Wash Day on the Farm

Jerry Apps

My mother was way ahead of her time. When it came to washday, which was every Monday without fail, she and my dad brought from the woodshed to the kitchen her two washing machines. Neither required electricity. The simplest of the two, the washboard, needed nothing but a strong arm and lots of patience. The washing machine with wringer was powered by a little gasoline engine. Once Pa got the engine started, no small task, it washed clothes thoroughly, except for those dirtiest. These were first cleaned on the washboard.

The washboard, needed nothing but a strong arm and lots of patience.

Water was heated in a copper boiler that sat on the hottest part of the kitchen wood stove. My brothers and I had the job of carrying many pails of water from the pumphouse to the kitchen. There was no fancy water heater to worry about.

My mother was way ahead of her time when it came to drying clothes as well. She had a solar-powered clothes drier, also known as an outdoor clothesline. She hung the wet clothes on the clothesline, no matter the season of the year. During the winter months, the clothes freeze dried. All seasons of the year, the clothes came into the house smelling sweet and fresh. No buttons to push. No dials to spin.

Oh, I forgot to mention. We had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and heated our farmhouse with wood stoves. But we all wore clean, fresh smelling clothes.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: People made do before electricity came to the country in interesting ways.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life.