Drying laundry on the line and recycling wash water

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Last week, I described the washing and rinsing process with a washing machine, including how rinse water was saved for use in the next washer load.

You may ask the question, “Was water so expensive, or so scarce, in 1950 that it justified saving it for reuse in more than one washing machine load?”

Well, I think that back then people just didn’t like to waste anything. Present washers use around 13 gallons per load; 20 years ago, they used 40 gallons or more per load.

Washers were far more common than electric or gas clothes dryers in those days. By the mid-fifties, only around 10 percent of all homes had dryers, so the next step after passing clothes through the wringer was the clothesline.

Most people who had a washer also had an outdoor clothesline. Ours was quite sturdy. Daddy made the poles and the cross arms from 2-inch diameter steel pipe. Instead of using cotton rope, as was the usual line material, he used aluminum wire, which could be tightened to a no-sag tension. The poles were set in concrete, so they stayed vertical.

A couple of asides about clotheslines and wastewater from washing machines: I owned a duplex in Macon, Georgia in the early sixties. One of my tenants arrived with clothesline poles, still encased in concrete on the moving van when it came in from Charlotte. You guessed it. The company he worked for was paying for the move.

When we moved to Phoenix from Newburg, New York, the move was on me. I took advantage of a special post office rate to cut my moving cost. No, I didn’t mail my clothesline poles. But we did have a lot of books, and they traveled not on the moving van with the furniture, but I mailed them at the special book rate that the Post Office Department (as it was known then) had in effect.

While living in Macon, I bought a house that did not have washer and dryer connections in it. I had no problem in running water and electricity to the utility room, which was part of a detached but convenient garage. I realized that tapping into the drain system to get rid of the wastewater from the washer (automatic, not wringer) would be a problem, given my plumbing skill level.

I opted to ignore the plumbing code and use the wastewater to irrigate a part of our large backyard. Daughter Meagan was an infant at that time. We used home-laundered cloth diapers for her, which meant about a washer load per day just to satisfy her needs.

You cannot believe how the irrigation water, enriched by diaper effluent and the high-phosphate detergent (which is a fertilizer-type material) made the grass grow! I could barely push the gas lawnmower through it on Saturday afternoons.

And one final hose bib story. We lived in Gaffney, South Carolina, from 1968 through 1970. Now, I don’t want you to think that people in small towns (Gaffney had around 13,000 people in 1970, about the same as its present population) had nothing better to do but keep up with everyone else’s business. But soon after moving to Gaffney, I went into the local hardware stores one Saturday afternoon, taking Meagan with me. After I bought a hose bib, some plumbing fittings and a few electrical supplies, the clerk casually asked me, with my name unknown to him, “Are you putting washer and dryer connections in the front end of your garage? You did buy the Goodwin house, didn’t you?”

There is an explanation. My wife had been into the store a few days prior with both young daughters in tow, one of whom the clerk recognized when he saw her with me. And, of course, everybody in Gaffney knew that the Goodwin house didn’t have washer and dryer connections in it as originally built, so he knew what my weekend project had to be.

Next week: Wash days in the city and country.

Henry Croom is an 83-year-old former Wilsonian. He graduated from Charles L. Coon High School in 1951 and N. C. State in 1955. He lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and occasionally writes of his boyhood recollections of growing up in Wilson. This is the fifth installment of a seven-column series on “laundry,” although he does wander away from that subject in a few places. Reach him at hcroom@msn.com.