If it's Monday, it's Wash Day down on the Farm
This young farmer's overalls never got to look worked in!
As a young lad on the farm, I think Monday only came once a week . . . but that was almost one too many!
You see, Monday was a day which upset my routine in the early 1940s while training to be a farmer. I was sure that every piece of clothing which wasn't being worn was sucked up by a tornado and dumped at the wash house door.
Like a Marine boot camp graduate, I was being trained to fight Mom's weekly "War on Dirt." In reality, I thought I was a prisoner of war in this battle because in my mind, there was simply too much ado over dirt.
If dirt was good enough to grow our wheat, corn, beans, and peas, a little dirt on my clothes shouldn't and couldn't make that much difference. How can a young lad learn to be a good farmer and till the soil -- all without getting a little dirt on himself?
My idea of which clothes were clean enough to wear another day didn't match up with my mother's idea. So . . . I don't have to tell you who won that battle!
Dust or dirt on my overalls could be shook off, but when it rained, wet dirt became my big bugaboo. Mud on my pant legs didn't bother me, but when mud dried on my fingers –– oh, heebie jeebies! –– my nerves stood on end. I kept my fingers stretched apart like I was counting to 10 while I ran to wash my hands in the water tank. The horses didn't object to my presence while I swished my fingers clean. Sister Pauline told me what drove her up the tree was screeching chalk on the blackboard at school. Chalk dust on my fingers or the chalk noise didn't faze this kid, who figured it's good to have at least one strong point in life.
Dad's overalls make Wash Day a success
Our farm was probably typical of our neighbors living in southern Hamilton County in these pre-tractor days. It had all the stuff necessary for Dad to get his clothes dirty enough to make Wash Day a big success. I can almost agree with Mom's weekly Clean Clothes Campaign! It seems to me as a young lad that I had ample opportunity to find grease, grass, oil, or mud to soil my overalls, but I could never quite get them dirty enough to make me look like a professional farmer – at least in my mind.
I don't see kids today wearing overalls, but in case you've never worn them, they're a pair of trousers with a bib and suspenders to hold up the works. You know, the reaching for the second suspender hanging behind me was always a problem. I'd turn in circles trying to reach the strap, kinda like my dog Scottie chasing his tail.
As a 6-year-old, I remember asking Mom why I couldn't wear pants which stopped at the waist. I thought maybe wearing a belt as a fashion statement would make me look a little more mature. For a big hunk of years, it seemed, Mom told me that I didn't have the hips to hold the pants up! How does one argue without hips?
When winter weather gave way to nice warm spring days, the shirt was left in the closet. No T-shirts, just colorful prints with collars. Most of the shirts were hand-made from feed sacks.
Each spring without a shirt, I got sunburned and I suffered for about a week. Under the straps and bib, I was as white as the snow I shoveled on the winter path to the outhouse.
Shirtless was the style for bibs
When wearing overalls in the summer, no shirt was expected down on the farm, but when going to town, church, or neighborhood salmagundis, a shirt covered any smudges missed in the Saturday night bath! Of course, I didn't want to show off my biceps either, especially to my little flock of goldilocks. In my dreams!
Wash Day was a day like no other day of the week to my mother Luella –– kinda like a day of fresh starts. I laugh now as I recall when my father A F would get up early each day, way before the sun ever thought of peeking over the horizon.
Dad –– who spent his 75 years on Earth with only two letters for a name –– would be feeling around his chair in the dark, wondering if some monster in the moonless dark had eaten his clothes. After he stubbed his toes a few times, he awakened to his senses. He would realize that it was Monday morning and Mom was up earlier and had already emptied pockets and gathered clothes for washing.
Let's just put our Wash Day on the hold cycle for a couple of minutes while I take you on a walking tour of our farm on the sunset side of the road. It's important to set the stage so you know "whereof we talketh and walketh."
We lived on the farm that Grandpa Tom bought from homesteader Lorey A. Franklin in 1895. Franklin came from New York and has his name on the Franklin Cemetery, Franklin School, and Franklin Springs. Grandpa Tom was treasurer of the Franklin School District from 1910 to 1940.
Only three families have lived on this farm since it was homesteaded in the 1870s: After we left this farm in 1945, Eddie and Naomi Jeffers Jensen lived on the farm next. Their son Gary is still living there in 2009.
Ego puffed with 'Harvard man' phrase
The farm is in Hamilton County, but only three miles north of the Clay County line. Our mail comes from Harvard, which means we had a Harvard address, but we are closer to Giltner and living in the Bingville community around Franklin Dist. 12 School.
Years later when talking to college friends in San Diego, I'd brag that I was a "Harvard Man." Of course, they thought I was referring to Harvard University, so I had to explain the farm's address and make a few animal sounds to convince them. The braying jack was always a winner.
They say Nebraska's Harvard was named after Harvard University by railroad executives who plotted towns about every 10 miles along the new rail line from Lincoln to Hastings.
Earth calling Rex! OK, here's the farm's footprint in my mind's eye going back 65 years: Walking in from the graveled country road, on the right we see the one-story, 3-bedroom house with a living room and a parlor, and two chimneys. The popular 2-seat outhouse is about 100 feet north of the back door with a narrow brick trail leading to it. About half way to the outhouse you see the door to the wash house on the left.
Another narrow brick trail leads to the windmill at the west edge of the yard, which has many tall American elm trees surrounding the house. Oh, what beautiful shade they offer against the hot summer suns. The cellar is near the back door of the house, waiting in case a tornado or big storm came our way. The cellar, or cave, has a stairway leading down about 12 feet. It's a constant 55 degrees underground year-round. We keep matches and candles there, along with canned fruit and vegetables, and bags of potatoes we dug up last fall.
The two-story barn with a haymow is a ways back in the farm yard, off to the right, and behind it is the hog house. What smell? Oh, that's the occupants which one day will be bacon and ham for breakfast, plus a pork roast for Sunday dinner guests.
Wispy tails swish the pesky flies
The corral is to the right of the barn and we see horses standing at the alfalfa feeder swatting flies with their wispy tails, while the cows are down on their bellies chewing cuds. We hear the hens cackling in the chicken house north of the windmill, not too far from the outhouse. And yes, there is a garage for our 10-year-old Model T Ford, and there's a workshop with tools and a forge on the left side of the driveway near the big garden.
The corncrib is off to the far left where farm machinery is lined up waiting for the next field job in the spring. Our machinery is pulled with real horse power with names like Dolly, Mack, and Pal. We just saw them, resting in the barnyard waiting for the big spring workouts. Names like Farmall, John Deere, Case, MM, or Fordson didn't know our farm.
Please hold your horses a bit here because we're getting real close to zeroing in on the wash house – the scene of the ongoing weekly battle against grime and the crime of dirt.
Farms in the 1940s that this young farm lad knew also had a summer kitchen, a dumb waiter, ice box, clothes line, clothes stomper, boilers, rinse tubs, peddle sewing machine, and if fortunate – a self-propelled washing machine.
The only washing machine that my Grandma Lizzie Salmon ever had was one with a rocker arm attached to a half-circle wooden bin. To wash the clothes, she moved the arm back and forth so the clothes got clean by rubbing against each other. No rocking? No clean clothes!
OK, we're ready now to open the door of the wash house. Go ahead, walk right in!
Oh, you may ask: What is it? We older country folk spent our share of time in it, but someone born yesterday –– like in the 1970s –– might be wondering about a house for washing? Today, it would be called a laundry room if it were a portion of the house.
Just like the house, our wash house had no running water, no drains, and no electricity. It'd be another dozen years before poles came to our farm to electrify us!
Water came to a boil in a copper boiler
The wash house was parked near the back door of the farm house, which meant that it was near the kitchen stove and also near the windmill. Location, location! That made it easier to haul buckets of water to fill the rinse tubs and the boiler. A boiler? It was a 20-gallon rectangular copper container with rounded corners and black wooden handles. We used it to heat water for washing clothes . . . and for bathing –– you know that weekly Saturday-night festival. Oh, yeah, the boiler was also used when canning fruit in glass jars. The heat would kill bacteria and seal the lids when the jars cooled.
The wash house could be called a clean room, I guess. It was also home to the separator, which spun the cream out of the milk provided by our 3 cows. The cream was a weekly cash crop when taken to Aurora on Saturday evenings to Shaneyfelt Produce, which was just south of the Wagon Wheel Hotel – and north of Bremer Dairy. Our neighbor took his cream to Douglas Produce, just west of Safeway, and beyond the grand staircase for the Opera House. More about the separator in another yarn, another time, and how centrifugal force separated cream from the milk.
Right now we're anxious about the washing our clothes. Aren't we? You bet! We're finally getting down to our topic of the moment, finally. OK, I must admit as a young curious lad that I get sidetracked easily, but you must admit that I haven't dallied once to pick up a caterpillar or stopped to listen to the warbling meadowlark on this tour.
The wash house down on the farm could also double as a summer kitchen. So, pray tell what was a summer kitchen? Did we also have a winter kitchen, a spring kitchen, and a fall kitchen? No, no, and no.
To avoid heating up the house in the hot summer, a second cooking stove was fired up in the summer kitchen. In the winter and cooler months, the extra heat in the house felt good and helped to take the chill off the whole house. But with 100-plus heat in the summer, anything to keep the house as cool as possible for sleeping was wonderful – also extravagant!
Whiffs of air captured by open windows
The only breeze we had in the house was when the wind blew, so the screened windows were all wide open to catch any whiff of air. I remember many a night in the summer sleeping on the linoleum when the air finally got cool enough to fall sleep at about 6 a.m. Time to get up. Oh, boy! It was enough to make you want to fight with your grandmother, as Dad was wont to say.
So, what would do we see in our summer kitchen? The biggest object is a wood-burning cook stove, often a cast-off from a neighbor fortunate enough to get a new kitchen stove. This stove is used especially for baking on hot days and has to be continually stoked with firewood to keep going for hours. The fire is started with a match, cobs, and shucks. While cobs are burning brightly, the lids are lifted and chopped wood is inserted carefully. When it comes to maintaining a constant cooking temperature, Mom says it is almost an exercise in futility to keep the fire burning evenly for hours. Wood burns hotter and faster from different trees.
Not everyone can afford a second cooking stove, but having one was sure an advantage: The boiler-full of hot water would be next to the washing machine and wouldn't have to be carried out the back door, down the steps, and over to the wash house. It was a big safety feature, really, because the water would be scalding hot.
OK, Rex, a while back you mentioned a dumb waiter.
Well, folks, you'll have to keep your thumb on that thought for another day or so. I just mentioned earlier it to show you that what seemed important on the farm back then doesn't seem as important today. Or, maybe even unknown today.
The farmer was in charge of the fields and animals and his wife was in charge of the house and yard. She had her own chores: gathering eggs, baking, sewing, gardening, washing, drying, and ironing – plus child rearing.
As children came of age, they first helped their mother and then they became assistants to their father when they could handle horses on a wagon . . . or became strong enough to carry buckets of buttermilk mixed with corn to slop the hogs.
More work done with more children
Children on the farm were considered an asset. You know: more hands make light work. Years later, when strangers find out that Dad and Mom had 8 children, he would make references to "long, cold winter nights." I was born in January, the first full month of winter, so go figure. Go ahead, use your fingers. Author Emily Dickinson explained it as
"A little Madness in the spring
Is wholesome for the King."
Since "Rex" means King in Latin, there's got to be a connection to me hidden somewhere in that verse. Or not?
The farmer didn't have his days named, but the housewife sure did. She had a routine and the days were named.
Monday was Wash Day – almost a sacred day – and every other day of the week seemed to have a name. Tuesday was Ironing Day. Wednesday was Sewing and Mending Day. Thursday was House-Cleaning Day. Friday was Baking Day. Saturday was Shopping Day and Catch-Up Day. And Sunday was church in the morning, with dinners and visiting in the afternoon. A neighbor's wife switched tasks for Friday and Saturday around, but that was OK. She was a good egg.
No matter what the day brought or was called, there were the morning and evening chores like slopping the hogs, milking the cows, feeding the horses, cattle, and chickens. We did have two goats to entertain us kids until they ran into a hammer, but that tale shall remain untold for now. Big gardens and orchards also took time out of each summer day, but the fresh fruit and vegetables on the table were sure worth it.
Monday picked on for washing
Really, why how did Monday become Wash Day? You got me! But, I didn't know of any neighbors who didn't practice wash day on Mondays. It must have been a secret (maybe even a noble ceremony??) code of successful living, or maybe it was promoted in the magazine called Successful Farming. It was the only magazine I recall taking out of the mail box at the end of our driveway.
The only newspaper we got was the Capper's Weekly out of Topeka, Kansas. It was a happy newspaper like Grit with only good news and with recipes and tips for the good life. I mentioned in another yarn when living on the fairgrounds near Aurora that I was an independent Grit salesman and carrier when I was 10.
OK, we're down a pretty piece in this wash day agenda, so now we're ready to talk about this new-fangled thing called the "washing machine." One of the biggest joys on the farm for my mother was her Maytag wringer washer, which she bought –– more or less –– from E. R. Springer Appliance in Aurora.
I say "more or less" because on a Saturday in the fall of 1942 Mom stopped to admire what caught her eye in Ed Springer's big display window on the north side of the square. The front of the store was glass from sidewalk to roof, so it was easy to spot this fancy machine –– one powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine.
My mother washed clothes by hand since she married Dad back on Feb. 21, 1936, at the Hall County Courthouse. By 1942, she had four babies and she washed all the diapers out by hand, besides the clothes. No wonder this new-fangled power washing machine caught her imagination. With no electricity on the farm, Mom considered it a dream and a miracle to have this beautiful "Wash Day Friend" swishing and wringing clothes for her down on the farm.
Ed came out when he saw Mom smiling and dreaming in front of his store. He asked if she'd like to own this new Maytag. My mother was drooling over it and burbled "YES" but said she couldn't afford it.
Take her home to try her out
Ed told her not to worry about the price, but "Take it home and pay me when you can." Did Mom hear him correctly? The price was less than $20, but 20 of 'em Greenbacks was a fortune on the farm, especially when the dry land couldn't produce a cash crop without rain in the Dust Bowl.
Dad would plant corn in the spring, but only Russian thistles were hardy enough to grow without rains. The corn didn't even sprout, but somehow the thistles could find moisture to grow. In the fall, the thistles became tumbleweeds and when they're tumbling in a husky wind, they scatter seeds. So, it was an endless cycle, with another thistle crop popping up next year.
Dad tried to get his cows to eat the fresh green chopped thistles by mixing in some molasses syrup. He had to come up with some food for them, or they wouldn't be producing milk for us. The cows ate the freshly prepared thistles all right, but they went out the back door about as fast as they were chewed.
Dad said when I was a newborn, the cows went dry –– along with Mom –– so he milked the mare to feed me. That may be one of the reasons that I can whinny with the best of ‘em, and get the horses to answer me!
Rex, remember! We're trying to get that washing machine to the farm! Thanks for wringing me back in.
Mom must have talked Dad into "buying" it because his philosophy for life was "I stop buying when my billfold is empty." I don't know all of the details of the conversation, but the eye-popping machine made it to our home by the Blue River, halfway between Stockham and Giltner. The machine washed clothes for Dad, Mom, Steve, Me, Pauline, and Alvin when she first got it. Then Danny, Alfred, LuAnne, and Venida came along to join the family and the Old Maytag was still faithfully putt-putting away 25 years later.
With the arrival of this Maytag machine, the wash house took on a new life. What joy! What excitement! Of course there was a new sound – almost deafening – of the one-cylinder engine, a putt-putt kind of machine. It always sounded as if it meant business.
Grand miracle descended upon farm
The noise brought along something called fumes. No problem for Dad though. He drilled a hole in the back wall in which to poke the 10-foot flexible metal exhaust. Despite the noise and the fumes, the value of the Maytag to the family was a miracle supplied by Mr. Ed.
To start the engine, Mom just had to step on the pedal at the front of the machine. As long as the quart gasoline tank had fuel, the little engine that could, would run its heart out.
Boy, can life on the farm get any better than this?
We still didn't have running water, a kitchen sink, electricity, or an indoor outhouse, but we happily savored progress one step at a time. It was a happy time on the farm with the big burden of washing clothes now a thing of the past.
The plunger that mom used for years to stomp the clothes clean in a soapy tub of water was retired and eventually tossed over the bank of the Blue River. It was the same place my grandparents – Thomas and Lizzie Detamore Salmon – tossed their patent medicine bottles and other small unwanted goodies. Today, those printed glass bottles would bring a small fortune. I have a medicine bottle from Woodard Drug Co., with a phone number, when the store was next to the Royal Highlander building on the north side of the square.
Rex, stop digging up those bottles, and get back to the topic at hand.
OK. Boy, we were surely living in the fast lane now with our new friend, the putt-putt machine, slaving away for Mom in the wash house. Washing diapers and Dad's dirty overalls by hand came to a thankful end. Mom used to not only stomp the clothes clean, but she had to wring them out by hand. It took longer for the clothes to dry on the line then because she couldn't get them as dry as her new wringer washer could.
Hens and cows help pay for washer
Remember Ed Springer telling Mom to take the Maytag home and pay him when she could? That she did – when she could. How did Mom pay for her Maytag washing machine? She came up with a few coins by selling eggs and cream each Saturday afternoon to Shaneyfelt's. For a dozen eggs, Mom may have received 8 to 10 cents, and for cream, I don't know the price per pint, but it was a weekly income – even if small. The price of gasoline was 15 cents a gallon, and even that had to be considered when making car trips to Aurora about 11 miles north.
To pay back Ed Springer's, Mom said she tried to come up with at least 30 cents a week, but that amount was hard to come by every week. Sometimes she didn't even have a dime or a quarter, but Ed never brought up the subject of paying. He stood by his word when he said: "Pay me when you can . . . and tell me when you've it paid off."
I'm sure other families have stories of this popular Aurora merchant, or from another business. It took Mom several years to pay off the machine . . . and she didn't pay a cent of interest. Who said that God doesn't have angels in Aurora?
Speaking of interest, Dad was interested in what this little power ball of an engine could do to help him around the farm. He'd unbolted the engine from the washing machine on Monday afternoon and used it around the farm.
Often, the one-cylinder engine was attached to the windmill to pump water for the cattle tank when the wind didn't blow enough to draw water. Sometimes in those dry years, there'd be days of calm, but when the wind did blow, it couldn't seem to come up with clouds to made rain. Farmers were really hurting financially in those dry years of the 30s and 40s.
Engine reunited to washer on Sunday night
Dad also used the engine to power an elevator to lift wheat and oats from a wagon into the granary, or to run a small lumber saw. Neighbors even used it. But then on Sunday night, the engine would be back on the washing machine ready for Mom to use on early Monday for her Wash Day Ritual.
Now, here's this young farmer's "unstaged protest" about whether clothes were dirty enough to be washed! I didn't know about picket signs back then. I'd have to go back to the bedroom and come out looking spanking clean, wearing hand-me-down overalls from brother Steve. He was a year, a month, and a day older – something that he didn't let me forget that in all of our dealings as kids. That means he got his way, but I didn't mind. I was very shy and timid, and I thought he was brave. When I outgrew the overalls, and if there were enough threads still holding hands, Alvin got to enjoy my vintage overalls.
When I put on fresh clothes each Monday, it looked as if I hadn't been doing anything on the farm. I was so clean –– you know, like I wasn't earning my keep. It took me a whole week to get as dirty as Dad did in one day. It was important to me to look like I was a good helper – even advancing rapidly towards 7 years of age.
Besides helping to hay the cattle and horses, I gathered eggs –– mostly unbroken –– and I pumped water from the well. I carried the 3-gallon galvanized bucket of water to the kitchen for drinking water. The water only ran if we pumped the well handle, or if there were enough winds to whirl the fan blades to pump it, or if Mom's Maytag engine was attached. How can you have a wash day without water?
Oh, we did have one source of running water – depending how much rain we got. The Blue River ran east about 100 yards north of the house – but that muddy water was for us kids and our friends to play in. The cattle and horses also drank from it when out to pasture.
Well was No. 1 project for homesteaders
Putting down a well was the first job tackled in establishing a homestead claim in the 1860s and 70s. Without being able to draw water, it wasn't a viable farmstead, so the windmill was a common sight on every farm. Every neighbor had a well at the base of the windmill, which was the tallest structure on all farms, It poked its round head out over the tree tops.
Every farm also had a clothes line near the house, so every Monday as neighbors passed by, the clothes were flapping a greeting to them. Neatness counted in hanging clothes out to dry, something for which other housewives became self-appointed inspectors.
I guess it was similar to farmer's unwritten rule about straight rows for crops. Crooked rows were enough to bring shame to a farmer, also by self-appointed inspectors. The corn didn't really care how it was planted, as long as it had water to grow. But, just the same, there was a certain amount of pride in planting straight rows, and in hanging out clothes properly to please the traveling inspectors.
There were particular ways to hang shirts, trousers, dresses, towels, sheets, and the unmentionables. The wooden clothes pins also varied, with the favorite being the spring-loaded clips joining the crowd later.
One other very important factor about the clothes line: Only a "lazy" housewife would leave clothes on the line overnight – even if the clothes weren't completely dry. Word got around quickly about who the lazy ones were in the county. Clothes were brought inside and scattered about on chair backs and divans to finish drying.
Even in freezing weather, the clothes were hung out to dry. As a kid I couldn't figure this out, but Mom said the clothes were freeze dried! I have to admit, though, when the clothes were brought in before sunset in the winter, I'd find my overalls were stiff. They'd stand up, but in the warm house, they softened up and finished drying in no time.
Windmill and clothes line commonly seen
Well, I was talking about the ever-present windmill on the farm before I remembered about the always-present clothes line.
Today, I chuckle as I think about the drinking water we got from the windmill. The water was carried in the galvanized bucket and placed on a little table in the kitchen. The bucket had a long-handled dipper in it and we all drank from the same cup.
When we were thirsty, we drew the dipper out and drank what we wanted, then poured the remainder back into the bucket. Even guests drank from the bucket and the same dipper.
Today, one doesn't hear of the word dipper when talking about drinking. But, as a kid I learned about the Big Dipper in the northern sky. The stars look as if there's a long handle and a cup on the end. I remember learning that the two stars on the outer rim of the cup pointed to the North Star. That way at night I could tell which way was north – if it weren't cloudy. I heard of the Little Dipper also, but couldn't find it much as a kid.
OK, Rex get your head out of the clouds. You were telling us about well water and drinking with a dipper.
You're right. I did stray while dipping into outer space, but hang on for another minute. I have a special moment to share with you about a Full Moon one night as a 5-year-old. It has to do with the outhouse, out little shanty. Of course, I had the door wide open to catch as much moonlight as I could get. You know, it's dark in there and . . . not telling what's hiding.
While engaged in business early this one dark night, I was intently scanning the ball of light to find the face in the moon. I'd heard my Grandpa Tom mention it, but I considered myself a failure because my young eyes couldn't find any feature resembling a face. I still can't. Anyway, the moon served as a diversion for me for a few minutes while it took my fear of the dark away while temporarily dwelling in yonder outhouse.
Now, let's get that drink from that galvanized bucket. Go ahead, I'll let you go first. Galvanized meant that there was a silver-type finish on the steel bucket so the water didn't rust.
'Washing Up' prepared us to eat
This water was also used for cooking, for washing up, and for doing dishes. "Washing up" was the term for cleaning face, arms, and hands of the dust and grime when one prepared to eat a meal at the kitchen table. This table was for family and very close friends, otherwise the dining room table came into service.
In the winter, we washed up at the side table in the kitchen, but in warm weather, there was a table with a big pan of water near the back door, usually in the shade of a tree. There was no such animal as a sink in the kitchen back when Dad was a pup – or even when I was a gleam. We didn't have a sink or drain in the house, so the dish water, along with the wash pan, had to be carried outdoors –- without messing up Mom's flowered linoleum floor. The dirty water was tossed forcefully into the back yard while standing on the porch steps. The chickens would come running and clucking to see if there were something to eat in the showering debris.
Speaking of emptying water, we've still got water in the Maytag and the two rinse tubs. My mind is slipping. We should have emptied the water way back in this story when Mom said she was done washing and had the clothes on the line at 9 a.m.
By the time washing was finished, the once scalding hot clean water in the Maytag was cold and opaque. Almost black, sometimes!
There was a color routine for washing which is probably still in effect today, but with a big difference. On the farm, all clothes were washed in the same water. The hand-embroidered dish towels, sheets, and bath towels went first, then white undies, shirts, dresses, and similar items were washed next.
Last to be washed each week were the overalls, followed by woven rag rugs from the front porch and kitchen. Kinda makes one wonder how the dirty overalls could come out clean in dirty water? Right? As a young lad, I also scratched my noggin' on that one, too!
Two tubs pull out the soapy dirt
I guess the secret was in rinsing the clothes in two wash tubs. When Mom decided the load in the washer was clean, she'd turn on the wringer, and grab a short rounded stick to pick up the items in the washer. Our stick came from a broken hoe handle. The clothes would be hot enough to burn fingers, so with the stick, the clothes could be picked up and directed between the two rubber rollers in the wringer. The water squeezed out would pour back into the washer, and the clothes would drop into #1 rinse tub. The wringer would then be rotated so it was placed between the two rinse tubs. After rinsing the clothes for a few minutes, the stick was used to run the clothes through the wringer again, with water draining back into the tub.
The clothes would now be in #2 rinse tub. After more agitation to get the soap out, the clothes would be put through the wringer again. The clothes would drop into a large wooden basket which once held delicious free-stone peaches from Colorado. They're canned and in the cellar. The next step was to hang up the clothes – in a respectable fashion, of course. The wringer would then be moved back to the original position on the washing machine for the next load.
So, Mom's job was done for moment with the clean clothes on the line. Dinner would be ready, too. The big kettle of beef-neck soup cooking all morning by the boiler would bring raves from this young farmer at noon. This Monday meal was a bonus from Wash Day tasks.
Now, it was up to the sun and the wind to do their job in drying the clothes. Oh, a very pleasant memory just blew in: There's nothing like sleeping on fresh sheets which were dried by the sun. The aroma is simply heavenly. I remember as a kid covering my head with a sheet and taking many long breaths to absorb as much of the ozone that I could.
OK, it's time for Steve and Rex – where'd you go Rex? – to empty the washer and the two tubs. One of these tubs also came into play for our Saturday night baths, of course all bodies in the same water for the entire family –- just like wash day for the clothes.
Water from washing watered the dirt
Emptying the washer was easy because it had a rubber hose connected to the bottom, with the spout fastened to the top rim of the washer. We employed the machine's exhaust pipe to help us here. Steve would disconnect the exhaust, lower the washer hose and let the water run outside through the exhaust onto the yard. To empty the tubs, we used an old pan from the kitchen to scoop out the water one pan at a time and emptied it in the yard. Eventually we got water low enough so we could carry the tub out to empty. The yard didn't have grass, so I'm not sure what we watered.
Would you believe it? In all this talk about Wash Day, we haven't talked one swish about soap. Glad you noticed that! You are clever, you know that?
You're right about my slighting the soap. If we're going to wash clothes properly, we have to have soap. Our soap came from the hog – indirectly!
What? Yep, the hog is known for rutting in the dirt with its nose, but a by-product from our hogs got our clothes clean.
We'll find out about soap making in another Rambling down the road. I'm working up the suds in thought even now.
I know this hog-cleaning news is a head-scratcher, but it's true. From cattle, we got tallow for candles, but from hogs, we got lard. (Lard and wheat flour mixed together made grand pie crusts when baked back in the 40's and 50's, but avoided today in the 21st century! Lard is not an acceptable health word!)
Each fall after the first frost –– near Thanksgiving Day when the days didn't get above 30 degrees –– it would be butchering time on the old farmstead. Butchering and soap making went hand in hand.
But, as I said, you'll have to root around in one of these future yarns to learn how hogs helped wash my almost-dirty overalls.
Life on the farm had benefits – even with clean overalls. I learned to talk to the animals and I can imitate them all.
If you run into me some day, mention donkey and I'll bray until the cows comes home. But you won't find me in overalls. My hips have expanded graciously to fit a belt – and then some!
©: Rex L. Salmon 2009