Writer Tom Miller wrote that the three factors most influential in establishing the contemporary American Southwest were Western movies, the moving van, and the swamp cooler. The movies made people want to live here, the moving van allowed them to come, and the swamp cooler allowed them to stay.
That’s true, up to a point. But I think I’d argue that the real population boom, the one that made Phoenix and Las Vegas a couple of the fastest growing cities in the country, didn’t happen until after the advent and common acceptance of central air conditioning.
We don’t have that here. We have the old standby, the swamp cooler. Today I prepped it for summer. First I climbed onto the roof and took the canvas bags off the rotating vents, to allow hot air to escape the insulated space above the ceilings. Then I took the cardboard cover off the swamp cooler itself. Fortunately, when I shut it all down at the beginning of winter, I cleaned it off very well, installed new filters, emptied out the old water and dried it. This meant I didn’t have to spend a lot of time outside doing those things today, which is good since the heavy rains mean lots of growing, blooming plants, and my allergies are kicking up like crazy this year.
With the swamp cooler off, I turned on the pump to soak the filters down, then after a while, tried the blower. Still works. The idea is that the pump wets the filters and draws air through the moist filters, cooling it. That air is then blown into the house. Not as effective as an air conditioner, but this time of year it drops the temperature pretty well. Later on, when it’s monsoon season and muggy outside (by our standards), it’ll be less effective. But on arid days it works pretty well. We have window A/C units to back it up during the hot wet months.
I wouldn’t mind swapping it out for central air one of these days. There’s something to be said, however, for being connected to the area’s earlier settlers—not the earliest ones, by any means, but the ones who connected this part of the country with the rest of it, those who came west from Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kansas and Missouri, drawn by a dream, inspired by fictions about brave men on horseback and the women who loved them.