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Runaway Washing Machine

Our back page story in May about Myrtle Rickman Cooper’s memories of her mother’s clotheslines and washdays set Wayne Baxter of Taylor County to remembering an incident from his boyhood on the farm back in Monroe County.

“On a Sunday morning in about 1950, this old truck that we usually went to church in wouldn’t start,” Baxter says. “So my dad decided that we could drive the old World War II army surplus dump truck that we used out on the farm, that we could get to church in it, though it didn’t have a sign of a brake.” You see, Wayne’s father, Bazz, thought he had mastered the art of driving the old dump truck without brakes. He simply geared down the vehicle to a virtual crawl in its lowest gear—“bulldog”—then turned off the ignition to stop.

That Sunday’s trip on the back roads to Mill Creek Baptist Church, about 13 miles from the Cumberland River farm, was uneventful. Wayne, who was 9, and his two brothers, Kirk and Warner, were riding in the back of the truck, and their mother, Della, and 7 year-old sister, Loretta, were in the cab with Bazz. Returning from church, they stopped at Wayne’s grandparents’ place.

“It just so happened that the REA had turned the electric on out there on the ridge about that time, and my grandparents didn’t need their old gasoline-powered washing machine any more, because they had a new electric model. So they gave us their old washing machine, and somehow they got that big old metal machine up in the back of that dump truck, with my two brothers and me up in there with it.”

Rural electricity had not yet reached the Baxter place, so the brothers were excited at the prospect of having a gasoline-powered washer that would spare them the chore of helping their mother wash clothes on a washboard.

During the trip home, their conversation turned to how to get the washing machine started. And after some discussion, Warner, the oldest and most mechanically gifted, allowed as how he could start it. Just as his father was gearing down to begin a half-mile long descent down a steep hill, Warner kick-started the washer, and the loud roar so startled Bazz that he missed the bulldog gear at a crucial time, then couldn’t force the old truck into second or even third.

The boys hung on for dear life and the unrestrained washing machine bounced around the truck bed, still running full throttle, as the old Army dump truck careened down the hill for several hundred feet. At the last minute, Wayne’s mother quietly suggested the hand-operated emergency brake, and Bazz wrestled the truck to a stop. To the boys’ surprise, their father didn’t punish them. But he did ask Warner why in the world he started the washer.

Warner’s reply: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

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