Hot Weather and Water Supplies
Hot weather is not a new phenomenon. While it currently may be hotter for longer periods of time and in places that do not normally experience high temperatures, extreme heat conditions made an impact on people’s lives and livelihood more than 100 years ago.
September 1891 saw sustained temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s – in the shade. States in the north central region of the country experienced record temperatures in the 100’s with winds that fueled prairie and forest fires. The high temperatures made it difficult for farmers to harvest crops because it was too hot to be in the fields during the day. Heat related health problems also became an issue for concern (no air-conditioning in those days).
Locally, it was announced that schools would be dismissed forty-five minutes early. The stifling classrooms made it difficult for students to concentrate on their work and created a general lack of ambition.
The heat wave lasted for two weeks. During this time water sources began to dry up creating water “famines” in many places. Streams and wells went dry and creating dangerous conditions for livestock, the inability to fight fires, and new sources had to be sought just for daily living use. Businesses and factories were also affected.
The glass factories were especially hard-hit. Those environments were already perpetually hot because of the tanks of molten glass, so as the outside temperatures rose working conditions inside the factories became intolerable. At Ball Brothers Glass Mfg. Co., the plant closed on September 17 because it was impossible to work in those extreme conditions.
Water, or lack thereof, was also a problem at the Ball glass plant. The city had not yet run water mains to that part of town and the factory’s main source of water, an artesian well, had run dry due to overuse during the heatwave. The company began digging a reservoir and drilling another well while temporarily buckets of water were hauled in from other area wells. The glass furnaces and tin stamping works were carefully watched because the fear was that if a fire started (glass plants were notorious for fires) the entire complex might be wiped out.
The artesian well was connected to a gas well, both water and gas coming out of the same pipe. On September 7, the pump for this well had been damaged in an explosion. When night watchman James McHugh could not get the water pump turned off, he called three workers over to help him. McHugh wanted one of them to hold a lantern outside the pump house so he could see the machinery but they stepped inside the building and the lantern flame ignited the natural gas causing an explosion. All four were seriously injured; two of them were the teenage sons of one of the factory foreman.
Cooler weather did return following week but ironically a month later, on October 28, the tin stamping works burned down as the result of another gas explosion and lack of water to put the fire out. E.B. Ball stated that if they decided to rebuild and the city did not extend the water mains, the company would have to, at a very great expense.
It was evidently some time before city water lines made it to that part of town. Across the street from Ball, in 1892, both the Hemingray and C.H. Over factories burned in one huge fire. 1894 saw fires at five other factories in that area. C.H. Over experienced another fire in 1897 but lines stretched from Ball and Hemingray wells confined the fire and limited the damage.
In the early 1900’s, Ball began constructing and repairing buildings with brick and cement block. A water tower was constructed in 1911 that held 1500 barrels supplied by a well and kept filled by a pump. Water was piped to all parts of the factory and the tower had multiple lines of hose that could spray a distance of 25 feet.