Water, water everywhere -- it must be laundry day

One of my favorite quotes from my years of covering city government in Carson City came from former Carson City Public Works Director Dorothy Timian Palmer who said "Water is not like flour and sugar. You can't just go down to the store and buy it when you need it."

She would say this often in her battles with the city supervisors who had to spend money to purchase water rights so Carsonites and their lawns would not be thirsty.

In a Wall Street Journal column Dec. 11, Cynthia Crossen said the average American uses between 50 and 100 gallons of water a day.

In 1900, 103 years ago, the average person used 5 gallons a day except to wash laundry.

When I was little, about 3 years old or so, I thought doing laundry meant it was time to mop the floor, which meant it was time to swear.

To do a load of wash, according to Crossen's column, it took about 50 gallons of water carried by a bucket that held fewer than 3 gallons -- now, that's a real reason to swear. Crossen said a 19th century housewife walked 148 miles a year and carrying 36 tons -- 72,000 pounds of water.

Hard to complain about doing the laundry now, eh?

Crossen's column quoted a Nevada housewife who described laundry as "the Herculean task which women all dread."

Another woman Crossen found on Robert Caro's Web site said "You know, I swore I would never be bent like my mother, and then I got married, and the first time I had to do the wash I knew I was going to look exactly like her by the time I was middle-aged."

Today's 3.2-cubic-foot, button-pushing, electric, plumbed, over-sized washing machines use about the same amount of water assuming you wash and rinse in two cycles -- a 3.2-cubic-foot machine holds 23.9 gallons of water.

In the late 1960s, when mom was washing diapers and pinafores in lower Gold Hill, she used a variety of models -- some better than others.

"We had one with an agitator on the side. The agitator went around in circles," Mom said. "It ate the buttons off of everything and tied everything in knots.

"Then we had one with an agitator in the middle and a spinner -- it ate my black onyx ring with the diamond in the middle.

"Then we had the pink one. "

Lee Maxwell, of the Antique Washing Machine Museum in Eaton, Colo., said "that's quite a foxy looking machine."

According to his Web site: www.oldewash.com/, the pink machine was a Kenmore. Lee said Whirlpool made the machine just like it makes all Kenmores even today.

Maxwell is a retired electrical engineering professor who once taught at Colorado State University. He said the pink machine is a little to young to be one of his favorites.

It was electric, made in 1955, had a porcelain tub, a gyrator and was sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

"Pat Hart bought that one for me," Mom said. "It was great for a while. We could do laundry in the kitchen. Then it started to leak and we had to laundry outside. It was cold. Never did find out where it was leaking from."

When the machine sprang its leak, Mom would mop up after it and she must have uttered an epithet or two. For one day while carrying a bucket of water for tea with my dolls or some such diversion of 3-year-old style, I spilled.

Mom says I grabbed the dish towel and began to wipe up my mess saying the "S" word over and over.

Which brings me back to the water-use issue.

Crossen's column said the biggest differences between now and then are daily baths, the toilet and lawns.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal.


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