Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 5, 2012

Laundry day: Deadly wringer and unmentionables on line

By Ed Hungness
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---- — 'Whatever you do Eddie, keep your fingers away from the wringer!" As a little boy, I heard that warning often on Wednesday, which happened to be Mom's laundry day.

We had an unfinished basement where the laundry room was located. There, in the corner, sat her wringer-washer which I thought of as The Beast. Medieval by today's standards, it was considered high-tech in 1950 although "high-tech" wasn't in our vocabulary at the time.

This marvel of science was a porcelain-coated, metal tub that was filled with hot water. In the bottom was a multi-bladed paddle-like device that rotated on its axis first in one direction then reversing course. Dirty laundry was placed in the tub and the whooshing action of the agitator, along with some Ivory Soap Flakes, washed it clean. After chugging along until the cycle was complete, the water was emptied from the tub, gurgling down a drain in the basement floor.

The tub was refilled with clean water and the laundry was again swooshed around by the agitator to rinse out the soap. After draining the tub for a second time, the dangerous work began. It was time to put the wet wash through the wringer.

The wringer pre-dated the spin cycle in modern washing machines and was mounted on top of the tub. It was powered by an electric motor and consisted of two rubber-coated, closely-spaced rollers that the wet clothes and bedding were fed into. The idea was that anything inserted between the powerful rotating rollers had most of the water squeezed from it to make drying easier.

The wringer was the scariest thing in the basement, second only to the monster lurking in the coal bin! I don't know if any of the stories were true, but Mom and Dad illustrated their point with a variety of tales about wash day.

Sixty years later, I still remember an unnamed little boy who got his fingers caught in the wringer and it pulled him in until his whole arm was pulled off. Then there was the man who was wearing a tie and got too close to the wringer on wash day. In spite of warnings from his wife, his tie got caught in the wringer and reeled him in so tight he choked to death. Little boys and girls needed to stay away from the wringer! I always watched Mom doing laundry from a safe distance.

Mom didn't have the luxury of tossing the clothes in the dryer. We were first in the Green Movement. We used solar energy to power our clothes dryer which consisted of clotheslines, (aka ropes) strung six feet off the ground between any available supports in the yard. The damp clothes and bedding were hung over the lines and secured with wooden clothespins, preventing the wind from blowing them off the lines. Often homes had three lines running parallel to each other. The "unmentionables" consisting of panties, bras and nightgowns were hung on the middle line so that they could not be seen by the casual passerby or nosy neighbors. Sheets, towels and work clothes were hung on the outer lines, providing privacy screens.

Nothing smelled and felt better than slipping between fresh clean sheets that had spent the day hanging on a clothesline, blowing in the warm summer breeze. Fortunate to have the basement in our home, we had clotheslines strung there as well. My mom hung the damp wash indoors on cold winter days or rainy afternoons.

I never did get my fingers caught in the wringer nor did I know any kids that did. As a result of Mom's frequent warnings, I had developed a healthy respect for that dangerous wringer washing machine in our basement.

Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at edhungness@yahoo.com or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.