Bob Mitchell: Washdays are different now

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Walk into the laundry room of a modern-day home, and it is entirely different from when I was growing up at the Ray house at Ninth and West in Cassville.

Today, there are modern conveniences that basically require transferring items from one machine to another. That's not to mean the process isn't complicated or a chore at times, but doing laundry these days is altogether different than it was in the middle 1930s.

My aunt Missie was in charge of the laundry chore in those days, whether it was assigned or she assumed it was never clear. But, she would, every Monday, make sure all the dirty clothes and bed sheets were on the back porch in the assigned area for the items to be sorted into the order that she was going to wash them.

Build a fire

A duty that I sometimes caught was building a fire, using small sticks of wood -- which was also used in the cook stove -- to heat a large cast iron kettle. Then, it was my job to nearly fill the kettle using a hose, connected to a hydrant, which was always located on the back porch.

After this was accomplished, I had to take the hose back inside the porch, this time connecting it to a hot-water faucet and fill the wringer-type washing machine that was going to get the clothes clean, or at least some of them.

When the fire had been stoked a few times and the water was at or near the boiling point, some of the white items, such as bed sheets, would be placed in the kettle with some soap and stirred. Aunt Missie would decide they had been virtually sterilized before they would be run through the wringer of the washer and ready for a good sunning on the clothes line that ran almost the full length of the house on the west side.

Washer tub

The tub on the washer had an agitator that would work the items there back and forth, with really soapy water until it was determined they were clean. Then, it would be necessary to connect that hose to a short hose coming out of the washer and drain the water out into West Street or the yard, whichever was most handy.

After the tub of the washer was drained, clean water would refill the tub -- often out of metal tubs that were used in the laundry process, the agitator utilized to get the items rinsed before running through the wringer.

This process had to be approached with some experience and extreme care, since getting a hand caught in that wringer could cause problems. Different wringers seemed to have a varied danger element in them. The one that stood for years on the back porch at the Ray house had a feature that would throw the rollers out of gear if anything large was running between them. A hand or arm was sufficiently to achieve this.

There wasn't any shortage of the required equipment, modern in those days, for Aunt Missie to complete her regular Monday assignment of keeping a rather large family in clean clothes. In fact, she was somewhat of a stickler for all the family making sure they weren't found away from the house in anything but spic and span clothes.

No more lines

It was a necessity to have a stout clothesline for a household, even into the mid-1950s, since most of those in charge of the family laundry preferred air-drying to using a dryer. It was probably much less expensive, and placing items out in the sun for drying was just something that was done in those days.

When we built our first home on Sunset Heights, we had a "stout" clothesline built by K.E. Brown in his welding shop that would have withstood any amount of weight on those wires. There was also about twice as much line as we needed, but K.E. wasn't known for doing a job with any shortcomings attached.

Later years

That iron kettle, in later years, was moved downtown to the back of the Cassville Democrat office, where it was put to another use. It was still fired with the same small split wood, but this time it was permitted to become considerably hotter.

This was to melt down metal that poured into "pigs" for later use in the letterpress printing process.

We had a flux material that went into the melted lead that burned away impurities, giving the metal a new life.

The pot stayed for years next to a paper storage building, only to disappear one night, never to be seen again. We had some ideas of its location, but could never prove it belonged to us.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.