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Skills For "Living The Era"

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by LizzieMaine, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Living the so-called "vintage lifestyle" requires a set of skills that have largely disappeared from the Modern World. This is a thread for exchanging hints, tips, and advice involving these skills -- share what you know and tell how you do it!

    For starters, here's how to defrost a refrigerator. You'll need to know how to do this if you own a "vintage" fridge, and you'll need to do it regularly. There's a right way and a wrong way, and the wrong way could ruin your refrigerator.

    The wrong way, first, involves any sharp instrument -- an awl, an ice pick, a screwdriver, a knife. Do not -- ever, under any circumstances -- punch or chip at the frost on the freezer compartment with such an implement. If you puncture the metal freezing coil -- even just a little nick -- you'll let out the refrigerant gas, and then you've got a Big Problem.

    To properly defrost a fridge, take everything out of the refrigerator, and put a dishpan or enamel refrigerator pan under the freezer compartment. Turn off the thermostat and unplug the AC cord. It's also helpful to put some newspapers down on the kitchen floor to soak up any water. Wear rubber soled shoes, for reasons which will become apparent in a moment.

    Take a hand-held hair dryer -- a common blow dryer, vintage or modern, will work fine. (Blow driers and electric "heat guns" existed as early as the 1920s, and were commonly used in the Era for such household chores.) Direct the heat from the dryer at the edge of the freezer compartment and move it along until you see bare metal, completely free of ice, all along the edge. Do this along both the inside and outside edges -- if you have inner shelves for ice trays, etc, play the heat along these as well.

    Take a thin wooden stick -- a Chinese chopstick works well -- and whittle it to a thin screwdriver-like edge. Insert it carefully into the gap you've opened up with the heat along the edge of the compartment and pry gently - don't try to pry the frost off all at once, you're just loosening it. Eventually pieces will come off, first off the inner shelves of the freezer. Drop them in the dishpan or toss them in the sink to melt.

    Keep going around with the heat gun, and be especially careful to melt the ice along the capillary tube at the rear of the freezer compartment -- you want to make sure the ice doesnt get hung up on this. Keep cycling the heat and the gentle prying with the stick and you'll feel the outside frost come off in a big chunk. Let it drop into the dishpan, and you can either dump it int he sink to melt (helping it along with hot water) or you can just toss it out into the dooryard.

    Wipe out the inside of the fridge with paper towels and a bit of Lysol to sanitize, and leave the door open until everything has dried out. Put the shelves and your food back inside, turn on the thermostat to the proper setting, plug it back in, and you're done.

    If you follow these instructions carefully, the whole job shouldn't take more than half an hour. Do it every three months or so, and you'll be fine.
  2. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    And for those who "vintage live" the earlier end of the Era, here's How To Live With An Ice Refrigerator.

    The biggest obstacle to owning and using an icebox is the lack of ice delivery in the Modern Era. Unless you have a relative who works for an ice company, you'll be buying your ice at the grocery store in blocks. A smaller icebox (the size of the one in the Kramdens' apartment) will need at least two five pound blocks of ice or one ten pound block every second day (in the summer) or every third day (in the winter.) A bigger icebox will, naturally, require more ice. The general rule of thumb is to get as much ice into the ice compartment as you can fit, and you want to use solid blocks because they last far longer and are less messy than bagged cubes.

    It'll be tempting to leave the blocks in the plastic bags they come in at the store, but don't. This keeps the melt water from running down the drainpipe at the back of the box, and the drainage is an important part of what keeps the box cold. You want to wrap your ice in a single layer of newspaper to help it last longer without impeding the water flow. The drainpipe must be kept clean and clear at all times -- between icings, it's a good idea to pour some diluted Lysol down the drainpipe to prevent the growth of any mildew or mold. Be sure your drip pan is in place before doing this, because you don't want it running all over the floor.

    The drip pan can be any low-profile dishpan or enamel tray. A metal pan is easier to manage than a plastic one -- it's rigid when it's full of water, not wobbly, and a wobbly drip pan is very easy to spill.

    Check the drip pan twice a day, before breakfast and after supper, and empty as needed. Swab it out with Lysol regularly to keep it from getting smelly. In the summer, you might put a scrap piece of old window screen over it to keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in he water between emptyings.

    Inspect the box regularly for leaks -- if the drain pipe is clogged, the water can ooze into the wood framing of the box and cause rot. Bathroom caulk can seal any danger spots if your icebox doesn't have a porcelain lining.

    Inspect the door latches regularly and oil as needed to keep them working smoothly -- and be sure there's a good seal between the door and the box. If the gaskets are bad -- or gone -- rubber weatherstripping of the correct thickness can be installed to keep the doors tightly sealed.

    An icebox isn't as daunting as it sounds. I lived with one for almost a year and a half, and never had anything spoil. Keep in mind that an icebox won't generally hold as much as a refrigerator, so you'll need to get used to shopping more frequently and buying fewer things to keep. And there are actually *advantages* to using an icebox -- because the cold is moisture-based, you won't need a crisper tray to keep your vegetables fresh.

    Keep a thermometer in the icebox to ensure the temperature remains around 45 degrees at all times. Re-ice as needed to keep the temperature around that point.

    If you need ice cubes, chip them off the ice block with an icepick. Score a cube shape at the point you want to chip and tap the pick along that scoring with a tack hammer until the cube separates. Repeat as needed.
  3. My mom used to put these big pots of boiling water in the freezer section to melt the frost.
  4. Flicka

    Flicka One Too Many

    I always did it the way my mother taught me: by putting in pans of hot water (we didn't have a hair dryer when I grew up). Still do it that way with the freezer. Takes slightly longer than half an hour - about an hour I'd bet.
  5. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The pan plan works best when there isn't a lot of frost buildup -- if you have a small freezer compartment, big enough only to hold two ice trays and a bag of frozen peas, as is almost universally the case with prewar refrigerators, it's pretty much impossible to get a decent-sized pan of water into the compartment when there's a significant layer of buildup. If you've got a two-door fridge, such as were common in the postwar era, or one with a full-width freezer compartment, the pan method works fine -- except for taking longer.
  6. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    So... apparently waiting for winter, putting everything on the porch in a box, stuffing towels in the bottom of the fridge and freezer, and propping the door open overnight isn't an acceptable method?

  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    You can do it that way if you have time to contemplate the endless progression of the melt.

    I keep my food in the washing machine when I'm defrosting -- the ice cubes keep things cold for the half-hour or so the job takes.
  8. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    That's actually a good idea and then you can drain it out. The only downfall with the porch method is if animals decide to have lunch. Then you must place your food in a bag in a tree. Although, one of our neighbors used to have a cold spring and would put the food in a box in the spring during the summer.
  9. wahine

    wahine Practically Family

    Lower Saxony, Germany
    What a wonderful idea! I will try to keep that in mind for my next defrosting.
    Once I had to wait for a new fridge when mine was broken. I kept my food in a bag on the window sill - it worked quite well. But it was winter and it was only for a few days. I had to defrost my milk only once. :D
  10. LocktownDog

    LocktownDog Call Me a Cab

    Northern Nevada
    That's brilliant.
  11. tonyb

    tonyb Vendor

    My mother's basement
    Nah ...

    Just do it the way my dear old Ma used to ...

    Take the food outta the fridge and put it where the dog can't get to it. Turn off the fridge, put a few pots and pans on the racks and floor of the fridge, leave the door open and then go away for several hours. When you come back home, mop up that mess on the floor, toss whatever's left of the iceberg into the sink, pour out the water in those pans and towel off the inside of the fridge, put the food back in it, switch it back on, and call it good.

    I rarely missed school on account of food poisoning. We just called it the flu.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
    Annie B likes this.
  12. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Your mother must've known my mother.
  13. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    I used to work in a garage that had a ca 1950 GE fridge in the back where the mechanics stored their lunches and soft drinks. The freezer was one huge block of ice. One friday I pulled the plug, emptied it out, and left a big drain pan inside. By monday it was defrosted with gallons of water in the pan. I saved a jug of it for topping up batteries (distilled water) then replaced the perished door gasket with one scavenged off a junker pickup truck out back.

    That fridge was amazing. Worked perfect after 40 years, with ice a foot thick on the freezer. With the new gasket it hardly got iced up, I got in the habit of unplugging every friday and it never got very frosted up again.

    Somewhere around here, I have a little electric heater made for defrosting fridges. It is about the size of a flashlight, has plastic ends, wire mesh in the middle and a heater inside. You put it in the freezer for quicker defrosting.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
  14. tonyb

    tonyb Vendor

    My mother's basement
    At the risk of steering this thread off course ...

    I had a GE monitor top refrigerator (circa I don't know, but old, for sure) that worked fine when I sold it, when it was surely at least 60 years old, and quite likely more than a little bit older than that. I'd bet that it's still chugging along fine today.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  15. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    How To Use a Wringer Washing Machine.

    Specific procedures depend on the exact make and model of your washer, but the general sequence of steps is the same. These instructions presuppose that you keep your machine in the kitchen, that the machine is not fitted with an automatic timer, that there's no permanent water hookup and that your machine is not fitted with a filler/draining pump.

    Begin by chipping one full bar of Fels Naptha soap into a bowl using a fine cheese grater. It helps to refrigerate the bar for an hour or so before chipping. Scoop the soap chips into a quart-size mayonnaise or pickle jar or some similar container.

    Add enough Sal Soda (Arm & Hammer Washing Soda or equivalent. Borax may also be used. DO NOT USE BAKING SODA. Sal Soda is Sodium Carbonate, not Sodium Bicarbonate.) to cover the chips in the jar. Shake vigorously to blend. This is the soap you'll be using in the machine, and this gives you enough for a month's worth of laundry.

    Sort your washing by white and colors.

    Roll your washer over to the kitchen sink and attach your filler hose to the faucet. Add enough hot water to handle the load you're planning to do -- the agitator will have a maximum fill mark. Most wringer machines will handle two full-sized sheets at a time at maximum fill level, along with pillowcases and miscellaneous flat pieces.

    Plug in the washer and engage the gear lever to start the agitator. Measure out 1/2 cup of the soap /soda mixture, add to the water, and wait till the machine works up a head of suds.

    Load your white wash, put washer lid on tub. Run approximately five minutes.

    Disengage gear lever to stop agitator. Pull knockdown safety bar on top of wringer into up position, latching rollers in place, and set tension if your machine is so equipped (most wringers from the mid-thirties forward have automatic tensioning.) Set rear wringer drainboard against edge of sink to ensure there's no spillage onto the floor.

    Engage wringer in forward position, roll each item thru in turn, wringing twice if necessary to remove as much water as possible. Drop wrung items into basket and repeat until every item has been wrung. Disengage wringer.

    Load colored clothes into tub. Engage gear lever to start agitator. Run five minutes.

    Wring as above.

    Unplug washer motor. Place 12-quart pail under drainspout and open drain valve. Dump water into sink as pail fills, repeat until tub is empty.

    Rinse tub with clear water with drainspout open and drainage pail in place to remove residue and leftover suds. Inspect inside of tub for lost buttons, etc -- pay particular attention to the drain area, where small buttons can sometimes lodge and slow the flow of water.

    Refill tub with clear hot water to desired level. Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar and a few drops of bluing if necessary to whiten yellowed fabrics. If you use bluing don't use too much -- three or four drops is plenty. Use an eyedropper if you want to be extra careful, but eventually you'll be able to tip them out of the bluing bottle directly.

    Add white wash. Engage gear lever and run five minutes.

    Wring as above.

    Rinse colored clothes. The rinse water will have cooled a bit by this point -- no need to warm it back up.



    Depending on your machine and depending on the load you may need to do a second rinse, or you may be fine at this point. Use your judgement.

    When you're finished, wipe out the interior of the washer with a dish towel. Knock down the safety bar on the top of the wringer to disengage the rollers. Wipe down the rollers, the wringer mounting, and the drainboards. Drape the damp dish towel over the wringer assembly -- you don't want you rollers exposed to sunlight any more than necessary, and it's important to keep them covered when the machine isn't in use.

    Put the machine back in its place until next time. Don't forget to unscrew the fill hose from the sink faucet and replace the aerator!

    Hang washing out to dry.

    Total time for a typical week's load of wash for one person is apx. one hour. The bigger the load, the longer it takes.

    IF ANY ITEM IS CAUGHT IN THE WRINGER -- Reverse wringer motion to roll item out.


    When wringing shirts, blouses, dresses, overalls, or other items with prominent buttons, turn them inside out before wringing, so that the buttons are on the inside.

    DO NOT ALLOW SMALL CHILDREN TO PLAY AROUND THE MACHINE WHEN IN OPERATION. DO NOT LEAVE SMALL CHILDREN UNSUPERVISED WHEN MACHINE IS OPERATING -- if you have to take a phone call while the machine is running and children are present, unplug the power first.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2013
    Annie B likes this.
  16. Good advice on the fridges/freezers. We do this all the time in the labs - modern freezers, with their freeze thaw cycles, are awful for any kind of lab work where stuff needs to stay at a constant -20C, so we have special dispensation from the government to run old style freezers (each one has a sticker that says something like "year 2K compliance; this equipment is essential for laboratory work".

    We usually just turn 'em off, set up a series of pans of ever smaller sizes that feed into each other to catch the water, and go home for the day. Spare freezers to transfer stuff into are essential.
  17. dhermann1

    dhermann1 I'll Lock Up

    Da Bronx, NY, USA
    I've defrosted plenty of fridges in my time, and I'm not fond of it. The worst is in the summer time, especially in sweltering places like New York. The humidity is so high during July and August that the frost builds up with amazing speed. Miserable task, defrosting.
  18. St. Louis

    St. Louis Practically Family

    St. Louis, MO
    This is very helpful and interesting. I copied the info, but it would be nice if it could be collected somewhere for future reference. It's not always easy to know how to search older posts to get at this kind of excellent & useful information.

    Now I have a question. I use a flap toaster but burn my toast about a quarter of the time, and under-toast it another quarter of the time. Is there a secret to getting it right every time? Since I use different types of bread (whole wheat, rye, whatever) I can't just use one constant length of time.
  19. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    The trick I use is to count -- when I'm toasting white bread, I put in the slices, count slowly to thirty -- which I can do while cooking my eggs or whatever, and then when I hit thirty I flip the bread. For an English muffin, I count to forty, and so on -- you have to figure out what the count should be for each type of bread you like to toast. Once you've done that, you're all set. My toaster doesn't have any temperature adjustment -- it's either on or off -- so if yours does have settings, you'd need to figure out a count for each setting that you use.
  20. Stanley Doble

    Stanley Doble Call Me a Cab

    Wear your hair "up" when doing laundry. My grandmother got her hair caught in the wringer, it was not fun.
    Annie B likes this.

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