As I have oftentimes mentioned on this blog, when I was growing up my family didn’t have running water (except when it rained), so in turn, we didn’t have many of the amenities that most people take for granted. One of these was an automatic washing machine. Janet, over at Writing in the Blackberry Patch, had a post the other day about old washing utensils, and that inspired me to write this post. You all ought to go read Janet’s post, just click here to do so.
When I was little, Mom carried water from the “crick”, hauling it up the hill to our house in 2-gallon buckets. The creek water was used to bath in and to wash clothes. This water was alos used to wash dishes. Mom always boiled the water before she done dishes and she had two metal dish pans that she washed them in. We got our drinking water from a spring further down in the holler. It was an ingenious set-up, someone had dug the spring out a little and had inserted a length of 1-inch pipe in it, so the cold, mountain spring water ran all the time. That water was always so cold that it’d hurt your teeth, and it tasted like water should. I don’t think I’ve ever had water so pure since those days. To aide in obtaining water for warshday, we had a big barrel under every drip to catch water from when it rained. It was a lot easier getting rainwater out of the barrel than hauling it all the way from the creek. But that’s another story for another day, so back to talking about “warsh day”.
Manys the time I’ve seen my mother wash clothes using the old wash board or “warshboard” as we called it. She’d scrub them and bang her hands on the old washboard so many times that her fingers and knuckles would bleed. She even referred to her washboard as “the old knucklebuster”. Mom would use a big galvanized tub to wash in, and it would sit on our back porch. This was the same tub that we’d bathe in.
Using a washboard. Photo courtesy of Ryan Greenberg.
While Mom knew how to make soap, she rarely did. Perhaps it was a sign of the times or maybe just good marketing, but Mom always insisted on using Tide soap powders and Downy softener. She said that babies liked Downy, and we were babies. Mom still is a Tide & Downy person.
I am also reminded that Mom used the old type mangles to wring out clothes, but they were really more of a nuisance than a help, so she’d usually solicit the help of one of the older kids to help her wring the clothes out by hand. Mom still jokes on occasion about why they were called mangles, she said if you didn’t know how to properly use them, they would mangle you up. After wringing them out, she’d sop them down and around in the tub of rinse water, and then wring them out again. Then they were ready to hang on the clothesline.
While using the warshboard was considered behind the times even when I was a kid, Moms expertise with it sure paid off during the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1985 when she once again was seen using the old warshboard and tub method of laundry.
When we moved up on the mountain, we had a well but it wasn’t deep enough to run an automatic washer but at least it kept us from having to haul water. Then Mom got a little apartment sized automatic washing machine with a spinner on it. It worked good enough, but we could still only do around 1 load of laundry a day, and you really had to space out showers and such, to the tune of about 3 hours apart.
So you can see why it was a really big deal when Mom and Dad got a wringer washing machine. It was a 1932 model, it was used of course, this was the late 1980’s, but it worked like a dream. We kept in the backyard, and covered it with a tarp when it wasn’t in use. We used it for so long that the wheels rusted off of the legs and then the legs started slowing rusting off. So, we done what was required to keep our buddy in working order, we put it up on blocks. It worked for years like that. Of course, since it was up on blocks, it got a name and everyone settled on “Fairlane”. After all it was a sign of affluence to have a Fairlane up on blocks in the backyard.
Fairlane done a great job of washing clothes although the wringer was heck on zippers in blue jeans. It would bust them out, bend them, break them, as often as it wouldn’t. I took to complaining about it so usually we’d wring the jeans up to the zipper, then back them out of the wringer, and wring the rest by hand. Then hang them on the line. It may have been more work, but it sure saved zippers!
One thing that stands out in my mind is the almost thrill of when laundry was done and the washer was drained. You had to remove the daddler to rinse under it, and after this was done, you usually found the lost coins from all of the pants pockets that had passed through the washer. In my family, whoever rinsed out the tub of the wringer washer, got to keep this change. It usually averaged around a dollar, certainly nothing to snivel at, especially for a kid.
In the summer months, even Fairlane required more water than our little well could supply, so we hand-dug a little well in a wet place against the hill. This was only a few feet from where we kept Fairlane. We dug it down about 8 feet deep but a gigantic rock prevented us from digging it deeper. Regardless, the little hand dug well was always full of water, and it really helped provide water for both Fairlane and the vegetable gardens, especially in the dry months.
The old hand-dug well.
Mom even to this day likes to hang her laundry on the clothesline. And Mom is one of those people who can’t abide having any dirty laundry in the house so she’d do laundry every day, leading to our clothesline bearing the appearance of being in a perpetual state of drying. This was summer or winter. I recall many mornings where I’d have to go out before getting ready for school to get a pair of jeans off of the clothesline. They’d be frozen stiff, so I’d bring them in, and lay them over the wood stove, turning them frequently. They’d thaw out and be only slightly damp, you know, to the point where they’d dry after a few minutes of putting them on. When I got into my teen years, I made sure I’d get a pair of jeans off the clothesline in the evening and hang them somewhere in the living room overnight so I’d have completely dry jeans for school. I’d usually always have a clean, dry pair to wear but just in case I forgot to put my clothes in the laundry basket, that’s what I done. Like I said, Mom washed nearly every day so it was sometimes hard to keep up with her.
Ahhh, Mother's clothesline.
As the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end”, and that was the case with Fairlane. For all of the years that we had him, he never so much as needed anything more than a daddler, but one day after years of service, his motor gave out. Since his wringer was also beginning to pop apart when wringing out clothes, we decided it best to just let him go to that big laundromat in the sky. After Fairlane’s demise, we had other wringer washing machines to come and live with us, but none of them lasted as long nor had as much character as Fairlane.
In closing, a few years ago Mom and Dad had a big well drilled and it produces around 5 gallons a minute, which is more than enough to run a full-sized automatic washing machine. Since then, Mom and Dad have never been without an automatic washer, but Mom frequently asks Dad if they can get another wringer washing machine. She says she prefers them to automatic washers! Go figure. And she still insists on hanging her clothes out on the clothesline!