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The Little Washing Machine that Could!

The picture says it all!  My new washing machine is definitely the farm model!  Twenty years ago when the kids were little and the laundry pile was big the washing machine portion of the stackable washer and dryer combo in our little waterfront house on Erland’s Point gave up the ghost.  With two in cloth diapers and an unsympathetic landlord that wasn’t interested in fixing the washer (What was he thinking???) we were desperate.  Hubby put a bit of farm ingenuity to work, disassembled the two parts of the machine and bolted the dryer portion to the wall in the tiny little cubby hole in the hall where the machine lived.  The house was built in the 30s, had limited closet space and I imagine that it had been installed there when the couple in the house got older.  When we moved in there was still the skeleton of the wringer washer in the basement.  There was also a hole in the basement floor next to a big concrete sink and in the day the wash water ran down the hole and out into Dyes Inlet.  That would explain why you don’t eat shellfish there – but water quality issues is a post for another day.

As a child I remember our neighbor Colleen doing wash in the rough basement of their overcrowded home in a wringer washer.  With a farm, four kids and a husband working construction every day was wash day!  I am sure she wondered why all the kids were interested in the washing machine, but the wringer made life interesting.   My parents had a newer machine complete with spin cycle, which wasn’t nearly interactive as the wringer washer!  It was wash day – with a risk!   Colleen would put the clothes in the machine, add hot water, washing soda and grate homemade bar soap into the water as it agitated.  Then, the washer would drain onto the floor, disappearing into one of those mysterious holes going who knows where!  She would add more water and let it agitate to rinse the clothes, and she would turn on the wringer.  We were constantly admonished to keep our fingers clear and “…leave the damned thing alone!”  Then, she would feed the wet, clean clothing through the spinning rollers.  It was fun to fold the half-dry, flat clothes coming out of the wringer accordion-style into the basket below the wringer.  Once the basket was full she would start another load and head out to hang the first load on the line.  This continued all morning until the piles of laundry were neatly waving in the breeze…unless it was winter and rainy, in which case they would be strung on lines in the kitchen near the wood cook stove.   As a child I was fascinated by the process.  As an adult, just thinking about it is exhausting.  And, lest you think that I am REALLY old, this was in the early 70’s.

But, I digress!  After hubby was done mounting the dryer on the wall and making sure it worked we went in search of a washer that would fit in the 24″ space.  Let me tell you, there aren’t many machines that size (one to be exact!) and it certainly wasn’t a large capacity machine!   We consoled ourselves with the idea that it was such a cheap model that it wouldn’t last long, we would be in a larger home soon and would just replace the washing machine then.

Fast forward 20 years, the kids are almost gone (along with their huge piles of laundry!), we have moved three times and until Friday that tiny, cheap machine hadn’t missed a load.  Over the years it washed a diverse assortment of nasty things from manure caked jeans to greasy coveralls to stinky truck tie-down straps without complaint but last week it began to grumble a little bit during the spin cycle and by the time the weekend it was in full scale gripe and moan.  Then it STOPPED. I should be grateful that we didn’t end up with a flood but it seemed a rather ignominious end for such a valiant little machine.

On Wednesday we made a trip to Nilsen’s Appliance in Silverdale and picked out a replacement.  “Commercial Heavy Duty ~ Large Capacity PLUS(!) ~ 2 Speed ~ Stainless Steel.”  Sounds like it should be parked out by the tractors rather than in my laundry room!  This is definitely the farmer model washing machine!  The irony is that now that the children are almost gone, taking with them piles of wet, muddy, smelly snow pants, jeans, camping gear and all the other detritus of childhood we now have a large capacity washing machine capable of handling it all in one load!   I guess should I get too wistful all I need to do is think about that wringer washer in Colleen’s basement and all those kids!

5 thoughts on “The Little Washing Machine that Could!

  1. As kids we wanted to feed stuff through the wringer and Colleen was always worried we would get our fingers caught – never did but in thinking about it I would never let my kids help with that at 5 or 6 years old! Life was so much riskier then!

  2. When I was a kid, my mom had a square stainless steel Maytag wringer washer. It was ALL steel, including the agitator. When the time came to replace the machine with an automatic, she was not a happy camper. The new machine came with a plastic agiator and she said a plastic agitator could never get her clothes clean. Monday was wash day and with the Maytag, she could do 8 to 10 loads in two hours. Try that with an automatic. She had to spread her wash days out over the week. This threw mom off her very ridig makemaker schedule. With the Maytag she was able to use soap, not detergent. The new automatic would not allow her to use soap. She took great pride in her laundry.

  3. As important to wash day as the machine was – I think that the solar clothes dryer is as crucial. The dryer to finish it always takes longer than the washing. I LOVE my clothesline because as soon as the clothes come out of the washing machine they go on the line. I can get all the laundry done and out in less than half the time it takes to dry it in the dryer! Then, I can go about my day and come home to sweet smelling line-dried clothes!

  4. Diane,

    We lived on a corner (this was in So. Cal) and mom’s clothes lines were about ten feet from the fence that ran along the side street. One day a lady who had been walking by knocked at our door and told my mom she had the whitest clothes she had ever seen. This made my mom very proud.

  5. That would do it! My mom used to sort all her wash before hanging it on the line so she could hang is largest to smallest. I don’t do this (because clearly, I have no pride in my homemaking skills!) and when she saw it the last time she was here she sort of sniffed and said, “Well I suppose that the clothes don’t dry any faster…but it looks better when you take care.” Definitely, she believes in full-contact homemaking!

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