as well. Coal was used in the kitchen range and heater most of the time, and was hauled in by Ben Smith, who was in his own freighting business by this time.
"The rooms were extremely small and contained only the necessities. No one needed or wanted more than that for a night’s stay. The rates were $5 a week for a room and board, which included 3 meals a day, served regular boarding house style, and featured beef or antelope and fresh garden vegetables. If more meat was needed, Bob Smith (who was designated supplier of meat for the entire town) just went out on the prairie and killed another antelope, which roamed in herds on the grassy plains around town. Passersby who only wanted to stay the night paid 25 cents a night and 25 cents a meal.
"The hotel boasted COLD running water, piped in from the windmill to the kitchen, and to the long narrow wash basin that ran along the hall, just the other side of the kitchen wall. The long wash basin was used by the roomers to wash up in, and for the ‘faint-hearted’, there was always water available from the reservoir in the kitchen range. (Each room had a pitcher and wash basin, and water was provided, if the roomer wanted it, but most preferred to was at the long basin in the hall.
"Behind the hotel was the standard ‘necessity’, in those days. While each room had what the British call a ‘ quz-unda’ (a chamber pot that ‘goes under the bed’), there was a large outhouse, partitioned off for the privacy of the men and women."
So you see, "we’ve come a long way, baby!" We owe a great deal of respect and gratitude to our ancestors. They paved the way for us, and it wasn’t easy!