Wednesday, May 18

Panic At Mount Mary

Back in the 30s and 40s, my dad, Sebe Watts, started the first refrigeration service business in Hazard. He originally was a brakeman on the L&N railroad but lost his job during the hard times of the depression. Forced to start another career of some kind he decided to go to an electrical trade school in Chicago. There he studied radio and refrigeration, with the help of President Roosevelt and a Federal training program. Both the radio and refrigeration industries were just beginning to grow during that time. Turned out to be a good move.

When he graduated and came back to Hazard he had a shop on the second floor of Sterling Hardware. He assembled, set up, and serviced the new modern refrigerators that Sterling Hardware sold in Hazard and all the surrounding towns and coal camps. Sterling was probably the first big refrigerator retailer in that part of Kentucky. They sold Kelvinator, GE, Philco, Norge, Crosley and the awesome Frigidaire. By 1941 there were more than 3 million electric refrigerators in American homes.

Eventually, he opened up his own place on High Street right next door to Sluders Tire Recapping shop. During WWII the coal industry was booming. All the big coal camp commissaries had refrigeration units and freezers for their meat and dairy products. Dad serviced them all, no matter how far up the holler they were. He traveled in a Model A Coupe with a "C" gasoline sticker on the windshield. I remember the commissary managers would slip him a carton of Avalon cigarettes to keep him happy. During the War cigarettes were hard to come by.

Servicing these big units was not all fun and games. Back then there was a variety of gasses that were used for cooling. Freon, F-12, Ammonia and dichlorodifluoromethane were just a few. Some were toxic and dangerous to breathe. One night Sebe got an emergency call from the Hazard Hospital. Their air conditioning system was leaking gas out into the hospital wards. Knowing what could happen, dad rushed over to see what had to be done. Now, he had a gas mask for emergencies like this but it was in the shop, not the car. He went in and found the leak and he could tolerate some of the gas but during the repair the old rusty pipe broke and the gas came out under pressure. He had no choice but to stay there and fix the leak. It only took a few minutes but by then he had inhaled too much gas. He was almost blinded and had trouble breathing. They rushed him upstairs and he ended up being there for two days. In another week he was back to normal and happy that he had saved the day for the hospital. He was still a railroad man and a tough old bird...


  1. Another good story. I didn't even know they had air conditioning back then.

  2. The first experience I had with air conditioning was in Knoxville, Tennessee around 1936. The big dime store in town and the movie theater were both air conditioned.