The 'Wash Tub Blues' returns to the ranch


Hardly a day goes by that our automatic washer sits idle for a whole day.

As anyone who lives in the country can attest, there’s always enough dirty laundry collected during the course of a day to do a load of towels, whites, colors or blue jeans.

So, when the machine has a bit of a hiccup, the first thing said is, “Uh oh, now what do we do?”

Such was the case 10 days ago when I was going to pre-shrink a piece of fabric before tackling a sewing project. I tossed the fabric into the washer, “glugged” in some detergent, flopped the lid shut, spun the dial and pulled it out to make it “go.”

I got busy doing other things, and about 30 minutes later, all was quiet in the utility room, so I assumed it was finished and ready for a trip through the dryer.

Noooo! My pile of fabric was one drippy mess, and long story short, during that load, some vital part went haywire, causing issues with the cold water.

I ended up flopping the half-soggy pile of fabric into the dryer to get it dry.

Anyway, the part is ordered, but until then, the hot water features still work, so there are some things that can be washed on the “hot as blazes” setting, while for other things, the cold water hose can be undone and connected to the hot side and then the hot water settings can be used to do a completely cold load.

Since dirty laundry doesn’t wait for a working washer, last Saturday afternoon, I had no choice but to do some hand wash out on the patio. I gathered up several large, silver stainless “butcher bowls” and did a good bit of colored wash the old-fashioned way.

While I was at it, after I had spun the water out in the automatic washer (yes, that still works), I hung the load out on the clothes line since there’s nothing that beats the sunshine fresh scent of laundry that’s been dried on an outdoor clothes line.

That evening, several of the pieces were still damp, and since it was mild weather, I decided to let it hang out overnight and would take it in Sunday morning.

Even though limping along doing hand wash is fun for a while, I don’t think I could survive doing that forever.

Years ago, my grandmothers washed only one day a week and that was on Mondays when all of the dirty laundry was taken out to the “wash house” where it was sorted into whites, colors and darks and washed in one of those old wringer-type washers. The wringer attachment atop the washer would unclick and pivot to the side when it came time to wring the water out of the clothes.

Washing clothes was an assembly line type of project back then. Whites were always washed first, then the water was saved for the colors and then on to the darks and if necessary, the really dirty farm clothes.

While one load was washing, the previous load was taking a swim through the rinse water.

The grandmothers each had a well-worn “wash stick” to push the clothes down into the agitating tub of wash water and stir the load around. This made sure every piece had its fair chance at getting clean before taking a trip through the wringer and a trip through rinse water a time or two.

They would let us kids swish the wash stick around in the tub of the washer and “fish” out pieces of dripping laundry to feed into the wringer attachment that would be unclicked and pivoted around to where it was positioned above a galvanized tub of rinse water.

From there, the thoroughly wrung-out garment would be “unwrinkled” and rinsed a final time before being sent through the wringer a last time.

All of the white and light colors were also rinsed in water to which a splash of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing had been added.

After the final rinse and trip through the wringer, the clean clothes dropped into the wash basket, ready to be shook out and hung out on the line to dry and gather that fresh country scent.

Speaking of freshly scented clothes that have been dried outside, fast forward to last Sunday morning!

Early that morning, I headed out the back door on my way to the barnyard to open the chicken house door.

It took about two seconds for me to realize that someone in the neighborhood was doing some controlled burning and the smoke was wafting our way.

Oh, no! The laundry! It was still on the line and was absorbing the smoke odor.

You know, there might just be something to that old rhyme that goes something like, “… a woman’s work is never done.”