*Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Southern So & So.
By M.G. “RUSS” RUSSELL
In Thaxton, Mississippi (Pontotoc County) during the late 1950s, one never thought of it as “solar power”. It was just sunshine. As I look back on it now, I think on it as “The Solar Powered Shower.”
We actually had no electric power until I was around 12 years old. There was still no indoor plumbing in the house, even when I went on active duty with the military when I was 17. We depended on rainwater for doing the laundry and taking baths, and what we called a “dug well”, or a spring that was about a mile away from our house, for our drinking water. Both the well and spring usually went dry in late summer. During that time, we would, what we called, “borrow water from our neighbors”, who lived in a lower elevation than us. We lived on top of a large hill, and the water supplies dried up during many summers. We would take ten-gallon milk cans on our wagon to neighbors’ houses and fill them with water.
During this time, I think that mine and my father’s baths were few and far between. My mother cooked on a large iron stove. There was a space behind the stove that had enough space for a washtub. It was the tub that my mother used to wash clothing. She and my sisters would bring the washtub inside and place it behind the stove. That’s where they got their bath. That’s also when my father and I were barred from the house.
Then when I was in my early teen years my father came up with the idea for the solar-powered shower. He found an old 60-gallon barrel, or drum, to hold the water. In the early years, since we had no electricity, we depended on rainwater to fill the drum. We built a stand a little over head-high to hold the drum. It looked much like the water tanks that we see today but was just smaller. He attached some burlap bags, or as we knew them, “tow-sacks” to the framework for a little privacy. When there was not enough rainwater that had filled the drum, we would take pails of water and pour it into the drum.
He found a spigot which he some way placed at the bottom of the drum. Then he nailed some screen wire under the spigot. As the water from the spigot hit the wire, it caused it to spread and made for a pretty nice shower. We always filled the drum in the morning before we went to the fields to work. That way the sun would heat the water during the day, and that was our “Solar Powered Shower”!