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By Pat Mestern
December 3, 2005

Production of household appliances came to a standstill during the Second World War. All factories and materials were needed for the manufacture of supplies for the war effort, leaving little for what were considered less necessary items such as washing machines, stoves and refrigerators. As parts for appliances became scarce, and machines broke down, women resorted to the “old-fashioned” way of cooking and washing. Wash tubs and scrub boards were resurrected. Wood burning stoves reigned supreme in country, and some urban kitchens as wood was easier to obtain than coal. No one complained openly about the lack of modern appliances. But there must have been some “rattling” in government circles that all was not clean on the western front because by June 1943, the Wartime Prices & Trade Board, decided that washing machines could once again be manufactured.

How about this for propaganda? Talk about today’s spin doctors. They have nothing on the pens that scribbled for “Victory”, Beatty Bros. Ltd’s war-time in-house magazine. In an effort to convince workers that it was now important and acceptable to manufacture washing machines, they wrote:

The men and women who work in our factories have demonstrated their patriotism in a hundred ways. They respond liberally to every patriotic appeal which is presented to them. They make themselves responsible for the efficient conduct of all kinds of patriotic organizations. They buy War Savings Stamps and Victory Bonds. They pay taxes on a scale equal to that of the heavily taxed British. And they give their children, brothers, sisters and dear ones in record breaking numbers to every branch of the armed forces. The employees of other factories are doing the same.

Men and women who do all this are entitled to a clean shirt - or blouse. But women haven’t time, nor energy, to wash dirty clothes on a wash board. As it is, in our cities, they have to neglect their children to fill the ranks of workers needed to such an extent that child delinquency has become a national problem.

The need for washing machines is so great that our Government has asked four of the manufacturers who formerly made them, to turn out 12,000, and they want us to make 9,000 of them. We know that our men will consider it a worthy part of their war effort to co-operate in turning them out. They are broad-minded in their patriotism. The morale building value of clean clothes is very great, and in total war civilian morale is as important to maintain as soldier morale.

To be able to once again purchase a Beatty washing machine after using a scrub board must have been heaven-on-earth for work-weary housewives. I can’t imagine scrubbing on a board but I can remember as a very young child, seeing grandmother taking a round out of dirty clothes on a man-sized scrub board that resided in a huge galvanized tub emblazoned with the “Beatty” name which sat on a wooden tub- stand emblazoned with the name “Beatty Bros Ltd.”

Just before mother married in 1939, one of her acquisitions was a brand new Beatty “green” washing machine that she nicknamed “Green Nellie”. Until the early 1960's that machine had a place of honour in the bathroom. Every washday, and no one knew when that was as it changed from day-to-day, week-to-week in our house, the machine would be dragged into the kitchen, hooked up to the taps and washing would begin. With six in the family there were piles of laundry to do. A long clothes line ran from the side porch to the barn at the back of the property. To facilitate easy hanging, dad devised a long, narrow door at the end of the enclosed porch which opened to allow clothes-on-line to pass through. Mother simply opened the door, stood in the relative comfort of the porch, hung her clothes on the line then trundled them through the opening. Voila, fewer frozen fingers when winter winds howled. Problem was that the line crossed the drive and dad always managed to park his car right under it on washday. Care had to be taken that very short clothes were hung in strategic places.

No-one but mother was allowed near the washing machine, not that dad would have taken up washing clothes, heaven forbid. The machine was her “baby”. She alone knew its eccentricities, one of them being a temperamental wringer that used to fly apart at the drop of a hat. When it “blew” parts flew around the kitchen like missiles.

I felt sorry for mother. After returning to work, she had to fit household drudge into a busy schedule. She was so tired that it didn’t seem right she should work so hard. One autumn day, when I wasn’t quite twelve-years-old and at home with laryngitis, I decided to do the laundry. I’d seen how hoses were hooked up to the taps, how the drain hose was hooked over the sink. I knew what the levers did. I’d seen her duck flying wringer parts. What could be so difficult about washing clothes? I’d surprise mother and have everything on the line by the time she came home for lunch.

First things first; wrestle the machine into the kitchen. Boy, was that green sucker ever heavy! But to the kitchen “Nellie” was trundled. With all hoses hooked up and the tub filled with hot water, I went looking for laundry. First, strip the beds. That produced ten sheets and fourteen pillow cases because I “attacked” grandmother’s bed too. Then I sorted through the clothes hamper - small items in one pile, large items in another.

The first wash, a load of sheets went smoothly. No big deal I thought as I dragged the heavy basket across the floor and into the porch. The second load, sheets again, gave the first problem. As the wash water was pumping out - I had to fill the tub with cold rinse water - the drain hose leapt out of the kitchen sink and hot, soapy water flowed - everywhere. Ah, well, the floor needed washing, didn’t it? The mess took a bit of mopping.

With the second load done, and the third load started, it was off to the clothesline again. By the time I got everything hung, the line looked as though it was full. How could that be when I had another two loads to hang? I will never forget the third load! All went well until it came time to put the clothes through the wringer. The first piece, a pair of heavy work pants blew the wringer. It sprung and parts flew everywhere. One of them winged across the room, bounced across the table and shattered a sugar bowl. Another whizzed past my head and hit the wall. Who needed a wringer anyway? The clothes were clean. I’d just hang them dripping wet. The sun would take care of the rest.

Two pair of pants hung and the line was full. My choices were the empty top line - or grandmother’s clothesline across the drive. But the basket was heavy. What was needed was a step ladder! Up and down the ladder I went. Move the ladder - get a piece of clothing - up the ladder - down the ladder - move the ladder - get a piece of clothing - up the ladder - until I could no longer reach the top line as it climbed higher - up to the barn’s wall. The fourth load was no problem except that all the light-coloured clothing were now a pretty pink colour due to the fact that a red-plaid child’s skirt was in the same load. I wasn’t sure how dad would react to pink underwear but at that point, I really didn’t care. These “pinkies” were hung on the bottom line, over the sheets.

Boy, was I proud of that wash job! I could hardly wait for mother to come home to see what I’d done. Grandmother arrived before mother, assessed the situation and quickly went into action. She sent me up and down the ladder to remove all the clothes from the top line, while she gathered the parts and deftly rebuilt the wringer. Dripping wet clothes were removed from the bottom line, put through the wringer and pinned on grandmother’s line. We mopped the floor again, tidied the kitchen and pushed the washing machine back into the bathroom. Grandmother and I were so tired by the time we’d finished that she said she would need an afternoon nap. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had to make her bed first because her sheets were on the line too.

Mother was thrilled when she saw the clothes on the line. I’m not sure that she knew about the mess I got myself into because I didn’t tell her. If grandmother did, to her credit, mother never let on that she knew. She did wonder where her sugar bowl went. The next time “Green Nellie” was pulled into the kitchen, mother showed me how to adjust the wringer, how to listen for the first indication that it was going to blow and how to put it back together again if it did. I saved my pennies and bought a new sugar bowl for her birthday, this time a metal one just in case the wringer decided to strike again.



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