By Norris Chambers

             When people first started dressing themselves they likely robed their bodies with skins from favorite animals. The prettier skins added a touch of beauty to the ladies and dignity to the men. The skins also provided warmth that was needed as the groups moved into colder regions.

            We don’t really know but it is quite likely that the skins were not washed on a regular basis. On warmer days our old ancestors might have kept their skin clothes on while they splashed around in a cool pool.

            Those who wandered into the far north and were later referred to as Eskimos probably didn’t do much clothes washing during the cold winter nights that lasted for months. Their skin clothes might have been a little ripe by spring! They continued to thrive on their fish and other cold water goodies, with or without washing their clothes, and eventually were recognized as a strong and hardy race.

            Most early American settlers were clean, at least one day in the week, and kept clean clothes for that day. The Sunday clothing required starching and ironing, but generally was not required every wash day. In most cases Saturday or Monday was the designated wash day. Much of the work that these early settlers did soiled clothes and required a session at the weekly wash place.

            One item that was considered necessary for garment washing was a cast iron wash pot. The pots were round and the lower half was oval with three short legs on the bottom. There were two sizes in general use, the twenty gallon and the larger thirty gallon.  The short narrow legs were inserted into old buggy hubs or pieces of pipe of similar size. This raised the pot off of the ground enough for a good wood fire to be started beneath it. When the temperature of the water approached boiling lye soap was added and the first washing was dumped in the pot. It was necessary to punch the clothes with a stick (usually a well-seasoned oak branch) for several minutes. The punching time depended on how soiled the garments were. The cleaner clothes were washed first and the filthiest group was the last washing. This kept the water cleaner and prevented soiling cleaner clothes with dirty water.

            In earlier times the freshly boiled clothes were placed on a pounding table and given a good beating with the punching stick. Sometimes flat rocks were imported to the washing area for this purpose. The boiled and pounded articles of clothing were then dumped into a large tub that had been about half filled with water and were thoroughly rinsed. As much water was twisted from each piece as possible and it was moved to another similar tub where the same manner of rinsing was repeated. Each piece was twisted until it was as free of water as possible. It was thrown into a large bucket and was ready to be hung on the clothes line. Some of the nicer clothes required a bath in a starch solution before drying.

            My first experience with a washing machine was in 1925. My brother had a garage and service station in the little town of Cross Cut. The family also lived there in a little house in the midst of the shacks and tents that the oil field had attracted. At that time there were many jobs in the area. Because we lived so far from the school I stayed with them during the week. Clifton and I were deeply involved in the operation of the new washing machine that his dad bought.

            I don’t remember the brand name of the machine, but I remember the work we were required to do when clothes were to be washed. The machine had a big tank that was filled with hot soapy water and a large inverted funnel type thing inside that went up and down, punching the clothes. This up and down motion was furnished by a kid pushing a lever up and down. This churning motion was continued for several minutes. The lid was removed and then the plunger was raised to the top of the tub. The clothes were fed into a wringer that was mounted on the side of the machine and most of the soapy water was removed. The wringer consisted of two large rubber rollers that rotated when Clifton or I turned a crank. The crank wasn’t easy for two kids like us to turn. The clothes emerged from the wringer into a tub of rinse water where they were thoroughly rinsed and fed again into the wringer that had been turned to the side of the tub. The freshly washed clothes were then ready for the clothes line.

            Was there any fun present in using the new washing machine? I guess it could have been considered funny when Clifton’s mother got her bonnet strings caught in the wringer. We didn’t notice and kept cranking and pulling her head closer to the rollers. Just before we extruded her brains we discovered the problem and quickly began to turn the crank backwards. We didn’t dare laugh at that time!