CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Homestead Series Make Your Own Laundry Soap

If you remember the 1950's , advertisements for laundry products inundated the lives of women . The shelf full of products awaited all manner of special treatment situations. The ads made every women feel guilty or inadequate for not treating the laundry by their new scientific methods- a field in which women were most often uneducated and uninformed.

Remember when Cheer became blue . Some new formula that would get your clothes whiter and brighter . Nothing new really. They just took the Blueing which was used in the first rinse of wringer washing methods and put it into the box - to be convenient for the new automatic machines.

What's blueing you ask? Cubes of compressed washing soda with a synthetic blue dye added. The blue was an optical illusion to make the whites 'seem' whiter. The washing soda alone with the soap did the work.

To make the laundry even cleaner some borax was added to soften the water making more room for dirt in the water.

Filler was added to give weight and bulk . It made you seem like you were getting more cleaning power .Not really . The filler could be peanut shells sawdust or other ground plant fibre . They did serve another purpose...to absorb the oils and grease that the soap and soda released into the water. Although , the oils would not get stuck in the clothes again as they were already stuck on the soap molecules .

And that fresh clean scent that tries but never really does very well in imitating nature . Perfumes . Only the clothesline puts in the scent you are looking for. Although , for a few decades , people lost touch with the smell of fresh air caught in the laundry and couldn't recognize it . The company told them what nature smelled like ..

What of all those beautiful clouds of suds ? Quite simply...more special effects . Sudsing agents had nothing to do with the cleaning of clothes. They just made the chore prettier to do . A little glycerin added to the mix made the suds last longer. Most people washed until the suds collapsed . Suds that lasted longer meant that the clothes would be agitated longer before the collapse. The agitation did the work not the suds.

When you take away the additions , you are left with what you see in the video .

Much of the time , Mum purchased laundry detergent based on the free gift in the box . Hand towels , facecloths and glasses made their way into the house via the detergent box . People eventually complained that they were being cheated as the items took up too much room . Really the space sacrificed was 'peanuts' and amounted to one load on average since you had to use so much anyway .

Probably an evil rumour started by soap companies to increase their profit margin . We were better off with the free gift in the box .

Check for videos of those magical laundry detergents from your early days . They are a real laugh now.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sorting The Laundry

Wash Day was a big work day at the CPR section House . It started at 8:00am every Saturday morning . Our incentive , besides clean clothes , was going to the movies on Saturday afternoon after the last load was hung up on the clothesline. Movie time was 1:00pm. It was a tight window , but under Mum's tutelage , we made it most times.

Everyone woke up Saturday morning , stripped beds and gathered their dirty clothes. From the top of the stairs , we tossed the armfuls down the stairs into a huge pile at the bottom. When all was collected , Sis and I would descend to the fourth step , then leap into the huge mound .A pile of anything 'cushy' was always worth jumping into.

Washing was done in the back porch. But the all important key to successful laundry was the sorting . That was done on the kitchen floor.

Since everything was made of cotton or wool ,  the process was relatively uncomplicated .

The first sort was by colour: whites , reds , colours , darks .
Woolens were put into a separate pile no matter the colour .
Dad's work clothes also had separate treatment.

The second sort was to separate each of those piles into weight: heavy , medium and light.

The third sort was by amount.
If there was not enough laundry to make a load , the medium and light weight piles were combined .
If a pile contained too much , the pile was made into two smaller piles.

The fourth sort was by order of washing. Since the washer water always started with the hottest water possible , the laundry had to be separated into what piles were to be washed hot .
The other piles then were sectioned into medium heat ( second wash in the same water ) and cool ( third wash in the same water ).
Each pile ended in its temperature row , fully sorted , ready to wash .

Sis and I got so good at sorting , that the stage of gathering and sorting took no more than a half hour. We learned early that washing took a lot less time that way .

Saturday, August 20, 2011

When Washing was Green- Arr-rgh!

With all the talk of clotheslines being the 'green' way to dry clothes , I began to wonder if the way in which the laundry was washed would catch on . Are women/men willing to go 'green-er' ?

When Mum was in Tabarette and Snake Creek , and even in the earlier days in Mattawa , laundry was a green process. No electric/gas wringer washer . Just a laundry tub , scrub board , bar of soap and a clothesline . Using water heated on the woodstove (which had a pot of beans  baking in the oven ).

 That precious washing water was used three times : hot , medium and cool , before it was discarded to the gravel outside or used to scrub the outhouse . Rinse water at the end of the process found floors to wash . Then the bar of Sunlight soap made its way back to the kitchen for other uses .

As the amount of laundry increased exponentially with each child , the tub and board shifted first to a gas operated wringer washer and then an electric one. We learned to do laundry with the electric wringer washer , Sis and I .

 At the time , I resented my brother having little to do with the process except in the making dirty laundry . 'Boys don't do laundry!" Mum declared . He was just a lump in the carriage when Dad was Mum's primary laundry assistant in Larchwood . He rarely saw Dad in that position since Dad out of the house most of the time .

 I do recall that Mum did get him to carry a basket or pail once in a while when he got big enough- praising his efforts . But it didn't catch on with him . Roles became narrowly defined once Sis and I were old enough to take on household work .

 Dad's major domestic role was cooking breakfast every Saturday morning for the family . Bacon and eggs became a ritual with all the flare and glory of 'haute cuisine'- including accolades to the chef . 'Well , I bring home the bacon after all .'~ author unknown ( but oft quoted in early , 'green-er' times).

Arr-rgh ! I do prefer the more modern definition of green . So do my boys .

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Perfect Day

I have always been a fan of clotheslines . It was a major element of laundry day when I was growing up. There were no alternatives for us. What was a clothes dryer? The folding wooden rack used in winter to thaw and dry frozen clothes next to the wood stove . Salt in the second rinse water didn't always work .  Or the line , stretched out from the clothesline stand pole out back to the pole at the edge of the bush .

Every time Laundry Day approached - yes, there was an assigned day when using a wringer washer and rinse tubs- we would look to the skies  and cross our fingers for the 'Perfect Day'.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sidetracked :TrainTalk TV

The folks at http://www.trha.ca/ posted this gem for railfans everywhere .

http://www.traintalk.tv/  is out of Calgary,Alberta ( Neil Enock ) . It is full of information and enjoyment for everyone with a connection to the railroad.

Train Talk TV has been in operation for a full year now so I am sure from what I have seen that they are here to stay . Of course , this is 'with a little help from their friends'.

After checking the blogs I follow , I realized it has been a while since I pointed out Eric's blog out of Kingston ,Ontario . Check it out as well . There are plenty of photos and articles and stories for rail fans there .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Major Attraction

There are many things you can do in your yard to attract wildlife . At the Mattawa CPR section house , there were no gardens and hiding places for animals immediately around the building . Yet , critters wandered out of the bush on a regular basis and spent time visiting a major attraction right beside the house : the clothesline pole .

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Sure Sign That Winter's Coming

August in the CPR section house brought the first sign of winter : a huge pile of firewood .

Clipart from
  Prior to delivery Dad would hitch a chain to the current abandoned car and haul it away .With the newest old car in the lead , the backseat full of kids and Mum or the neighbour's teenager steering the abandoned car , we headed to the junkyard to deposit the most recent metal 'car-cass'.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Birchbark Baskets and Porcupine Quills

Here is my small collection of birchbark baskets decorated with the quills of those spring time visitors . Porcupine quills are black and white but can be easily dyed ...it is a hair after all . Sweetgrass is often used to finish the edges of baskets . Each of these baskets holds a memory inside as well as those memories of where, when and how it came to me .

Porcupines, Porcupine Pictures, Porcupine Facts - National Geographic

Porcupines, Porcupine Pictures, Porcupine Facts - National Geographic

When we lived at the CPR section house in Mattawa , porcupines were a common sight in the spring . Inevitably , April would bring one to sit on the pole that supported our clothesline . It made hanging up laundry on warming spring days exciting with a porcupine about four feet above our heads .

Luckily , porcupines do not...I repeat ' DO NOT ' throw their quills or we would have looked like pin cushions . After a few days , we would wake up to find the porcupine had vacated its perch during the night until next year .

A few years ago , an old Ojibwe man told me that after the winter , this prickly animal will find a high place and fast for a few days before beginning its new seasonal diet . You may have seen a few on your travels at the very tops of trees in the early spring in Canada and the United States .

Check out the National Geographic link for a wonderful photo and map in their very informative article.