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Sunday, 9 February 2020

Washing Machines Old and New

Our washing machine has been very temperamental of late. Driving us mad! It would be fine for a few weeks and then decide to go on the blink and refuse to progress more than a couple of minutes into its cycle. It could take half an hour or more to get it going. It would then do the same the next time. Then, after a few days, it would decide to behave itself for a while.

Dolly Tub. Coventry Evening Telegraph 22Feb1968

You never had problems with a dolly tub. They worked every time. Mum would boil water in the copper in the wash house at the end of the garden, ladle it into the dolly tub and swish the washing round with what she called a ‘peggy stick’. Then it was through the ‘wringer’ and on to the washing line to dry. Or if raining, it was hung on the ‘creel’ clothes rack descending by pulley from the scullery ceiling. Tried, tested, reliable technology. Mind you, it wasn’t a good idea to leave your clothes on the rack for long, especially when frying bacon.

Even when we got a top-loading Ada washing machine with a powered ‘wringer’ on top it ran trouble-free for years. You just had to be careful not to catch your thumbs in the mangle. Its newer replacements and stand-alone spin dryers were never much hassle either.

My recent post about donkey stones sparked off quite a few comments about dolly tubs and mangles. I see the association too, even though donkey stones had nothing to do with washdays. There are lots of evocative photographs on the internet. Here are some closest to what I remember.

Washday Memories
Top: brick copper with a fireplace for heating water, dolly tub and stick, brass posser, wringer (mangle).
Bottom: wooden clothes horse, creel (pulley clothes rack), 1950s Ada washing machine
 
What you can’t recreate, of course, are the sensations: the rattle of a peg round the corrugations of an empty dolly tub, the soft, smooth weight of a dolly stick, the ring of a brass posser, the steamy heat of the brick copper, the smell of soap flakes and wet washing, the brace of a clothes prop against a washing line on a windy day, condensation running down the walls, steamed up windows.

The Ada drawing reminded me of the door on the front and low switch and lever on the side, things I’d forgotten completely. I suppose I must have spent quite a lot of time at floor level in those days. We got the Ada around 1953. Later that decade, we bought a stand-alone spin dryer. They were replaced by nineteen-sixties models. I am not sure whether my parents ever had a twin-tub, but, like most households in Britain, they moved up to a front-loading automatic washing machine during the nineteen-seventies.

The old dolly tubs were not entirely trouble free. Archive newspapers contain many sad stories of children drowning in them, and eventually they sprang leaks. One elderly woman in Coventry, among the last to use one, found that by 1968 it was almost impossible to replace. A local brewery came to her aid with a sawn-in-half beer barrel. It was also best to use good soap flakes – it seems nothing could be worse than undissolved soap in your undies. But you could claim any brown or yellowish stains were from the wooden creel or clothes horse.

Dolly Tub. Coventry Evening Telegraph 22Feb1968 Advert for Lux Soap Flakes, 1938

Samsung ecobubble automatic washing machine
Back to our present-day troubles. Sometimes you could get the washing machine to work by starting again on a different programme. At other times you had to put it on spin to pump out the water (even though it wouldn’t actually spin), take out the wet washing and begin again with just half a load. You sat there twiddling thumbs waiting for the timer to unlock the door. We never knew whether it was going to indulge us or not. We were ready to call out a repairer (knowing, of course, that it would work perfectly when the repairer came) or simply just buy a new one, even though it’s a good model and only a few years old.

In the end we didn’t need to. It dawned on us that the problem might be something to do with the weight of the load: a faulty sensor perhaps. It appears the Samsung ecobubble weighs the washing to decide how much water it needs: a great idea in principle with the potential to save both water and electricity, but not such a great idea when it goes wrong.

The problem had also become much worse since we moved the machine from one end of the kitchen to the other. Did you know that with some modern washing machines, when first installed, or when moved, you are supposed to calibrate the load sensor? The deliverers/installers did not do this, nor the plumbers when they moved it. Once you know, the instructions in the user manual are straightforward.

Samsung ecobubble calibration instructions

Too clever by half! It has been trouble free since we did that. But my mother never had to calibrate her dolly tub or wringer, and the only load sensor she needed was the judgement not to hang so much weight on the clothes rack as to bring down the kitchen ceiling. 

Now don’t get me started on outside toilets. Here is another picture of that lady in her underwear.

Advert for Lux Soap Flakes, 1938

To be able to see the newspaper articles large enough to read (on Windows PCs) you may need to (1) left-click the image to get a slightly larger version (2) right-click the new image which brings up a menu (3) depending on which browser you are using you can then select one of the following: view image, view image in new tab, save image (4) if you have saved the image you should be able to find it on your desktop or in "my pictures", and should then be able to open and enlarge it in your default image viewer.

28 comments:

  1. I so enjoyed this post! I love looking back to the evolution of our "modern day" conveniences! I find it interesting to see all the earlier versions of our appliances and such. So much has changed in what seems like a very short time, but I suppose that is only my perception since time seems to be rushing by so quickly these days.

    You also taught me something new. I did not know you needed to calibrate the load sensor on a machine. I should remember that in case I have a similar problem. My main problem with new appliances is that they are not made to last. In the old days things were made to last and it was not unusual to have an appliance for twenty years. When we bought our last refrigerator (and it cost a small fortune!) we were told if it lasted ten years we'd be lucky! I guess they figured out they would make more money to sell poorly made products and just sell more of them.

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    1. Thanks. I'm all for the woman who persisted with the dolly tub, but it must have been hard work, and polyester fabrics just wouldn't take it. I guess calibration depends on exactly which model you have, but if the above makes more people aware of the possibility then it's worthwhile just for that. We had been putting up with problems for months before we chanced on it.

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  2. I took laundry to my parents' home to wash in the Maytag wringer washing machine I'd known since childhood. Eventually my husband and I bought a used washer and dryer, as did my married brothers and their wives. Mom bought a brand new Maytag washer and dryer. Why should the kids have all the good stuff. She also bought and could use a microwave, long before I purchased one. That thing was half a big as the new appliances in the basement.

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    1. Reading around it's apparent that you had electric machines much earlier in the U.S. than we did in Europe, mainly because of the economic impact of World War II.

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  3. I was born in 1968, which means I know pre-washing machine equipment only because my Grandma kept hers in the "washing kitchen" (a room set aside for all things laundry in her basement) and explained to me how it worked when I asked what those things were.
    I am still using the washing machine my grandmother owned for the last few years of her life. She died in January 2001, and the machine was not old then - now it IS old, definitely over 20 years, but still works without a hitch. I have never owned a drier, as I "believe" in fresh air for drying clothes, and I am one of those strange people who actually like ironing.

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    1. As Bonnie says above and YP below, manufacturers appear to build obsolescence into new products deliberately. We dry by fresh air too. Ironing can be a pleasant contemplative activity as long as you don't think you should be doing something else.

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  4. Though I am considerably younger than you, your picture of the evolution of washing machine technology is a facsimile of my own remembrances. It seems to me that obsolescence is built in to all devices we buy these days. That's partly how washing machine companies maintain their profits.

    "Now don’t get me started on outside toilets"...Looking forward to your post about outdoor toilets.

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    1. "considerably" - you'd like to think. Hope you appreciated the pictures of the young lady in her underwear.

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    2. Yes I did, thank you very much. Very sexy pictures.

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    3. Considering they are from 1938 it's a wonder they weren't censored, wriggling around like a trivet, and she hasn't even got undissolved soap in her undies.

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  5. I remember visiting my aunts (on Mondays) and them having a very large pot on the stove to "boil their whites". As for outdoor toilets, yep, they had them, too. In London--until the mid-1960s. Ugh. Cold, rainy weather--didn't matter-- down the back garden. Remember the waxy toilet papers you had to crinkle up and rub to relative softness in order to survive using them?

    As for appliances, all well and good to have a top of the line model (DH's idea, not mine), but I'd rather the washer not require an engineering degree to run a load of laundry.

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    1. They also had that hard Izal toilet paper at school. I have heard teachers instruct their class to go to the toilet and get some tracing paper. Carrying out re-calibration is easy enough provided you know about it. We didn't.

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  6. I was trying to remember ever seeing anyone carrying any rolls of loo paper in her shopping bag in the '50s. I suppose it had to be 'smuggled in' discreetly.

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    1. Don't know how we got from washine machines to toilet paper (unless you have a special cycle on your machine!) but I read on Sue's 'My Quiet Life in Suffolk' blog (Feb 5th) about it being delivered by post with the words "Nice bum" and "Who gives a crap" emblazoned on the packaging in full sight of the postman and all the neighbours.

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  7. All I can remember was a hoovermatic twin tub, which I loved. There was something soothing about the way it swished gently back and forward.

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    1. Front loaders often have better programmes than the television.

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  8. I still have a pulley system in the kitchen and, no, it's not used for posies or decorative items but washing. As you say the most important thing is to to take down the washing before cooking!

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    1. Cooking smells can be very pervasive, and natural materials seem worse than synthetics. You can go out of the house thinking you're ok only to realise a little later that your clothes smell of what you've just had to eat. One place I worked there was a woman who invariably came back after lunch smelling of food, and that was just from the staff canteen.

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  9. There has been a great evolution.
    Continuation of a good week.

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    1. There certainly has. Your blog shows you have a very good climate for gardening in Madeira.

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  10. Calibrate the load sensor?! Jiminy Christmas! The older forms of washing certainly seem hassle-free compared to our new-fangled technology.

    Clothes smelling of cooked bacon would not have been very nice, I'd imagine.

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    1. The other thing it says in the manual - don't know if it's true because we haven't tried it - is that you can control it from your smart phone (for a start I don't have one, which means I can't bluetooth the car either).

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  11. Great post, many things I 'just about' remember :). I do remember when washing machines etc used to last 25 years+, no such luck these days. I have never calibrated a washing machine - ever!

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    1. Wait till you get a new one. You'll be starting it off with your phone and it will be messaging you back pestering you to empty it.

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  12. Life seems to get ever more complicated - calibrating a washing machine indeed! I don't want to go back to the dolly tub years but I'm all for keeping things as straight-forward as possible. I've got a wooden creel hanging from my kitchen ceiling. Very old-fashioned, but it works a treat! (Don't want to tempt fate and annoy Carol, but my machine is about thirty years old and still going strong.)

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    1. I'm impressed you call it a creel. Good northern word. According to Wiki, creel is used in the North of England, in Scotland it is a pulley, and in United States a Sheila Maid. We only bought the new washing machine because the old one was leaking from underneath and we were told irrepairable.

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    2. Ah, well, you can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you can't take Yorkshire out of the girl!

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  13. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return. fiber laser cutting machine for metals

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