173 – A Job As Lineman

Ralph Jarvis – lineman – c 1920

After returning from military duty in the summer of 1919, Ralph Jarvis went to work as a lineman for the Pawnee Power and Water Company.

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Line crew – Pawnee Power and Water Company – c 1920

Ralph had worked as a lineman in Larned during 1916 when the city had built its own electric plant. Then, during Ralph’s military service he was responsible for communications and wiring. So he was well-qualified for a job as lineman.

Ralph must have had some leadership and problem-solving talents, for he soon rose to foreman. He was responsible for several of the line crews. He was constantly traveling to the jobs.

Over the ensuing months of 1919, Ralph Jarvis and the construction crews built transmission lines to these small towns around Larned, and then built distribution lines up and down the streets and alleys of the towns.

Farmers along the power line routes could also be supplied electricity for lighting and powering motors, especially to power irrigation pumps.

In September 1920, the company employees and fleet were photographed at the Great Bend fairgrounds. The placards on the trucks boasted of power lines in seven counties, and property over a million dollars.

Ralph was now superintendent of construction for the company.

That’s Nathan Jones in the upper left photo, standing by the lead car.

That’s Ralph Jarvis in the lower right photo above. His No. 10 auto must be his superintendent’s vehicle. Here’s a close up.

Ralph Jarvis – Great Bend, Kansas – September 1920

Nibbles Extra Credit – The Roaring Twenties


On October 28, 1919, the Volstead Act implemented the Eighteenth Amendment, which banned the commercial manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages. The act went into effect in January 1920. What a way to kick off the Roaring Twenties.

Joplin Globe – January 17, 1919


Note that the law didn’t ban the consumption or purchase of alcohol, just the manufacture and sale.

It was legal to consume beer or liquor purchased before Prohibition kicked in. Working class people were enraged that those on the highest rungs of society could dip into these private reserves while they had none.

There were loopholes for religious purposes and prescriptions from doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and pharmacists. Charles Walgreen’s drugstores took advantage of the prescription loophole and grew into a national chain (whiskey was their preferred remedy).

Liquor Prescription Form
California Grape Brick – 1920s

Male heads-of-household could obtain permits to make 200 gallons of wine per year for personal consumption.

Napa Valley wineries made dried grape bricks, which would convert to not-so-good wine if soaked in water a few weeks.


Speakeasy Club – 1920s

Speakeasies were illegal bars selling beer and liquor, and often paying off local police and government officials. Prohibition doubled the number of New York City’s bars to 30,000.

Speakeasies and the underground liquor economy were often taken over by gangsters like Al Capone.

Millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens drank the prohibited liquor, prompting the growth of organized crime. How could it be otherwise when booze was the nation’s fifth-biggest industry prior to Prohibition?


With alcohol legal three miles offshore, “booze cruises” proliferated, the earliest cruise vacations.


Enforcement of prohibition was difficult – there were too few enforcement agents. But there were public raids, where agents would confiscate and destroy any liquor they found.


In Canada, prohibition ended much earlier than in the U.S., which led to Montreal becoming a tourist destination for legal alcohol. By the end of US Prohibition, per capita liquor sales in Canada had gone from 9 to 102 gallons per year.

Legal alcohol from Canada, Cuba, Bahamas, and elsewhere was smuggled into the U.S.

It feels like forever

Prohibition would continue throughout the Roaring Twenties, finally ending in 1933.

The repeal of Prohibition is the only time that a part of the US Constitution was erased.

Timeline – 1920


2 thoughts on “173 – A Job As Lineman

  1. Louise Longworth September 4, 2021 / 5:30 pm

    Great to read of Ralph’s rise through the ranks, as it were – set against the background of America as it was at the time.


    • Mark Jarvis September 4, 2021 / 9:26 pm

      Thanks Louise.

      Yes, Ralph happened into an opportunity. It sure influenced his career. Stay tuned.

      Did you hear from Sarah Bates?


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