Living on our ranch ten miles east of Paso Robles at Union in the 1920's and 1930's, we were too far from town to have electricity; so in the 1920's, washing clothes without electricity was a major operation for a family of five children and two adults (with another child coming later).
Monday morning was the time to gather oak chips and neatly split wood to build a fire under the big iron caldron to heat water for the family's weekly washing. My mother, Anna Wolf, used a washboard and a big bar of soap to scrub the collars and cuffs of all the shirts and nay other soiled spots on garments before putting them into the hot water. They were then stirred occasionally with a large wooden paddle until clean. White things (linens, etc.) were washed first, then colored articles, and finally the dark clothes and socks. They were lifted out of the hot water with a wooden paddle and put into a tub of cold water, then each item was wrung out by hand into a second tub of cold water to remove all the soap. To keep all white things sparkling white, they went into a tub with bluing in the water. The clothes were hung on the lines to dry in a very orderly fashion, and there was a proper way to hang all articles.I was taught to gather the collars and cuffs on all the shirts and dip them into a starch solution which my mother made of cornstarch and water. This made them nice and stiff when ironed. One time I counted twenty-one shirts hanging neatly in the kitchen, and this was when flatirons were heated on the wood stove!
One way of helping Mother was to pair up all the socks and hang them in the wire squares of the galvanized fencing we had around our yard. This fencing had small squares at the bottom and gradually became bigger at the top, making neat little compartments for each pair of socks. When they were dry, they could easily be rolled together. Mother always tried to make a game of things and a learning experience at the same time. I learned my colors and how to count when helping with the household chores. When I fold sheets today, I remember taking sheets off the line and folding them so many years ago. As Mother held two corners at one end, I would hold the other end, then we would fold the sheet once and snap it back and forth a number of times to soften it before folding.
Progress was made when my father, Louis, purchased a wooden tub washing machine on a stand. It had wooden fingers in the lid-coverthat would stir the clothes. It was run by a wide belt attached to a big Fairbanks-Morris stationary engine (in our pump house) which was used for pumping water when the windmill didn't do the job. After the engine was started we had to slip the wide belt, which was connected to the washing machine, onto the hub of the big wheel. This was a tricky operation as fingers could be lost if caught between the belt and the wheel. Using a stick was the safest way to start or stop the washing machine belt.
We still heated the water in the iron caldron but filled the machine by bucket. It was wonderful that we then had a wringer that was attached to the machine (although turned by hand) and the clothes could go directly into the rinse tub.
The next washing innovation was machine with a small Briggs and Stratton engine underneath. This engine was started with a pedal on the side that we stepped on and pushed down. This machine had a metal tub and frame with an agitator in the tub and a wringer run by the little engine. These little engines were very temperamental and tried the patience of my mother on occasion, but they were a big step in automation.
In 1939 our ranch was sold and my parents purchased the Foote Rhyne place only four and one-half miles from Paso Robles on Union Road.
Hallelujah! Mother now had an electric washing machine!
IRON TUB TO AUTOMATION
I can remember just a few feet outside the kitchen door at my grandmother's, there was a bed of rocks, and on this was one of those large iron tubs. They would fill it with water and build a fire under it. My grandmother would cut up soap and put that in it (soap was homemade, as they all made their own soap back then). Then the sheets, long underwear, etc. would be put in that kettle. My grandmother had a long stick with a can on the end of it, and that is what she used to swish the clothes up and down and around. Sitting on a bench was a large tub filled with water that they rinsed the clothes in. My two aunts who were still at home --- one on one end and the other on the other end of the sheets --- would wring the clothes out and then hang them on the clothesline. I can still see those sheets, towels and long underwear hanging on the line. This was Monday work and on Tuesday they ironed.
Clothes were always starched stiffly with starch that was homemade. The dish towels, table linens, pillowcases, petticoats, dresses and shirts were all starched. The clothes were always sprinkled, rolled up and ironed the next day.The next I remember were the wash boards. Some were metal and some were glass. Later there was a wringer that fastened on to a tub or table to wring the clothes. Following that was a washer. It was a wooden tub with an agitator in it and a handle on the outside of the tub that we worked back and forth to wash the clothes. The tub was still separate from the wringer.
Next came the washer with a wringer that was run with a gasoline engine. When we got electric power the washing machine changed every year. Today all we do is put in the clothes, detergent, set the dial and do other things or sit down and read. No wringers anymore. The washing machine has them all ready for the dryer. Set another dial, press a button and soon the clothes are ready to fold and wear.
CLAASSEN WEEKLY ROUTINE
The Jacob E. Claassen family had a farm west of Paso Robles. A cousin, Bertha Lichti, shared these thoughts about life on the farm:
yes, a washing machine was run by
The usual weekly routine went as follows: Monday was wash day; Tuesday was ironing; Wednesday was mending; and Thursday was baking. Friday and Saturday were cleaning days. Sunday was always designated the Lord's Day with no work except for necessary chores of feeding the animals, etc.
BACK TO PIONEER PAGES