Friday, February 11, 2011

Washday at John K. Madsen's ~ taken from "Nickels From a Sheep's Back" by Pearle M. Olsen

Monday washday was traditional, and an all-day undertaking.  The reservoir attached to the right side of the wood-burning kitchen stove (Monarch) had to be filled with water carried from the green hydrant.  If John K. was at home, he filled it -- or his brothers did so if they were around.  But sometimes it became a woman's full responsibility, and she enlisted help from the children.

A hot, early morning fire in the stove heated the reservoir water that was then dipped into the hand propelled washer.  A huge oval boiler was set over the front part of the stove and also filled with water from the hydrant.  When the water was hot, a certain amount of lye and ammonia were added to bleach the white clothing and linens as they boiled steadily away.  Then every item was lifted with a smooth stick for transferring to a tub, or the washer.  The stick was usually an old pitchfork or broom handle.

Sorted clothing, tubful by tubful was turned in the old wooden washer allowing each load a given length of time.  Young arms were well suited to perform the back and forth motions (or the later around and around motions) monotonously and endlessly, while grownups lifted and handled the water and clothing from washer to boiler, and tubs.  The articles finally went into a large, round, galvanized tub standing on a wooden bench,.  Every piece was rinsed up and down.  over and over and under in the water entirely by hand.

Each article was then fed through a hand-turned wringer made of two large rubber cylinders of horizontal position, turning in opposite directions while they squeezed water from the cloth.  After the squeezing, the items fell into another large, round tub of water in which bluing had been dissolved.  From dish towels to bed sheets , each piece was dunked up and down a sufficient number of times to be free of all soap particles.  Certain cotton clothing went into a starch bath after that.

When all were wrung as dry as possible, each article was shaken and piled with others in a reed clothes basket and carried to a clothesline onto which they were clipped with wooden clothes pins.  The entire process was a work of art and Virginia (John K. Madsen's wife) was always thrilled with her clothesline, even though was day was heavy and exhausting.

Soap powders and detergents were unknown.  Bars of Fels Naptha soap -- shaped much like small bricks -- were chipped and sliced, then boiled in water to dissolve the chips into a thick syrupy substance that was poured in the washer or boiler as needed.  Homemade soap bars were treated in much the same way if folks were fortunate enough to have some of them, for they were rated as being superior.

Homemade soap was made of animal fat or tallow that was rendered in a tub over a camp-type fire, then boiled with lye and other ingredients.  After boiling down to thick consistency, the mixture was poured into another tub to a depth of four or five inches and allowed to cool.  When somewhat dried and hardened it was cut into large cubes; and when solid enough to be handled each piece was lifted onto paper and left to age -- usually in an attic.

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