Old/New World of Water

Today you can get bottled water in those coke size bottles just about everywhere.  They even have gallon and larger sizes at the grocery stores and the large private water companies delivery the 5 gallon size bottles to the water coolers at homes or offices around the country on a daily basis.   Indeed in many stores the variety and amount of bottled water almost equals that set aside for soda and fruit drinks.   People have been getting drinking water from private companies for centuries around the world and since the earliest days of our country.    The packaging and delivery and availability has changed a great deal in the last two decades but the basic delivery system and packaging is pretty much what it was almost 60 years ago.   Not long ago our kids got us one of those fancy Sodastream gizmos.  Filling it with the fizz brought back memories from a time long ago when I filled thousands of similar bottles with fizz.

As a teenager in 1955 I started working at a water plant owned by my uncle and where my dad was then the manager.  They had been in the business of delivering drinking water since 1898 throughout the Dallas area.  The early public water systems were slow to be built due to the expense and the quality of the water was variable.    I was too young to get the job legit but my dad agreed I could and I believe he thought it would be a good lesson in life for me to work each summer.  So that summer of ’55 I started much to mom’s chagrin, she thought it was too dangerous around that plant, trucks and equipment plus in her view the negative influence of those older working guys that were in fact a little rough around the edges.   I was so proud working at the same shop as my dad with the big men.   In fact in was very hot, exhausting work and definitely a little on the dangerous side with that equipment and the glass bottles.

The water was bottled into several different size.   Then they were all made of glass, not plastic and hence and additional element of danger from cuts when they broke which inevitably they would.  The basic standard was the 5 gal bottle.   By ’55 there were two kinds–one with a wide and smooth neck for a cork and the other kind with a slimmer neck and screw ruts at the top for a screw top cap to fit on.   We liked the old type best because they were easier to grip.  Your hand was always wet with water and sweat and lifting those bottles to load in the washer or onto the bottling machine after cleaning and then onto the pallets and the trucks.  Being able to grip the bottle tightly was best.  Those old bottles were corked and then we would put a paper cup over the top and tie it in place  with red twine to hold it there.   The screw caps were turned by hand and then a wet latex sleeve was put around the neck and when it dried it would shrink to seal the cap.   When you pick up and move 4 or 5 thousand of those bottles a day by hand those little things make a big difference.

The company made distilled water, indeed that was in the company name.  But it also sold demineralized water which went through a filtration system to purify it.  They sold ozone water.  Some folks and even doctors believed that drinking water laced with ozone was good for you health.  The shed that held that equipment smelled so strong.  If you have ever smelled the ozone in the air during a big thunderstorm you have the idea but this was much stronger.  Couldn’t stay in there too long.  Probably was a health hazard and today OSHA was explode.   And they even bottled and sold fresh mineral water which had a high sulfur content which again some folks thought was the bees knees for you health.  Stuff stunk to high heaven to me.  But every couple of weeks I got to drive the truck to Glen Rose to pick up about 5000 gallons of the stuff.  Driving that truck was like loafing compared to working on the bottling line and loading all those bottles.  The 5 gal. bottles with the glass included weighed near 40 lbs each and about 2 empty.

In those days lots of homes that had bars and of course restaurants and lounges had seltzer bottles with the fizz to fix cocktails.  They also sold those but that was a pretty small part of the business.  Every 3 weeks or so me and my cousin would be assigned to cleaning out the old seltzer bottles and re-filling them.  They were about a quart size and had a metal top with spigot and lever to release the fizzy water.  Of course being kids we would first find all the bottles that had a little steam left in them and squirt each other.  There was also some there.  Then we would take the clean bottles and fill them on a simple machine that had a special tray with restraint to hold the bottle with the top off then pull down a lever that was attached to the tank of co2.  Whoosh and it was filled right away.  Those bottles had special wooden crates that were used to deliver them to the bars and homes and held twelve each.  The machinery for these work was in a special shed that had great ventilation when the back and front doors were open so the work was much cooler than some of the other work and we loved doing that.  But we never did more than a few hundred at a time so it was quickly back to the grunt work on the big bottling line with the washer and bottling machine and all that lifting and toting.

So, Sodastream each time I use your device it does bring back memories of a 13 year old boy thinking that getting to fill a bottle with fizz was about as good as things could get on a hot July day in the mid-fifities.  I worked at that plant every summer for three years and then moved on to other work with my dad’s new business.

“In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” Napoleon.  http://www.oclranky.wordpress.com


Filed under Culture, family, history

3 responses to “Old/New World of Water

  1. A very enjoyable read. Thanks for the interesting walk down memory lane.

  2. bluatwood

    really great! thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  3. Ute

    I drop a comment when I like a article on a site or if I have something
    to contribute to the discussion. Usually it’s a result of the passion communicated in the article I read. And on this post Old/New World of Water | A Sage for the Ages. I was excited enough to drop a leave a responsea response 😛 I do have 2 questions for you if you don’t mind.

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