While there may never have been a better time to be a child, it was not so easy for a mother and housekeeper. I can recall my mother scrubbing clothes on a washboard in a tub. But even before she could do that, the kitchen range had to be fired up and water carried in. Since the well water was quite hard and the soaps of that time worked poorly in hard water, she usually kept tubs under the eaves of the house to catch rainwater for laundry. In winter we would often bring in snow to melt in the wash boiler on the stove in order to have soft water. Then would come the hours of scrubbing in the hot water and strong soap. The water was wrung out of the clothes by taking them in both hands and twisting. After they were washed, they were carried out and hung on the clothesline to dry. Laundry was an all day job. When I was still quite young, Daddy bought a washing machine that was powered by a gasoline engine. It was an unusual type of machine and I have never seen another like it. It was called ABC which stood for Altofer Brothers Company. The machine had an oblong shaped tub with a rounded bottom. Suspended horizontally inside the tub was a perforated cylinder with a trap door on one side. The tub was filled with soapy water and the clothes put into the cylinder. The engine then rotated the cylinder back and forth in the water. I think that was about the same time that Mama got a hand-cranked wringer that clamped onto the side of a laundry tub. Some years later this machine was replaced with another engine powered one of conventional design with a rotating agitator in the center of the tub and a power wringer right on the machine. At approximately the same time, laundry detergents came along and made it possible to get clothes clean in hard water. So, little by little, things got better for her but her children were grown up and married before she ever had running water.
Permanent press and wash-and-wear clothing was not even heard of at that time so most of it had to be ironed, without electricity. Earlier, I mentioned hot sad irons wrapped in cloth and placed at our feet in the cold bed. That was the secondary purpose of these old irons. Ironing clothes is what they were made for. They were something like a flat bottom boat about six inches long and made of cast iron. There was a handle that could be detached from one iron and attached to another, usually by just lifting up on a knob. On ironing day it was once again a time for a hot fire in the kitchen range. Four or five sad irons sat on the stove getting hot while Mama ironed clothes with another. When the one she was using got too cool to do the job, she would set it on the stove and transfer the handle to a hot one to continue ironing. Her first break in that chore came a few years later when she got a gasoline iron. This was quite similar in appearance to a modern electric iron except for a small fuel tank mounted at the back of the handle. The tank held about a half pint of white gasoline. The iron was designed so that the gasoline fueled a fire across the sole of the iron, providing a constant, controllable heat. Now, it was no longer necessary to have a roaring fire in the range on ironing day.
Another job that seemed never-ending and is not done anymore was darning socks. In those days before polyester or nylon, socks were made of cotton or wool only and perpetually had holes worn in the heels and toes. The holes had to be repaired by re-weaving the area with needle and thread. Mama spent many evenings working on this chore. But, other than darning, she had to do very little hand sewing. She had a sewing machine that was powered by rocking a treadle back and forth with one’s foot. This machine served her well for as long as she had need for one.
We lived beside a country road but there was not much traffic on it. In the earlier years there, what traffic we saw was just as likely to be horses as automobiles. Whenever a car did go by, we all stopped what we were doing to watch it go by. Often, if one of us heard a car coming, we would announce, “car coming.” So, perhaps you can imagine the excitement around our house when airplanes began appearing in the valley. Whenever someone heard a plane, he would shout, “airplane”, at the top of his lungs, and everyone would rush out to look. It was always an undeclared contest to be the first one to see the plane and then, we would all stand and watch it until it was out of sight.
As long as we lived there, the road was unpaved. In the early thirties, it was rebuilt and graveled under a W.P.A. project. This construction was all done with horse-drawn equipment. In those times, there was very little attempt made at snow removal on the county roads and I remember winters when the cars drove out through the adjoining fields as much as on the road, because the road got so badly drifted in some places. Then, in the summer when it was dry, if there was a breeze from a southerly direction, we would be engulfed in a suffocating cloud of dust every time a car went by. This got worse with the passing years as cars got bigger, faster, and more numerous.
I think that gives a fair representation of the conditions and our style of living during those times so I will now return to 1936 and continue the chronological progression of the family.
Excerpted from “Wool Trompers” by J. L. Fuller