New Linoleum Sign of Prosperity

The first sign of prosperity I can remember at the Trew house was in about 1938, when we laid the first linoleum in the kitchen.

The Dust Bowl and Great Depression allowed few frivolous purchases of any type. For many years, we just had to make do with the old rough wooden floors.

Installation day was exciting for my little brother and me. We helped remove all stoves, tables and chairs, unrolled the linoleum and cut it to fit the room. An extra piece along one side was cut and tacked down to the cabinet to match the floor. Mother beamed with pride at the new addition. My brother and I, with a long run in socks, could slide plumb across the kitchen floor, when Mother wasn’t looking of course.

Some called it noleum, a neighbor called it lemonnoleum and a friend still says liniminoleum. Whatever you call it, the product was the cheapest and best floor covering of the time. Linoleum was invented in 1860 by British tinkerer Frederick Walton. By accident, he discovered that linseed oil, derived from the flax plant, became rubbery under certain conditions. He manufactured a floor covering for sale and, like the Ford Model T, it came in all colors as long as you wanted black.

After his patent ran out in 1878, other companies developed colored linoleum with embossed designs in many patterns. From 1920 to 1950, linoleum reigned as king of floor coverings and the product became a household word all over the world.

The only “linoleum expert” I’ve known was a 92-year-old neighbor lady born and raised in the Texas panhandle. The reason for her extensive expertise came from being married to an “itchy-footed cowboy always looking over the next hill for a better job.”

Her credentials as a “paint and linoleum expert” are presented here in her own words. “I’ve painted the inside and laid linoleum in almost every ranch camp-house from Dalhart to Post and from Tucumcari to Canadian. I’ve hauled rolls of linoleum on buggies, wagons, Model T’s, pickups, horse trailers and tied them on top of a Buick car with lariat ropes. I chose the color green every time as we were always praying for green grass in spring or the next rain.”

She also passed on the only directions I’ve ever heard on how to lay linoleum. I know anyone can unroll linoleum and stomp it out flat, but for a good job that lasts, here are her directions:

“First, you clear the room of stoves and spittoons. Next, you take a brick or flat rock and smooth off all the high spots in the wood floor where the boards join together. Nail tin can lids over all holes and knots with shingle nails. Sweep the floor clean, spread newspapers and split all the paper salt and feed sacks you can find and use those, unroll the new linoleum and trim to fit the walls.

“Replace the wood stove, build a nice fire to heat the room and the linoleum. Last, get your man, both remove your boots but keep on your socks, put a record on the Victrola and dance the linoleum flat.”

Now that was one experienced and practical-minded lady. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:
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