Saturday, April 9, 2011

Heat and Light

The diversion of coal to the war effort made it scarce and expensive to civilians, who used it to heat homes and power electric plants. Government at all levels began to get involved in tracking the use and distribution of coal. In November 1917, Lake County Fuel Administrator W.S. Feuer* (representing the federal government) wrote to William Killigrew of Hobart, confirming William's appointment as Local Fuel Administrator. According to Mr. Feuer's letter, reprinted in the Gazette, William's new duties involved keeping a record of Hobart's coal supplies and demands, and making a weekly report to Mr. Feuer; impressing on coal dealers the need to conserve coal and to have their shipments unloaded from the rail cars within a set time limit, as well as making sure they understood the procedures for getting emergency supplies of coal from the County Administrator; urging farmers to burn wood instead of coal; and promoting harmony and fairness as a "patriotic duty" in the distribution of coal for domestic use.

In December the County Administrator distributed copies of an order from Washington requiring two "lightless nights" per week (Sunday and Thursday) when all electric signs and non-essential electric street lights must be turned off to conserve the coal that powered them.

A month later, Washington issued a more drastic coal-conservation order. Starting Friday, January 18, all industries east of the Mississippi must close for five consecutive days. That order applied to all factories and mills, and even munitions plants; the only exceptions were coal mines and factories that produced food. Furthermore, every Monday until March 25 was to be treated as a legal holiday: all office buildings, banks, theaters, churches and schools must close, as well as all stores except those selling food or drugs. Violations of the order could be punished by a $5,000 fine or two years' imprisonment.

The winter had not been kind to the conservation effort. December and January were snowy and cold, with the mercury often dipping close to zero. By the time the five-day closing order was handed down, the coal shortage in Hobart had already become so acute — "every yard in town was practically out of coal" — that William Killigrew confiscated a carload from the "J" railroad and diverted it for sale to the public. For the same purpose, he commandeered another load on its way to the main school house; in response, the Hobart school board declared a two-week school holiday, as there simply wasn't enough coal to heat the school.

In mid-January, the weather became spectacularly uncooperative. A three-day blizzard struck the Hobart area. The heavy snowfall closed roads, streetcar lines and even railroads, bringing delivery of food and coal to a standstill for two days. I can imagine people around here snowbound in their chilly houses, wrapping themselves in coats and shawls as they tried to stretch out their dwindling supplies of coal. (That scenario, in fact, played out in many Indiana homes over those few days, and on hearing of it, Indiana's federal fuel administrator authorized county administrators to prevent sales of coal to saloons and other places of amusement, such as dance halls, theaters and pool rooms, if necessary to relieve coal shortages in homes.)

The Hobart school board extended the school holiday an additional week.

Hobart businesses observed the first federally ordered Monday holiday on January 21 (though the blizzard would probably have closed many of them anyway). The News noted ironically that the only reports of holiday violations had come out of Crown Point, the county seat of law, and I'm not sure whether the paper was boasting or complaining when it said that in all of Hobart that Monday, you couldn't buy a cigar or a drink. The Gazette reported that in the afternoon you couldn't buy so much as a loaf of bread, while many Hobart citizens, freed from their usual weekday occupations, turned out to haul away the snow that still lay in piles around Main Street.

Things began to look a little better by early February. A thaw brought people out of their houses to clear away the lingering evidence of the blizzard. William Killigrew had promised a carload of coal especially for the schools, and the school board announced that Hobart schools would reopen on Monday, February 11, if the coal arrived.

I don't know if the federal fuel administration had changed the Monday-closing order to allow schools to open, or if Hobart intended to defy the order. But the coal shortage and the blizzard had kept the schools closed for so long that now the school board was considering a six-day week, to make up for lost time.

*Apt, isn't it? Feuer is German for fire.

♦ "A Five-Day Shut Down." Hobart Gazette 18 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Coal vs. Cold." Hobart Gazette 25 Jan. 1918.
♦ "For Information to the Public." Hobart Gazette 23 Nov. 1917.
♦ "From the State Fuel Administrator." Hobart Gazette 25 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Hobart Business Houses Observe 'Closing Day.'" Hobart News 24 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Hobart Schools to Open Next Monday If Coal Arrives." Hobart News 7 Feb. 1918.
♦ "Hobart's First Heatless Day." Hobart Gazette 25 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Industries East of the Mississippi Must Close for 5 Days." Hobart News 17 Jan. 1918.
♦ "'Lightless Nights' Is Latest." Hobart Gazette 21 Dec. 1917.
♦ "Local and Personal." Hobart News 24 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Relief from Zero Weather Comes Wednesday Morning." Hobart News 7 Feb. 1918.
♦ "Schools Closed Last Friday for Two Weeks." Hobart News 17 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Schools Closed Last Friday for Two Weeks." Hobart News 24 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Schools to Open Next Monday." Hobart Gazette 8 Feb. 1918.
♦ "The Monday 'Holiday.'" Hobart News 24 Jan. 1918.
♦ "Worst Snowstorm in Years Visits Hobart and Vicinity." Hobart News 17 Jan. 1918.

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