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Back in the day you sweated & used fans

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POSTED June 6, 2013 1:10 a.m.

When Shorty Wolf was growing up on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Manteca, his family didn’t have any power, let alone air conditioning.

So when the mercury crept up to the century mark – or soared past it like it is expected to do this weekend – there was only one thing that he could do.

“You sweated,” the wise-cracking Wolf said among a group of friends at the Manteca Senior Center Wednesday afternoon. “You sweated a whole bunch. And if you were smart you parked your behind under a shade tree and hoped to get a break.”

These days he spends his afternoons in the relative comfort of the Cherry Lane accommodations made available to all local seniors – eating lunch and shooting the breeze with a group of friends that can match the war stories that the Korea veteran throws out onto the table.

“Refrigerated air,” as it was once called, is mentioned extensively during the back-and-forth sessions. Talk about how to get through the warm nights seems like an afterthought for the hardy group that includes a bomber gunner and a World War II vet that stayed in the military long enough to see a bit of combat at the start of the conflict in Vietnam.

But the key to getting the upper hand on the weather, at least in the eyes of Hank Loya, is simply timing your activities. That means making sure that you’re not outside when that 100 degree heat is rolling across the valley like a heated blanket.

“You either get things done early in the morning, or in the evening,” said Loya, who vividly remembers when department stores and movie theaters used to advertise air conditioning. “It was a big deal when air conditioning first came out, but before that we just had to use fans if you were going to be inside.”

But the valley, he said, also used to be a lot drier during the hot months – fewer crops meant less irrigation and that meant less moisture in the air. The result, he said, was a much less humid environment that allowed for the use of alternate cooling methods.

That meant that swamp coolers, which Loya said once worked quite well at cooling down one’s house during the scorching summer heat, started to lose their effectiveness over time.

According to Accuweather, the temperature in Manteca will hit 96 degrees by this afternoon, and 111 degrees on Saturday – eclipsing the previous high by five degrees.

Les Reile said that he used to use a swimming pool to keep himself cool and would set-up a series of fans that would circulate the air through the house – preventing the bedroom from becoming a hot-box during the night.

“Today a lot of it is just common sense,” Reile said. “You stay out of it as much as you possibly can. But back then it was fans that took care of it. I had some fans on high stands and that’s what worked.”

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