The Book - Bart Beck

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About Bart Beck

LAUNDRY

Some of the other things that have changed, over the years, are the tools and appliances that were used in the every day pursuit of our lives. I have mentioned a few of them, and I will mention a few more now. It would be impossible for a person to give a complete description of each one, but I will try a few.

Take a good look at your automatic washer and dryer, and try to relate them to two wash tubs separated by a hand operated wringer and a wire clothes line, suspended over a big snow bank. One of those tubs would be filled with hot water and the other one was filled with cold water. In the hot tub was placed a wash board, upon which the clothes were rubbed, by hand, up and down, until they were clean. They were then run through the wringer and into the tub of cold water, to be rinsed. After the rinse cycle, they were again run through the wringer, into a basket, then taken outside to be dried on the clothes line. There were many times , during the winter, when clothes were brought in from the line, frozen stiff, but when they thawed out they would be dry. While you are thinking how exciting the process must have been, remember, the water was hot, the wash board was made of corrugated zinc and the old Fels Naptha soap was so strong that it could almost be used as paint remover. This was also before the advent of permanent press fabrics, so most everything had to be ironed before it was worn again. There were many different kind of flatirons. The earlier ones, of my memory, were just plain flat cast iron that had a permanently attached handle and a smooth, polished lower surface. They were heated on the top of the cook stove. It usually took two or three of these irons to do the job. One or two were being heated while another one was being used. The handle of these irons got just about as hot as the working surface, so they were always picked up and used with a pot holder around the handle. The temperature of the iron was checked by wetting the tip of a finger, with saliva, and striking that wet finger to the polished surface. If the iron was hot enough, it would spit back at you.

A more modern version of the flatiron was one that had a detachable handle, with a wooden grip. I guess that the advantage of the wooden grip was that it was a little more comfortable to use, but it still had to be heated on the cook stove. Later on, there was an iron that was heated with a gasoline flame. The burner was built right into the body of the iron, and as far as I know, they did a satisfactory job of ironing.

Another thing that left us when we were blessed with permanent pressed fabrics, was starch. If a little too much starch was applied to a shirt collar it could turn out to be about the equivalent of a piece of heavy gauge sheet metal.

I must admit that there was more modern and more convenient equipment available, but not for the country folks and the poor people. The poor people couldn't afford them and the country folks didn't have the electricity to operate them. A few of the farm ladies had Maytag washing machines that were powered with a two cycle gasoline engine. The engine was noisy, dirty and rough running, but they did the job.

There were also some machines that were small boy powered. My Mother once had one of those, but I soon figured out a way to connect it to an old gasoline engine that we had. This arrangement worked, but it meant that the washing had to be done outside.

Another interesting thing about that laundry operation was that all of the water had to be pumped by hand and carried from the outside pump to the copper boiler, on the cook stove, a well as to the cold water tub, on the wash stand. Then after the washing was all done the dirty water had to be carried back outside and dumped on the ground.

Some of the, more well to do, people had modern facilities such as, water piped into the house, sewer connections and either gas or oil fired, side arm, water heaters. Us poor people didn't have such things. At no time, while any of us kids were still at home, do I remember my parents having indoor plumbing. About the closest thing to it was a pitcher pump in a metal sink with either a hole in the wall for the drain pipe, or a bucket on the floor to catch the waste water.

One of those wash tubs became a bath tub on Saturday night. It would be partially filled with warm water and placed in the center of the kitchen floor. We all took our turn bathing, each in the same water, but not at the same time.

It has been said that there was more constipation among people, at that time than there is now. That is understandable. The reason was that a person would put off that, long cold trip to the outhouse, just as long as possible. The result was that you could eventually train yourself to do without.

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