Courage, Two Fans, and a Swamp Cooler

The days of summer shorten and temperatures in Oregon are cooling.  We met the recent weeks of plus one hundred degrees with courage.

Courage, two fans, and a swamp cooler.  When afternoon temperatures in the loft reached 91 degrees, and the late evening thermometer still read 88, we knew it was time to go beyond just pushing hot air around.

Bruce decided we needed a swamp cooler. And like many things we do and get nowadays for the farm, the swamp cooler acquisition is another example of our preference for relics.

I didn’t grow up with a swamp cooler and knew nothing about it. I remember Bruce describing how the cooling process worked.  It was such a hot day, and even drawing a breath seemed a chore.  I stood listening to him under the shade of the great oak near the barn. I wore a huge blue and white floral cotton muumuu, and still, sweat dripped endlessly down my back and legs. As Bruce painted the image of air flowing across ice water with its moist, cool refreshment transforming the loft, I began to smile.

At first the machine lived up to the second part of its name–cooler.  It kept the loft ten degrees below the outside temperature, and if I directed the fan toward me as I worked on the computer, it was possible to check email and do some online business.  But, by 4 o’clock each day when the temperatures peaked, the machine proved the veracity of the second part of its name–swamp.  By then the swamp cooler was no longer effective. Suddenly the room got so hot my only recourse was to lie torpid on the bed as though dead like a possum.  If I couldn’t play this role, then I went outside and hosed myself down and lay in the hammock in the scorching shade.

I was telling a friend my problem with the swamp cooler’s ineffectiveness, and instead of sympathizing, he began laughing.

“Sher, have you been using this swamp cooler with the windows closed,” he asked?

“Yes, of course, otherwise more hot air would come into the room.”

“The problem at the end of the day is your swamp cooler fills up the small room with so much moisture, and it’s very hot outside.  You create an indoor tropical rainforest. By 4:00 p.m. it’s 90 degrees inside and 100 percent humidity making your living space feel like 125 degrees,” he said.

“Oh geez. Now I get why my mother sighed when she heard we were installing a swamp cooler instead of a window box air conditioner in the loft.  She knew, because she had a swamp cooler in West Virginia when she was a kid. I guess an air conditioner would have been better,” I said.

“At least it would have been dry air,” he said and smiled.

Since that conversation I began opening up the windows in the afternoon and letting the swamp cooler run along with the two fans. By nightfall the temperatures in the Columbia Basin region of Oregon usually fall at least twenty degrees. So, in the morning the fans have pulled in cool, dry air from outside.

Using a multi-level strategy we survived the prolonged streak of very hot weather.  When designing the new house, we had some discussion whether we should put in an air conditioner, since we usually only need it for part of the summer.  After our experiences this August, I have no regrets about having agreed to a central air-cooling system for the new house.

The homestead elm and fir obscure a clear view of the house front, but the canopy of shade they provide in the summer heat will give us much relief.
The nineteenth century farmhouse and gothic elm tree as they looked when we bought Mule Springs Farm.
View of the new house from Kickin’ Mule Creek. The square notch cutaway is a courtyard that divides the master bedroom on the left and the living room on the right.
Donkeys in the house. They’ve just hopped in from the walkway leading to the garage, and they are heading to the kitchen.
Ziggy, the miniature donkey, is on his way to my library and office. Ziggy is one calm donkey. The air compressor is going, and it’s so loud I want off the construction site. Workers are on the roof pounding nails; the men say the donkeys visit each day and walk around the house trying to choose which room will be theirs.

 

Author’s Note: If you have any good stories about swamp coolers, please post a comment. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Courage, Two Fans, and a Swamp Cooler

  1. What can i say, Sher. You need to come back…very cool summer here. It was in the 50’s most of July. Warmed up a little in August and now the rain has come…Fall is here in Southeast. Enjoyed your story about the swamp cooler. Loved the pictures of your new home. thanks

    1. What can i say, Sher. You need to come back…very cool summer here. It was in the 50′s most of July. Warmed up a little in August and now the rain has come…Fall is here in Southeast. Enjoyed your story about the swamp cooler. Loved the pictures of your new home. thanks
      Hi Steve: Looks like I may be visiting this fall, because I plan on teaching an upper level literature class. Not 100% sure yet, but it seems I will probably return to doing some teaching again. I heard you had a cool summer. That was always tough for me when I lived there. Yet, the heat here was also tough. If I do visit, I hope to see you and Elaine. Thanks for reading! Sher

  2. Hi Sher:

    So glad the weather is a little cooler for you!

    I remember my grandmother had a rectangular swamp cooler, on wheels so you could move it from room to room. She lived in Sacramento, California where the summers can be extremely hot and uncomfortable. My great grandmother lived with my gramma for a period of time and I remember the swamp cooler being the focus of the living room, after coming in on a hot day, unable to see very well in the closed down darkness of the house. My great grandmother (whose name was Dixie) would be sitting on a comfy chair with a glass of iced tea and a stack of her movie star magazines, enjoying the coolness of the green savior.

    Thanks for the post and the update on your house; looks great!

    Deb

    1. Hi Sher:

      So glad the weather is a little cooler for you!

      I remember my grandmother had a rectangular swamp cooler, on wheels so you could move it from room to room. She lived in Sacramento, California where the summers can be extremely hot and uncomfortable. My great grandmother lived with my gramma for a period of time and I remember the swamp cooler being the focus of the living room, after coming in on a hot day, unable to see very well in the closed down darkness of the house. My great grandmother (whose name was Dixie) would be sitting on a comfy chair with a glass of iced tea and a stack of her movie star magazines, enjoying the coolness of the green savior.

      Thanks for the post and the update on your house; looks great!

      Deb
      Hi Deb:
      What a great story. I love the image of your great grandmother siting in that chair with “movie star magazines, enjoying the coolness of the green savior.” Thanks for sharing it. Sher

  3. It’s so weird to read of you guys suffering with a scorching heat wave up in northern Oregon, while we down here at the southernmost tip of Africa are shivering in the cold, our hands cupped around a mug of hot chocolate, and a hot water bottle nestling against our back, as we read our emails.

    I’ve never heard of a swamp cooler before – glad you figured out why it was creating a tropical rain forest inside the house!

    Hope things cool down!

    1. It’s so weird to read of you guys suffering with a scorching heat wave up in northern Oregon, while we down here at the southernmost tip of Africa are shivering in the cold, our hands cupped around a mug of hot chocolate, and a hot water bottle nestling against our back, as we read our emails.

      I’ve never heard of a swamp cooler before – glad you figured out why it was creating a tropical rain forest inside the house!

      Hope things cool down!

      Hi Reggie– thanks for reminding me that not everyone lives in the heat. Soon enough it will be fall, then winter here, and then you will be in the heat. Do we live on different planets? Just kidding. Thanks for checking in. Sher

      1. You’re welcome, Sher. I have been so snowed-under with deadlines that I have a long backlog of blog-posts to read and catch-up-on. A lovely thing to do with a nice cup of tea in the this morning!

      2. You’re welcome, Sher. I have been so snowed-under with deadlines that I have a long backlog of blog-posts to read and catch-up-on. A lovely thing to do with a nice cup of tea in the this morning! Reggie- It sounds like your class has been good for you. I have a feeling you are working on lots of articles, and good for you. Sher

  4. sher — maybe i missed something, but what exactly does a swamp cooler look like and do? can you post a photo? although it’s not a pressing issue in ketchikan, since i’ve got a little fire going in the woodstove trying to take the chill out of the air!!

    1. sher — maybe i missed something, but what exactly does a swamp cooler look like and do? can you post a photo? although it’s not a pressing issue in ketchikan, since i’ve got a little fire going in the woodstove trying to take the chill out of the air!!

      Hi Heidi
      It is about 4 feet tall and two feet wide. At the top is a fan, and in the back at the bottom is a reservoir for the water and ice. In between (in the back) is a wicking system that wicks the cold water up toward the fan, and what comes out of that fan is cool, moist air. The unit is on rollers, so it can easily be moved around in the room. It looks like a portable standing unit air conditioner.

      And , since you have 100 percent humidity there (Southeast Alaska) all time, I doubt you will ever get to see one in real life. 🙂

      Thanks for checking in — Sher

    1. Can’t believe that the donkey are so nonchalant about the awful racket being made byt he workers.

      Hi Sybil–I think it may have something to do with not being on a lead. Off lead, they have lots of confidence. Put them on a lead, and they feel more restrained in a bunch of ways. I also think they like the sound their hooves make on the flooring. The donkeys jumped into the house yesterday, and were clomping all around while the crew were under the flooring installing tubing for under floor heating. The donkeys are pretty calm cookies. I think they might be parade donkeys as long as we could go at their pace– off lead along the parade route. 🙂 Sher

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