Electricity

New Plymouth Movie Theater

New Plymouth Movie Theater

1942 movie theatre in New Plymouth.  This is 3rd iteration of our theatre — it having burned twice before.  Popcorn poppers were usually blamed — hot melted butter reaching the heating coils and flashing into huge fire.

In the 40s, movies were often double features, and cost us 25 cents if 12 or under, and 50 cents over that.  Very popular in 40s were musical comedies and westerns.

I remember the first color film was in early 40s, a pirate flick, Black Swan, with Tyrone Powers. War newsreels were offered and cartoons were always featured as well.  How we loved the cartoons!  I remember the last movie I saw in this theater — Bye Bye Birdie with Ann Margaret — a parody of Elvis being drafted in 1957.

While waiting for the re-building after a fire, movies were shown in Pioneer Hall according to old timers.  But, in my time during WWII, we were treated to seeing movies shown on the fire wall of EP Day building — the next lots also having burned and being vacant. Someone put up boards across blocks for us to sit on.

EP Day building is one of most long-lived business buildings in New Plymouth because old Day was so very smart in insisting on the fire wall. So many buildings had burned in New Plymouth, and at least the fire walls used after that, while not protecting the burning building, at least it stopped it spreading.

Thru the years, the corner lot, often called grocery corner by Plymouth-ites because a long succession of groceries, beginning with the Steven’s brick building, then various wood buildings built and burned, built and burned.  I remember well seeing the hole at the corner where the building’s basement or cellar had been.

On the lot past the theater in this photo was the Idaho Power building, Paul Penrod the proprietor.  It was built and staffed in 1938 when electricity was put throughout our area by the fed’s rural electrification legislation.

Paul was trained to repair electric appliances. Because most of us had never had electricity there existed no common understanding of how to deal with an appliance that did not go when plugged into the wall. A non-working appliance couldn’t use electricity, and Idaho Power could make no profit!  Paul would fix it for free, charging only for parts.  Paul was a young man when he came to New Plymouth and stayed his whole life, raised his kids who went to school with us.  A community “fixture.”

It was always a treat to go into his store and he would let us watch (in fact wanted us to watch!) while he repaired whatever we had brought in. He had a counter across the front part of the store — and he would just hike the appliance right up there on it, in front of us, and show us how easy it was to fix.  It was much in Idaho Power’s interest for Paul to teach us how to repair appliances.  And, he liked to take the mystery out of it.

Reddy-Kilowatt, the symbol for Idaho Power (licensed across the US), was not only interesting at first, but has become one of the most successful and enduring of all industry icons!  Our electric bills always bore this symbol, and were cheap. Our power bills, as I remember, were always less than $2.00/month.  Idaho power before WWII, had a vast surplus of electric generating power.  The effort by Idaho Power in this venture was one of the most successful campaigns I have ever witnessed.

No matter how cheap power was in the 30s, my dad insisted that our single bare bulb be turned off at every opportunity. One bulb in our barn, one bulb in our one room house!

Electricity while a boon to us all was also a big burden to some.  The town had had electricity since early on, but farmers did not. The electrification legislation provided only for power along section lines. So along North 1st, and South 1st, for example, on our side of town.  However, if you lived off the section line — like we did in the middle, then power was only available if you paid for the poles and wires at $500 per pole.  Ours was five poles or $2500.  Not much now, but put into context for the time, it was very different. The purchase of our farm was $2,000 in 1933 dollars (~$200,000 today!). The $2500 for the electricity to our land was more than our land cost.  They couldn’t afford it, but they couldn’t not afford it!  But, probably the hardest part was that it seemed so unfair. It pained my mom for decades.  Instead of spreading the cost over the whole, only the few falling in between paid for it individually.

Some farmers were able to move their homes to meet the grid, others like us paid the price of not having such land to move to!  Of course the cost was added via bonds to tax bills.  But, that simply meant you paid twice over the long haul.  To people like my parents that paid for their farm picking fruit at 5 cents/box, it was almost more than they could bear!

To add a note of levity: To kids who are unsophisticated, some superstitions come along that can be very funny.  The power company must brace the end pole of a line against the tension and use what is called an “anchor” — everyone has seen the diagonal cable bracing such end-of-line poles.  The common slang term amongst the line installers called this a “dead man” because the concrete block comprising the anchor was about the size of a coffin — and, of course, was “buried.”

Somehow the neighbor kids started a superstition that this term was a real dead man!  Because our parents were so upset about the cost, of course that negative vibe was passed on to us kids.  With dread we watched the line crew digging and placing the concrete “deadman.”  And, for years afterward we avoided that anchor area.  Power lines and phone lines give off a harmonic buzz — to us it was the dead calling for help! Farms usually, at that time, had around five cats to keep the vermin in check.  Cats are vulnerable to cars speeding along roads. So a fair number of our cats were traffic victims. I thought it quite fitting to use the “deadman” area as our pet cemetery!  Altho that was over 73 years ago, in my mind’s eye, I can still vividly see those linemen putting in that “deadman.”

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