Logan Washboard Festival Helps Keep Unique Music Alive

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In 1999 the Columbus Washboard Company moved from Columbus to Logan. Soon after the move to southeast Ohio, Logan began hosting the annual washboard festival.

People in Logan call the ancient red-brick building at 14 Gallagher Avenue the old shoe factory. But for the past 9 years it’s been home to another kind of old-fashioned industry.

“Welcome to the Columbus Washboard Company. The company was established in 1895 in Columbus, Ohio. In 1999 the original owner sold the company; new owners purchased it and moved it to Logan.”

Floor Supervisor Betty Ellinger is the official tour guide. Visitors watch as Ellinger uses an antique press that was shipped from the original factory in Grandview.

“Takes less than 45 seconds to assemble a board; put your head on your leg, put it in the press, put your nameplate in, put your top rail in, metal, put your bottom rail, then your other leg and you just line up everything. Then we nail em in six places. Clean them up and there’s your board,” Ellinger says.

The company ships washboards all over the world. Some people say they clean whiter Ellinger says.

But at least as far back as the 1920s, washboards have also been used as musical instruments.

“These are made by a gentleman from Indiana,” Ellinger says.

“Can you demonstrate?”

“It’s a rhythm board. Beat with the rhythm. So you just play with music,” she says.

There’s plenty of washboard-accompanied music every year at Logan Ohio’s Washboard festival.

George Pritchard, a member of the British group the Ramblin’ Riversiders, is singing and playing a zydeco style washboard. It’s just a piece of corrugated metal without the wooden frame. He strokes the metal with thimbles on his fingers.

The Ramblin’ Riversiders was founded by Harold Dearden who began playing a washboard in 1956. His family was too poor, he says, for them to buy him a set of drums. Now he savors the sound of this unusual percussion instrument, keeping the beat with a hairbrush.

“And many a drummer when I’m at festivals tries to play my washboard and can’t so it’s not a joke instrument, it’s not a toy, it’s a serious instrument,” Dearden says.

Some players like Rebecca Lindsey have turned their washboards into virtual orchestras. Hers, which she’s named Cosmo, has 19 different instruments attached and weighs 40 pounds.

But the purists stick to the basics, like Jim and Olga Mathis. Jim’s a guitarist from Clarksdale, Miss., Olga, who plays a wood framed washboard, hails from New Orleans.

The 2008 Washboard Music Festival has come to an end. But washboard factory tours are held Monday through Friday in Logan. <br