He Does The Job Painters Hate (Jan, 1956)

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He Does The Job Painters Hate

Got a paint brush so hard that you can drive nails with it?
Then you’re the kind of guy who keeps the Paint Brush Laundry busy.

By Benn Ollman

THE Paint Brush Laundry, a unique four-year-old Milwaukee institution, has a slogan—”We Do the Painter’s. Dirty Work”—that carries a potent appeal to a constantly increasing number of home owners, do-it-yourselfers and painting contractors.

“You can hardly blame the home owner who brings in a matted, paint-clogged brush for not knowing how to care for it,” says Tom Stidham, part owner and manager of the Paint Brush Laundry. “But you’d be amazed at the number of painting contractors who bring in expensive brushes that have become as hard as bricks. They don’t like cleaning up and caring for their equipment at the end of a rough day’s work.”

A widely-known former college and professional football coach, big, burly Tom Stidham gave up pigskin tutoring several seasons ago. His coaching record included successful years’ work at Oklahoma, Northwestern and Marquette and with the Baltimore Colts and the Green Bay Packers. He now divides his time between the Laundry and his job as a manufacturer’s representative.

About 200 customers a month use the service of the Paint Brush Laundry, bringing in an average total of about 1,000 brushes. Most of them are local home owners bringing in a brush or two that they “forgot about” until the time came to tackle the next painting or varnishing job. With the cost of new paint brushes climbing to new heights, just knowing about the Paint Brush Laundry can save them a few dollars.

Just how badly some people can neglect their valuable brushes is shown by the Laundry’s “museum of horrors”

on view in the office. Stidham keeps a number of brushes near his desk which are actually hard enough to drive nails. When called upon to demonstrate samples of his firm’s work he frequently will slam some nails with these brushes to drive home his point.

One prize refugee from paint brush oblivion is a gnarled, cement-hard set of bristles that had lain forgotten in an attic for over 25 years before it found its way to the Laundry. -Stidham had half the brush restored to show “before and after” potentialties to his customers.

“No matter how old and neglected a paint brush made with top quality bristles may get, it can be put back in working condition with the right solvents and patient scrubbing,” says Tom. It often takes as long as six weeks to turn the trick, but it can be done.

hard work and a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry. A dozen chemicals are used, as well as an assortment of thinners, secret compounds originated by former owner Waite, vegetable soaps, light oils, acids, kerosene and fuel oil.

Elbow grease takes over when the brushes have satisfactorily completed the soaking processes. The brushes are massaged on old fashioned, ordinary washboards over an open wire-covered vat to loosen up the bristles, then given a final rinsing before being hung on racks and placed in the drying oven. When the brushes are dry the handles are polished on a buffing wheel and given a coat of clear varnish. The brushes are then wrapped in heavy paper and placed in numbered boxes on the shelves until they are picked up or shipped back to out-of-town customers.

How much does the Laundry charge for the service ? “Our prices have to be low enough to make for real savings,” says Tom. “If the difference between the rates we charge and the cost of buying new brushes were only a matter of a few dimes or nickels we’d soon be out of business.” Paint Brush Laundry prices are now only about half of what they were a few years back when the Korean War first skyrocketed brush costs by causing a severe shortage of Chinese hog bristles. Brushes up to 2Vz inches wide are cleaned for 59 cents each; from three to four inches, for $1.42; from 4% inches up, for $1.76.

An important sideline is selling reclaimed brushes at bargain prices ranging from 50 cents to $10 per brush. Former owner Waite relied mainly on dump scavengers who kept their eyes open for the $10,000 to $15,000 worth of paint brushes which are tossed into garbage pails each year in Milwaukee alone. Nowadays the bulk of the brushes sold are discards from painting contractors and factories. Most of the reclaimed’ brushes are sold to factories for rough paint work, applying oils and chemicals to machinery, or on a number of other jobs.

What about paint rollers? “Not for us,” says Tom Stidham. “We haven’t had much success with them. They tend to curl up when put through the solvents.”

Tom feels confident that the future holds much promise for the Laundry”

as long as people continue to be too busy, too tired, or too lazy to put in that 15 minutes of work cleaning their brushes. •

7 comments
  1. Scott B. says: July 2, 20109:28 am

    “A dozen chemicals are used, as well as an assortment of thinners, secret compounds originated by former owner Waite, vegetable soaps, light oils, acids, kerosene and fuel oil.”

    There’s no telling what poor old Tom and his crew died of, working around such a witch’s brew. I also can’t imagine this business even existing today. Everything’s (unfortunately) too disposable now.

  2. Andrew L. Ayers says: July 2, 20102:34 pm

    Quality paintbrushes that don’t shed still can cost a bit, even with today’s plastic bristles (as opposed to pigs bristles). Most people buy el-cheapo throwaways, and wonder why their paint jobs look bad. Really, it comes down to laziness. I have several paintbrushes that after a job is done, I spend half an hour or more cleaning after finishing; between coats I put the brushes (wet) in plastic bags in the refrigerator (probably not an option at the time this article was written) – basically the process given in the article. I also take care of my rollers in a similar manner, and my power painting tools. I sometimes wonder how many people, due to laziness, throw away their power painters because they didn’t take the time to clean them (that’s an expensive tool to “throwaway”). I hate to clean my power painter (some of the parts are small and easy to lose if you aren’t careful), but I know it has to be done and carefully if I want to use it on the next job.

  3. katey says: July 4, 20106:17 pm

    Andrew, I am a cheapo, lazy painter and proud of it. I try to avoid using bristled brushes at all costs- the cheap ones DO suck. I use the rectangular pad on a pole deal for cutting in and two sizes of rollers for the rest plus some disposable foam brushes for really tight spots. Like you, if I need to store wet rollers I pop them in a plastic bag in the freezer. No taping, no ladders, and no cleanup- the pads and roller covers (and plastic tray liners) get tossed at the end of the job. Horray for consumerism.

  4. katey says: July 4, 20106:19 pm

    I use rollers on furniture, too. I even STAINED a bedframe using a disposable mini roller. Really rebellious!

  5. Andrew L. Ayers says: July 4, 201010:37 pm

    Actually, I hate painting, and try to avoid it as much as I can. But, when I have to, I take my time and do the job right.

    If I am doing a piece of furniture or something, I will use spray paints or my power painter. Otherwise, for walls and ceilings (ugh! I hate ceilings!), I will use a roller on a pole (actually, I have a couple of the “pole rollers” where the paint is sucked into the pole, and you push a plunger to add more – awesome product). Cut-in is done with brushes; I have used the foam brushes before, but I didn’t like them much. I try to put down drop cloths, tape of areas with painter’s tape, etc – before starting a job.

    My wife and I once did a square “frame” section for a painting in our bedroom, which now is our “headboard”. That took a little planning and layout, but once done it looked great – we did it in a higher gloss than the wall, and a different shade – and it really looks nice.

    The one kind of painting I likely won’t ever try, though, is auto body painting – that is something that takes waaay more skill and attention to detail than I am likely ever to be able to give – plus I don’t have the room for a place to do (we have a neighbor that restores cars in his front yard, from chassis up, and I am always amazed at how well his paint jobs turn out – now if only he would apply that skill and diligence to the upkeep of his house and yard – oh well)…

  6. Morgan says: July 11, 201010:12 pm

    from The Milwaukee Journal – Dec 14, 1957
    Brush Laundry Ruined By Fire
    Fire Friday night destroyed most of the interior of a one story concrete block and brick building at 4934 W. State st. Damage was estimated by 5th battalion Fire Chief Edward Jaroch at $3,000 to the building and $2,000 to the contents. The building was occupied by the Paint Brush Laundry Co., where the fire apparently started, and the Thomas Manufacturing Co. The possibility of arson was being investigated.
    The blaze was believed to have begun in a wooden drying bin. Kenneth L. Waite, 57, of 2639 S. Pine av., a former owner of the paint brush concern, said that an electric heater in the bin was disconnected when he and an employe, Raymond C. Thomas, 29, of the same address, left at 5:30 p.m. Firemen said the heater was plugged in when they arrived at 11:08 p.m.

  7. Firebrand38 says: July 12, 20106:03 am

    Morgan: Good catch! The present address contains Brake, Clutch & Drum Service Inc.

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