Museum of Northwest Colorado: Coming clean — ‘Wash your duds in our suds’
Son of a Welsh immigrant and a young lady born in Ouray, Jack McDonald was born in Rifle in 1918. Jack grew up in that small community which, was an oil shale town as early as the 1920s. He served three years in the Navy and, upon discharge, came to Craig with his parents, A.J. and Nellie, and his siblings, Art and Vera. The little town was just recovering from the effects of the Great Depression, and the state-of-the-art Cosgriff Hotel was on the verge of opening. It appeared to be an excellent time to open a commercial laundry.
Setting up shop in the 100 east block of Victory Way, A.J. and Jack located the laundry directly across the street from the new Cosgriff Hotel. It was definitely a family run business. In the summertime, nieces and nephews would come stay with the McDonalds and work for them while learning both the laundry business and a good work ethic at the same time. Over the years, as many as 20 young relatives came and went during the summers.
Jack’s brother, Art, who from an early age was nicknamed “Soapy,” was an artist, and painted ads on storefront windows, illustrated ads for newspapers and even drew political cartoons. Having learned the business from his parents, Jack and Nellie, Soapy later owned a laundry in Rifle and, at one time, Ouray. Their sister, Vera, married Dean Mahaffey, who worked with the area’s agricultural interests in management of grazing allotments.
With all that family energy fueling the little business, it grew, and by the mid-1950s, it boasted almost two-dozen employees and several delivery trucks. It was indeed a small industry whose patrons included hotels, restaurants and even housewives weary of the tedium of the labor intensive wringer washing machine. With its slogan of “Wash Your Duds in Our Suds,” City Laundry was well-established in the rural community.
Chet Klock, the national cartoonist who was in Craig to do a newspaper series on local businessmen, featured Jack McDonald in his Sept. 26, 1956, column titled “Familiar Faces.”
Jack and his wife, Betty, stayed in the business until the late 1950s, when they left the area after almost 20 years of handling the town’s laundry. Craig and its business district has been built on a solid foundation of long-standing commercial enterprises that have left indelible stamps on the community in terms of good service and viable small industries.
Though Craig at times struggles with local economic vitality, it is good to reflect on what has been accomplished in past decades with hard work and the support of the local community. The Museum of Northwest Colorado has a research room filled with the histories and photographs of many of the businesses of Craig, both past and present. A look at those files can inspire anyone: What has been done in the past can still be accomplished in the present. One only needs to look around at all the long-term and new business entities that exist today in Craig. It is a credit to our community that these businesses are so well supported, and indeed, a service to the community itself to have the local enterprises to support daily life here.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado is located in downtown Craig, and is a repository to a vast collection of local historical information. It is also home to the world famous Cowboy and Gunfighter Collection. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, with free admission, and promises a cool respite on a hot summer day. Call 970-824-6360 for more information.
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar for the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig.
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