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Down on the Farm: Magic of AC

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Willis Haviland Carrier invented modern air conditioning in 1902.

Although Mr. Carrier probably doesn't deserve a national holiday, an occasional moment of silence in his honor wouldn't hurt, especially after last week.

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Sure, we don't live in Phoenix or Atlanta, hot places where air conditioning alone has been responsible for huge population booms after World War II.

But it can get muggy and miserable enough on northwestern Minnesota's prairies, especially for bodies more used to shivering than sweating.

We hesitate to complain about the heat. One year ago the summer was so cool that the corn and tomatoes barely ripened.

But this summer made up for it. Thanks also to timely rains, the garden and the crops are almost a month ahead.

After toughing out thirty-some years in houses and apartments without the corrupting influence of air conditioning, I finally gave in to luxury and equipped my house with central air.

Only a few years later, I consider air conditioning a necessity, as basic a need as food and probably more important than clothing.

As a kid, I had one of the coolest bedrooms a boy could ever have. By cool, I mean fun.

After enduring three years on a bunk bed in the same room in the trailer house as my sister, I hit a bonanza at age five. Mom and Dad moved the trailer back to the farm and slid it next to the old bunkhouse, which until that time had housed hired hands.

Now, the bunkhouse was mine. Separated from parental tyranny by a door, an entryway and two steps, I had my own little fort with its own little furnace.

But when the summertime heat came, the bunkhouse sweltered. My room had one little window. With no cross ventilation, the bunkhouse itself turned into a furnace.

Oh, the long, sticky nights spent hoping for the slightest breeze, trying hide under the sheet from the whining mosquitoes that snuck in through the screen!

It was a comfort to hear rubbery cottonwood leaves outside rustle a little for it meant that a whiff of a breeze might flow through the window and bring enough relief to sleep.

When baby brother arrived, the trailer and bunkhouse became too small. I ended up in the basement bedroom of a spanking new split-level.

The basement room was cooler than the bunkhouse, and the ground-level window allowed what cool air there was to pour over you, but a person could still cut the summertime dampness with a knife.

During those years, the coolest experience of a muggy day, in more ways than one, came at sunset when I roared down the field road on my mighty Honda 50.

Down south, the road curved, dipped down to swamp level and took you through a pocket of cool air as refreshing as hard, cold well water drunk from a garden hose.

You couldn't slow down or the mosquitoes would get you, but that smooth dip in the road on the Honda was just plain cool.

Then came the sweltering dorms and college apartments and more hot, muggy nights spent tossing and turning without the weight of a quilt to coax a person into dreamland.

By now, I had an adjustable rate fan. Its drone helped bring on sleep as much as the air it moved, and the soft roar obscured the annoying whine of the mosquitoes.

Today during hot spells, central air bathes me in cool air night and day.

It used to be that two weeks per year, one in April and one in October, separated the heating season from the cooling season and visa versa.

Now the two overlap. On a cool October morning, it is awfully nice to have the kitchen floor warm on the feet when I come down for breakfast.

Pitting the two systems against each other probably isn't sustainable, green, responsible, cost effective, earth friendly or any of those virtuous things.

However, after those sweltering, miserable nights in the old bunkhouse, I'd rather be cool than correct.

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