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Hand-Powered Washing Machine Collection
For the past 25 years, Dorothy Riebel has been collecting old-time washing machines and other related paraphernalia. She displays her amazing collection every year at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show near LeSueur, Minn.
  "My old time collection provides a good learning experience, especially for teenagers who may have never seen this equipment before," says Riebel. "Many people say they remember their mother or grandmother owning one piece of equipment or another. Other people just say they're glad they don't have to do it this way any more."
  Besides washing machines, the collection includes irons, ironing boards, wash boards, clothes washing detergent, clothes line racks, and even toy washing machines designed for doll clothes.
  Most of the washing machines on display date to the late 1800's or early 1900's. All of them are hand-powered. "I don't display machines with motors because they're too heavy to handle," she says.
  Her collection got its start with a wooden Dexter washing machine. "My husband Bob and I found the machine sitting in the woods at a friend's place. It was covered with moss and dirt and the lid was missing, but it still had the brass plaque with the manufacturer's name on it. Two years went by before I decided to clean it up and restore it. Then word of mouth spread that I was collecting old washing machines, and people started giving them to me.
  "At the same time I started collecting anything that had to do with old time clothes washing."
  Many of the washing machines are equipped with hand cranks that are used to rock a basket inside the tub back and forth. Some have wringers attached to them. One called the Rockette doesn't have a wringer. Instead, you swing the basket up out of the water so the water can drain out. Then you rinse the clothes in a tub and wring the clothes out by hand.
  One machine is equipped with a wooden half barrel and a mechanical metal wheel, with a "dasher" inside the barrel. As you push and pull on a handle it causes the dasher to go back and forth as well as up and down.
  Then there's the "stomper." It consists of a metal funnel with a handle on top and was used to wash big, heavy items like rugs, jackets, and men's overalls. "People would put two or three 5-gal. pails of soapy water into a tub. The up-and-down action of the stomper would create a vacuum and suck dirt out of the rug or jacket. "Montgomery Ward sold a stomper they called the Vacuum Washer, and there was another one named the Rapid Washer," says Riebel.
  One of her favorite irons is a coal-fired model with a "chimney" at each end. You removed a lid from the top and filled it either with hot coals from a wood stove or charcoal from a fireplace, which heated a "sole plate" at the base of the iron. The iron had openings on the side that created a draft to keep the coal burning. As the coal burned it heated the sole plate.  
  The toy washing machines were used mostly by children of wealthier families, says Ribel. One called the "Sunny Susan" has a wringer attached to one side. You could remove the lid to put doll clothes and water inside, then turn a handle on one side, which caused a dasher to go around and around and also up and down. "It sold new for $5. Nowdays at auctions it sells for up to $100," notes Riebel.
  Most of her washboards are made from metals such as brass or zinc because they don't rust. Others are made from glass or enamel. She has different kinds of soap with names such as Oxydol, Duz, Dreft, and Surf, as well as glass bottles of Hilex bleach.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dorothy Riebel, 27548 376th St., LeSueur, Minn. 56058 (ph 507 665-2868; email: dbriebel @prairie.lakes.com).

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2005 - Volume #29, Issue #2