Why These Old, Worn Rags Are the Most Useful Tools in Our Family

From soothing colds to keeping ticks away, a good rag never goes to waste on a farm.

01-These-Old,-Worn-Cloths-May-Be-The-Most-Useful-Tools-On-The-Farm-Farm & Ranch Magazine

I was cutting up a few old T-shirts several days ago, and I told my wife, “These sure are some nice rags.”

Raised in the ’50s and ’60s, we weren’t accustomed to modern paper towels, ShamWows, or fancy dishcloths. Instead, hand-me-down garments progressed from Sunday best to everyday wear to use during fieldwork to, finally, rags.

Worn garments, having visited Grandma’s sewing machine many times before for repairs, patches and alterations, made one final trip. Grandma transferred buttons to the button drawer and if she could salvage some quilting patches, she would.

Our new rags had many uses. We’d attach a white one to a pole and wave it for Daddy to come in from the field for lunch. He usually kept a thicker rag wrapped around his glass jug to keep the water cool when he placed it in the shade along the field fencerow.

They may have had those red shop towels in commercial mechanic shops, but farmers used rags to wipe off grease and grime.

Most everyone had rags in their pickups, tractor toolboxes and toolsheds to check oil, knock the dust off a windshield or dry a wet seat.

A rag could be tied to a stick and soaked in kerosene to snuff out a wasp nest up on the house or barn. If we didn’t have a towel made from a feed sack, a clean rag was used to dry dishes. When something spilled, someone hollered, “Get a rag!”

When we needed a bandage, Mother tore a strip of rag from an old sheet and wrapped it around your arm. If a family member came down with a cold, Vicks VapoRub was applied to the throat and chest and covered with a rag that was warmed on the woodstove. Rags were great for cleaning up runny noses, too.

When we went to the pastures to fix fence in the summer, we soaked a couple of rags with kerosene and tied them around our ankles to keep away ticks. When stacking hay in a hayloft or corncrib with no ventilation, a rag tied over the nose helped us tolerate the dust.

When I was lucky enough to get a fairly nice pair of hand-me-down shoes or boots that were a little big, Mother stuffed a rag inside until I grew into them. It also felt good when she put warm rags in my rubber boots on cold mornings when I had to go outside to milk and feed before school.

Today, when I barbecue, I attach a rag to a wooden stick to sop sauce on the meat. If we have a cold draft coming in a crack around a window or underneath a door, I stuff a rag in it. And when washing my car, dusting furniture or wiping sweat, there’s nothing better.

At my house, there will always be appreciation for a good rag!

Farm & Ranch Living
Originally Published in Farm & Ranch Living