When washing clothes became a motorized adventure in Branch

Marina Gambin
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Growing up in Branch in the 50s and 60s, I knew no luxuries in our little community. We did not realize the convenience of electricity until 1965.

Marina Gambin

But in 1958, we had a gasoline washing machine. We purchased it on the budget plan from the Great Eastern Oil Co. As I recall, we were probably one of the last families to buy a washer.

So, when ours arrived and was subsequently set up, my older sister and I proudly trotted down the lane to the shop to purchase the necessary gallon of gasoline for less than twenty-five cents. I can still see my sister Jean swinging that gasoline can so that everyone around could plainly see that we were now the owners of a coveted washer. No more scrubbing on a rough washboard or twisting our wrists wringing water out of woolen blankets. Proud as peacocks we were. No matter that we still did not yet have running water or indoor bathroom facilities.

A noisy, dancing beast

The washer itself was a monster of a machine. It was started (not easily) by means of a hand pulley, and once it got going, it made a noise comparable to the engine room of a boat.

What intrigued us most the first time we used it was how it danced all over the kitchen floor. My baby brother, who was in his crib at the time, almost went into convulsions.

How we solved the problem of the moving washer now escapes my memory, but it was eventually immobilized. Once we got the hang of operating the machine, we could fill three clotheslines quite proficiently in jig time. Wash day was a continuous parade of boiling water on the wood stove, dumping it into the washer, pumping it out, filling it up with the rinse water and so on.

A demon invention

I’ll never forget the combination of steam and gasoline that often wafted through our bungalow on the Hill. We did not mind the labour because we were moving into the age of modern times and we were not about to complain.

During those wash days, the novelty of passing the clothes through the wringer and watching the agitator churn up the foamy Rinso or Surf, completely captured everyone’s attention. All the youngsters in the family waited their turn to pass something through the wringer under the watchful eye of someone older. Exciting days, those first few weeks of the new machine!

But enough about the mechanics. Before he passed away in 2001, I asked my elderly father if he remembered our gas washer.

“Indeed I do," he said. “The first time we used it outdoors that summer, it made such a racket that Uncle Jack’s mare ran away and broke down every fence on the Hill and nearly killed Aunt Lucy Ann. She called it a demon invention, the devil’s own creation.”

I can’t remember how often we used that washer each week, but I know the whole fiasco was quite the adventure for the first summer. Toward the coming of fall, the novelty had worn off, we were all sick of the washer and everyone tried to pass the job to someone else.

Today, my older siblings fondly remember the gas washer episode and the summer we were initiated into the world of household machinery.

— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at marinagambin@persona.ca

Organizations: Great Eastern Oil Co.

Geographic location: Placentia

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