Household Cleaning Hints from Long Ago

Ah, the ‘good ‘ole days’. I love reading about these times before I entered this world. A sense of nostalgia washes over me, perhaps envying the simplicity of a quieter lifestyle. No traffic, not as much rushing, a period when life centered on family and friends. Yet, do I really wish I lived back in those days? No, not so much. Especially when I read some of these ‘helpful hints’ from old periodicals. Most were clipped from old newspapers, so I can’t credit the source or date the reference.

BBD_coal adCoal Economy: I desire to submit a recipe for economy in the use of coal. Two ounces of oxalic acid, dissolved in one-half pint boiling water, one pound of barrel salt and one gallon of water. Add to this three parts of coal ashes and one part of slack coal, mixing until as stiff as can be stirred. Put on a good fire and it becomes a coke-light mass, burning for hours and leaving very little residue.

Oh my, this sounds confusing. And messy. Oxalic acid? What is that and can you still get it? A quick internet search provided many avenues to purchase oxalic acid. Although there were enough variations, I’d be reluctant to trust which product I chose. Barrel salt? Is that different from the table salt I have? Then I get to the coal ashes – don’t have any – and the slack coal. I certainly don’t have any of that.

Then it becomes a ‘coke-light mass’? The only Coke Light I know of doesn’t have anything to do with coal or heating. Good ‘ole internet to the rescue again. The coke referenced here is a product derived from coal. It’s typically used as a fuel or in the process of producing iron. I didn’t see its weight mentioned. Evidently it’s fairly light.

Today I’ll be thankful for the new technology. I get cold … I walk over to the wall, flip a little switch, and wait for the heater to turn on. Minutes later I’m basking in the rush of warm air spilling from the little metal vents on the floor.

Cleaning Coal Smoke from Carpets: To clean carpets after they have been soiled by coal smoke, take a bucketful of warm suds, the same as you would for the furniture, add to it 10 cents worth of ether and wash the same way as you would linoleum, drying well as you go along. This will make the carpets look as good as when new. This will not fade the best of carpets.

Aha! Back to the messy part. It appears that it is a filthy heating process. It’s a good thing I’m not heating with coal, or my carpets would remain sooty and dirty. I don’t know where to get any ether. And I certainly wouldn’t know how much ten cents worth would be.

Cleaning Rusty Flat Irons: Beeswax and salt will make your rusty flat-irons as clean and smooth as glass. Tie a lump of wax into a rag and keep it for that purpose. When the irons are hot, rub them first with the wax rag, then scour with a paper or cloth sprinkled with salt.

I love the old heavy flat irons. As bookends. For ironing, I’ll keep my plug in, presto-it’s-ready electric iron.

BBD_doing laundryIroning made Easy: Dry the starched articles perfectly, then dip them in a pail of boiling water and pass them through the wringer twice. They may then be ironed at once, or they may be rolled up in a dry cloth. The fabric may be ironed with greater ease after being dampened in this way than when sprinkled in the usual manner. Turpentine in starch gives an added whiteness and luster to the ironed articles. Use one tablespoonful to a quart of starch. – Ladies Home Journal.

Pass them through the wringer twice? I’m lucky to hang my clothes immediately after drying so that I rarely need to iron anything.

A Few Suggestions: When arranging dish cupboards or pressers use the Star. Place the crow with this witty sayings and weather forecast right where you can see them. Whenever you go to them they will cheer you – when you feel dull and tired.

Huh? This little tip had me stumped. Now I’m for anything that will cheer me when I feel dull and tired. But, I’m completely perplexed as to what a Star is, especially in regards to a crow with witty sayings and a weather forecast. A Google search even failed me on this research trip. So I think I’m off in search of my own remedy for feeling dull and tired. I call it a N.A.P.




As enamored as I am with the past and the ‘good ‘ole days’, technology has invaded our lives and I have to accept it. For the most part, I’m glad. Okay, I could easily regress to the days when cell phones were not permanent attachments to everyone and we could meet friends for dinner without half of the table constantly texting or checking their Facebook page. But, overall, I do appreciate the electricity, the air conditioning, the refrigerators … and the indoor restrooms, to name just a few.

Moments arise that showcase how much technology has changed our lives.

A few nights ago I was musing over an idea for this blog while headed for bed. No – not that. No – don’t feel like writing about that. No – too much research for that subject.

BBD_Amana rag ballsRag balls! The rag balls I brought back from Iowa last week. Yes, that’s what I’ll write about. Now … where were they from?

I picked up my phone. Scrolling through pictures, I found the picture I’d taken in the antique store in Bedford where I’d discovered these fabric delights. The owner had a note explaining the basketful of rag balls. I knew I’d forget what it said. I had whipped out my phone and a snapshot later I had it all down for future reference. Which, I did indeed need.

“Amana Blue Calico … produced up until the start of WWI … no longer able to purchase dyes from Germany … factory located in main Amana …”

Perfect! Now I just needed to research Amana. Ugh. I’d already put the computer to bed in the other room. I didn’t feel like returning to the main part of the house. I didn’t want to pull the laptop out and turn it all back on. Such a hassle. I mean, after all, it would take all of two or three minutes for this whole process.

No, I don’t have to. The phone. You know that good ‘ole cell phone I was complaining about a few paragraphs ago? A little slide here, a quick tap here, a few words typed into a search engine and instantly I had more information than I needed.

It’s amazing. I thought of how it would have been, not so many years back. A great idea would pop into mind at eleven at night. No libraries open at that time of night. It would have to wait until the next day. After work I could stop by the library. And then — spend how much time searching through the card catalog? IF there was anything available. IF the library even had a book on the subject. IF it wasn’t checked out by anyone else. IF it was missing in action as library books are apt to be occasionally. Maybe a few days – or weeks – later I’d have the information I needed.

I guess I won’t be tossing this cell phone away today. Maybe I will embrace this new technology, since it makes my trips back into time easier and more productive than ever before.

The Amana Colonies in Iowa has its roots in Germany. Seeking freedom from religious persecution, the community came to America in 1843-1844. They purchased 5,000 acres near Buffalo, New York and called themselves the Ebenezer Society.

Requiring more farmland for their growing community, they moved to Iowa in 1855. Choosing the name Amana, which means to ‘remain true’, six villages were established, with a seventh village added in 1861.

Print Works Factory Amana, IAAlso in 1861, they built the Amana Calico Mill which supported the community, along with the wool mill. At its peak the calico mill produced up to 4500 yards of cotton yardage. The print factory obtained white cotton fabric from the south. The white muslin was acid-proofed and dyed in indigo vats a story high. The factory expanded to eight buildings, each one housing a different department: washing, drying, dyeing, printing, trimming, inspecting, packing, and shipping.

Calico fabrics sold for about six cents a yard at the turn of the century. Goods were sold in the Amana General Stores. Salesmen also traveled, carrying sample books with a variety of designs and colors available. Most often used for clothing, small scraps found themselves stitched into quilt pieces. Larger pieces and worn out clothing were ripped into strips and wound into rag balls to be used in woven rag rugs.

The Amana colonists obtained their indigo dyes from I.G. Farber Company in Germany. With the advent of World War I and the British naval blockade, the mill was unable to obtain the dyes necessary for their specialized prints. The factory closed down, never to create its blue dyed calicos again.

Two buildings remain that now house the Amana Furniture Shop. Meanwhile in attics, small stashes of indigo rag balls are discovered, making their way to antique stores. Three of these now reside in a new home in Texas, a remnant of the past – although it was technology that shared the history behind these three fabric spheres.


Bread and Butter Days
by Trisha Faye


Many American women quilted their way through life. Especially in the days following the Great Depression.

BBD_athelstan signThe women and girls from Athelstan, Iowa were no different. Quilts to stay warm. Quilts to bring beauty. Quilts as a community activity, joining the women together in a creative and useful activity.

When the women and young girls sat down in 1934 to create blocks with Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Bill (or Sam), I doubt they knew what would happen 80 years later, long after they were gone. Little did they know then, that a set of 30 blocks would remain together for so many years. They sat, stacked in a pile. Doris married. Doris raised a family. Doris moved to the California desert, where she died in 2005.

Families usually don’t keep all of Grandma’s possessions. Much ends up being passed along. To friends and neighbors. Local thrift stores. Local charities. Alas, much ends up in yard sales, as these quilt blocks did. One day, around 2005, I stumbled upon this set of blocks, nestled in amongst three quilt tops at a yard sale in Palm Springs, California. It took several years to discover where the names on the square originated. The names led to a small, now disincorporated, town of Athelstan, Iowa.

Another four years of talking to the Taylor County Historical Museum finally culminated in a get together at the museum. Seventy five people attended a program to view these quilt squares from the past, many of them from their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and other family members.

Stories were shared. Photographs were passed around. People met each other, hugged, chatted and shared memories.

Carol LaChapelle wrote, in Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories, “… people die twice: when they physically die, and when we stop telling stories about them.” The stories shared that day, and in the days surrounding this visit, have kept these women’s memories alive.

GAK_Leona Mae ByrnsOne of the questions (among many!) that arose was about an Athelstan quilting group. Leona Stephenson, Leona Mae Byrns at the time, was 18 months old, according to the square her mother, Eva Marie Byrns, made for her. Leona recalled her mother being in a quilting guild. That was as much as we knew at the time.

Until … Helen Janson and her daughter, Jeanne Janson walked in. Helen, the past museum director, was initially involved with discussions about bringing the quilt squares to the museum. Helen and Jeanne researched past copies of The Bedford Times Press from 1934 and found five days where the newspaper mentioned the Athelstan quilting group.

BBD_Bedford Times PressDuring the presentation, I read one of the articles, but not all of them. In the flurry of activity that afternoon I didn’t read them all, until after the program was over and everyone had gone their separate ways. Reading the other articles, I realized that I was remiss in not reading them all during the program. These little snippets are fascinating and shed a brighter light on the Athelstan women and their quilting activities.

Helen and Jeanne discovered the following snippets that show the importance that quilting played in the lives of the Iowa women in 1934. And now, more than just the people that were at the gathering can also enjoy the history of the women and this tiny town.

Thursday, September 6, 1934
FORM NEW CLUB Elect Officers – Harriett Frazier is President
A group of Athelstan ladies have formed a new club, which will be known as “The Stitch and Chatter Club”. The following officers were elected: President, Harriet Frazier; vice president, Alma Lyons; secretary, Katie Kemery; treasurer, Katie Fidler. Mrs. Frazier was hostess to the club today, September 6.     …

The ladies of Athelstan and vicinity finished the second of two quilts Friday they had pieced and quilted for the F.S. Fidler family who lost their household goods by fire recently.

Thursday, October 18, 1934
Club Knots Comforts
The Stitch and Chatter club met Thursday at the home of Mrs. Ida Bownes. The afternoon was spent in knotting comforts. Mrs. Marjorie Book became a new member of the club. Mrs. Hilda Rusco will be hostess at the next meeting.

Thursday, November 15, 1934
Club has Quilting
The Stitch and Chatter club met with Mrs. Jennie Rusco Thursday. The day was spent in quilting. Guests were Ruby Jenkins, who became a new member of the club, Mrs. O.P. Pettigrew and Ethel Sickles. The next meeting will be with Mrs. Ida King.
Donate to Church
The ladies of the Stitch and Chatter club served lunch and dinner election day, clearing twenty dollars which will be applied to the fund to repair the Athelstan Baptist Church.

Thursday, November 29, 1934
Ladies Clean Church
The ladies of the Stitch and Chatter club, who had the Athelstan Baptist church repaired recently, met Tuesday afternoon and again Friday and cleaned the church.
Club Has Quilting
The Stitch and Chatter club met at the home of Violet Woods Thursday. Fourteen members were present. The afternoon was spent in quilting. An all day meeting will be held at the home of Bess Rusco, Friday Nov. 30.

Thursday, December 13, 1934
Mrs. Rusco Entertains
The Stitch and Chatter club met at the home of Bess Rusco, Thursday, Dec. 6. The day was spent in quilting. Verne Books and Mrs. J.D. Brown were guests. Mrs. Ruby Treece will be the next hostess.

Many thanks to Helen and Jeanne Janson for their time in researching this and adding this piece of history to the story of the people of Athelstan.


Bread and Butter Days
by Trisha Faye

Flora diary_outside coverFlora Cardwell Luper wrote in her diary. Religiously. Every day.

At least from 1948 to 1952 she did. Flora had a five year diary and she wrote every single day. If she wrote that consistently for five years, I assume she did for others. But, unfortunately, I don’t have those diaries.

I do have the one she used during this five year period. I fortuitously discovered it 38 years after her death. Her last entry was 62 years ago. Somehow, her words have survived. Flora’s penmanship outlived her.

Flora didn’t move very far in her life. She was born in Springdale, Arkansas on August 29, 1893. She married Alvin Luper on April 15, 1917. They had four children: Thord (b. June 8, 1918), Marjorie (b. 1920), Wade (b. 1921), and Dorothy – called Dot (b. November 23, 1929). Flora died August 13, 1976 and is buried in Stuckey Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She lies next to Al, her husband that followed her in death seven months later (March 9, 1977).

Most of the journal entries documenting Flora’s daily life are mundane. She did wash. She sewed. She ironed. Coupled with ohter fascinating bits and pieces, this little book tells the story of the life of an average housewife over sixty years ago. She tells the prices she got for her milk and eggs, what she paid for her new range, how much she paid for an electric bill, what she did in the crops, how much she made from the factory, who came for dinner, and what they had. She also mentions when she and Al had an evening out at The Ozark, a local Fayetteville theater that doesn’t exist anymore.

Here are a few entries from March 1948 that share what was happening in Flora’s life then.

Flora diary_journal entriesMarch 4, 1948 Cold today. Wind blowing. Ice. W.M.U. meets with me today for luncheon. No mail. Had good meeting. Ola left her purse.

March 8, 1948 Bad weather again. The horses got out. Went to Stamper’s. Sold my eggs to Leo Ball. 40¢ per. doz. Rode to the store with Loy. Back with Lynn.

March 12, 1948 Cold this morn. Apples froze in the cellar. Al gone to work. Saw no one today. Cold and bad weather. Sewed some. Tea towels. Al about sick with cold.

March 21, 1948 Electric off for about 5 hrs. Dot left at 12:05. We had roast beef, hot rolls, ice cream and chocolate pie for dinner. Aunt Lizzie Nolan & family came this eve. Rainy and warm today.

March 23, 1948 Al hauled the men today. Rained last night. Sun trying to shine today. I’ve washed kitchen curtains. Mildred & I went to Springdale. Ate with Mozelli Graham and Aunt Lizzie. Came home, ironed my clothes.

March 26, 1948 Went to the factory at 7 with Al. Worked in the spinach from 8 to 4:30. Ate with Joy. An old dog got my dinner. Cool today. Ross has new truck.

March 30, 1948 Stormed a little late today. Al stayed home to make garden today. Tied some grapes. Planted peas, potatoes, lettuce, radish, onions, strawberries, corn.


Flora diary_inside coverA little sleuthing revealed some additional information about some of the people Flora mentioned.

The W.M.U. meeting on March 4th was a women’s auxiliary of the New Hope Baptist Church, in Johnson, Arkansas. Ola, who left her purse at Flora’s, was married to Tom Rothrock, the Sunday School superintendent. Ola died the following year, 1949, and is buried in Bluff Cemetery in Springdale.

On March 8th, Flora went to the Stamper’s. Nellie Stamper was also very involved with the church. Nellie Stamper at one time was elected to the nominating committee for deacons. Mrs. Stamper, along with Mrs. Rothrock, was also on a committee to take pledges for the Church fund. Nellie is also buried at Bluff Cemetery in Springdale.

Leo Ball, who bought eggs from Flora, died January 7, 1997, and is also buried in Stuckey Cemetery in Fayetteville. Leo retired from the Fayetteville Public School Maintenance Department.

There’s more to read. More people to try to track down. There’s lots more to discover about this woman from the past. It’s like a treasure hunt, looking for pieces and trying to fit them all together. For now, I’ll celebrate this little slice of life that she left behind.