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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Linoleum was
family's first sign of prosperity

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
The first sign of prosperity I can remember at the Trew house was laying linoleum in the kitchen. The Dust Bowl and Great Depression allowed few frivolous purchases of any type, thus the old rough wooden floorboards were made do.

The day was exciting as we removed all furniture and appliances from the kitchen, swept the floor, unrolled a beautiful multi-colored green linoleum, then cut it to fit. A cut-off piece along one end was sufficient to tack down on the cabinet top. Mother beamed with pride at the sight.

With a long run down the hall in my sock feet, I could slide clear across the kitchen on the slick surface when no one was looking.


Some people called it "noleum," a neighbor called it "lemonoleum," and a friend always said "liniminoleum." Whatever you called it, it was the 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 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. By 1950, other floor products pushed linoleum into the shadows of the past.


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 expertise came from being married for over 60 years to an "itchy-footed cowboy always looking over the next hill."

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 Ts, pickups, horse trailers, and tied on top of a Buick car with lariat ropes. I always chose the color green 'cause we were always praying for green grass in the spring or waiting for a rain."

She also passed on the only directions I've heard on how to lay linoleum. "Anyone can roll out linoleum and stomp it flat, but if you want a good job that will last, you better tend to business."

The business of laying linoleum went like this. "First, you clear the room including wood stove and spittoons. Next, you take a brick or a flat rock and smooth off the high-spots in the wood where the floorboards join together. Cover all holes, cracks, and knotholes by nailing down tin-can lids with shingle nails. Last, sweep the floor clean and lay down all the newspapers and livestock salt-sacks you can find. Unroll the linoleum, replace the wood stove, build a fire, and when the room gets warm, get your man, both take off your boots, put a record on the Victrola, and dance the new linoleum flat."

Now that was one experienced, practical-minded lady.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" February 6 , 2004 column
 
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