The Desert Water Bag

By Caleb Wilkerson

As we enter the heat of summer, the importance of having cool water available to drink cannot be overstated. While we drive our air-conditioned cars carrying coolers of ice and water on long summer trips, it is easy to take for granted our modern refrigeration technology. Back in the days of hood ornaments and before insulated coolers were common, folks had a surprising way of keeping their water cool during long, hot, summer drives. Canvas water bags, such as the one in the picture below, were used to hold water and keep it cool and refreshing. This particular bag was found hanging above the sink in the homestead’s Main Cabin kitchen.

  Ames Harris Neville Company Desert Water Bag, c. 1940

Ames Harris Neville Company Desert Water Bag, c. 1940

You may be wondering how canvas, a fabric, could be used to hold water. Not only did the canvas hold water, but it also enabled the water inside to remain cool. How did this work?

Canvas water bags cooled water through evaporation. As stated on the front of the bag, one must saturate the canvas before filling it with water. Doing this allows the water molecules to permeate the cloth fibers and utilize water surface tension to keep the water inside the bag from leaking. A little bit of leaching was actually what cooled the water inside the bag. When the water on the outside surface evaporated it pulled just a little bit through the canvas, and the evaporation process had a cooling effect on the water inside.

So what do cars have to do with water bags?

The water bags were hung from a car’s hood ornament and positioned in front of the grille in order to use the wind passing by the car to further cool the water. In most cases, this meant that the water in the bag, although not ice cold, was generally 25-30 degrees colder than the temperature outside. This would have been greatly refreshing during long, hot car trips.

No need for ice and a cooler, when you had a canvas bag and a car grille to hang it on!

Interpretations at the Homestead

By Nicholas Densley

Archaeology is the study of past human behavior through the lens of material goods. What we leave behind can be used in the study of who we were. The Moon-Randolph Homestead in Missoula, Montana is a site that is pretty well documented historically and the dearth of material goods at the site act as varied time-capsules of human occupation. When we study this past and the treasures left behind, we can’t help but add in our own interpretation of the narrative. Our biases, world-view, and experience are all bundled into how we see the world we are attempting to study, and the Moon-Randolph Homestead is a working example of how individuals can interpret a site. In the book, Butterflies and Railroad Ties: A History of a Montana Homestead, Caitlin DeSilvey writes what feels like an invitation, “Every person who visits and stays long enough to listen and look – naturalists, researchers, artists, neighbors, children – becomes part of our unfolding awareness of this storied landscape” (2002:5).

At the outset of this field school I brought my own biases and experiences to the study. As we began our orientation day, we walked around the site with the caretaker, Caroline Stephens, and got familiar with the buildings, material goods, and the landscape where we would be taking on the task of measuring the Main Cabin with the goal of building a preservation strategy for the structure. But on this first day as we walked the grounds, just outside the Moon cabin, I noticed a curious artifact - a bicycle that had been secured to a metal frame. Was it some type of re-purposed machinery, I wondered? My biases and world-view in this case is greatly influenced by my love for bicycles and cycling. This influenced my interpretation of the site whereas others may have noticed different objects and been drawn toward the study of those.

This bicycle apparatus consists of a Phillips brand butted steel frame and the unique design can aid in setting it into a temporal place. The type of frame and the way in which the pedal arms are secured to the bicycle tell us that the bike was built before the 1970’s. This is helpful in establishing a timeline for when this object entered the timeline of the Moon-Randolph Homestead. This bike (now an artifact) was located near a well and had been pushed into the trees, seemingly to make way for public foot-traffic.

  Here we find the bicycle “in situ” or “in its original place.” On the right of the photo, part of the stand or frame is noticeable. There is a modification to the original frame which would have kept the bicycle, and perhaps the operator, upright while they used the “machine” for whatever purpose.

Here we find the bicycle “in situ” or “in its original place.” On the right of the photo, part of the stand or frame is noticeable. There is a modification to the original frame which would have kept the bicycle, and perhaps the operator, upright while they used the “machine” for whatever purpose.

 
  Where the modified bicycle is found may not be where it was used. It is, however, in the vicinity of a water well.

Where the modified bicycle is found may not be where it was used. It is, however, in the vicinity of a water well.

 
  This photo shows the cotter pin attachment for the crank arms. This type of bike manufacturing has long been discontinued with the exception of very few modern bicycles.

This photo shows the cotter pin attachment for the crank arms. This type of bike manufacturing has long been discontinued with the exception of very few modern bicycles.

 
  From the bottom right hand corner and across the photo we can make out the clever handmade frame-stand.

From the bottom right hand corner and across the photo we can make out the clever handmade frame-stand.

 
  This photograph highlights the double-cog where a wheel would have been. This modification is unique to this artifact as most bicycle wheel hubs do not feature this type of set-up. What purpose did this serve?

This photograph highlights the double-cog where a wheel would have been. This modification is unique to this artifact as most bicycle wheel hubs do not feature this type of set-up. What purpose did this serve?

The location of this object, its modification, and the potential age of the building materials, all help to take a snap-shot in time of the goings-on at the Homestead. Interpretation is an essential component of this type of study as it helps to flesh out or tell a more holistic story. If archaeologists were to simply rely on measurements, geometry, scatter patterns, and various other metrics, the human elements of our study of the past would surely suffer. As Caitlin DeSilvey aptly noted; “Every visitor to the homestead sees the place through their own curious lens, picking up on the details that others had overlooked” (2002:49). I think that is beautiful.

DeSilvey, Caitlin. 2002. Butterflies and Railroad Ties: A History of a Montana Homestead. North Missoula Community Development Corporation, Missoula, MT.

Photos by Nicholas Densley

University of Montana Field School at the Moon-Randolph Homestead

By Nikki Manning

Back in February of this year when I visited with Caroline Stephens, one of the homestead’s caretakers, I will admit that I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into as we eagerly planned an archaeological field school for this summer. Yet, five brave students from the University’s Department of Anthropology signed up not only for the field experience but to provide a service for one of the Missoula community’s most beautiful gems. Our mission as we chose to accept it – a full architectural survey of the dilapidated “Main Cabin,” built sometime between 1890-1910, and an inventory of the many artifacts that are stored in there, almost as if the inhabitants went out to the field for the day and might home anytime.

  The “Main Cabin” at the Moon Randolph Homestead.

The “Main Cabin” at the Moon Randolph Homestead.

Fast forward to now and we are just beginning our third of five weeks. During our first two weeks we accomplished a lot and what feels like never enough. We have endured drastic changes in temperature – our first day was windy and in the high 50s and today we were pushing into the high 90s with not even a light breeze. The wasps are getting tired of our intrusion and our bull snake friend (how big he really is ranges between 3-5 feet depending on the storyteller and the listener!) is not too thrilled with us poking around in his home either. The spiders – well, we won’t even go there.

Our main tasks so far have been full photographic documentation of the cabin and landscape, a vegetation survey of the immediate cabin vicinity, and SO MANY measurements. We have measured every nook and cranny of the interior (including the “cold room” off the kitchen which has acquired the loving moniker of “the Snake Hole Lounge”) and every surface of the exterior. We are currently working on the drawings based on those measurements and will soon begin the artifact inventory.

  The cold storage room off the kitchen – a.k.a. the Snake Hole Lounge

The cold storage room off the kitchen – a.k.a. the Snake Hole Lounge

Caroline graciously offered to add a blog feature to the Moon Randolph website for us to share our experience with you all and is even going to let us stage a temporary takeover of the Instagram account! We already have a few blog posts ready to go about some interesting finds and observations that we have made thus far so check here often for new entries or the Instagram and Facebook page for more photos. We will be sure to keep you all informed, possibly entertained, and may even call on you, the Missoula community, to help us figure out what some of these artifacts are that have us scratching our heads!

Thanks for reading and following our journey!

Nikki Manning, Kate Kolwicz, Genevieve Andrus, Nicholas Densley, Samantha Hofland, Caleb Wilkerson