My name is Benson Huey and I grew up in the laundry business. The name of the laundry was Sam Wo Laundry located in San Francisco, CA. Most of my relatives worked in a laundry at some time. The Chinese laundries in the 60’s that I remember were full-service laundries with large washers, extractors, an assortment of presses for shirts and pants, a shirt folder and an ironer for linens. There were three washing machines operating on one motor driven by belts. The laundry was picked up from small local retail shops that had virtually no equipment and were a storefront only (agencies).
I started my worklife by helping my father. We would go to the many agencies and pick up laundry throughout San Francisco. Later in my job, I was responsible for sorting and marking the soiled laundry and assisting in the washing process at the laundry. Other tasks were sorting the clean laundry and packaging it for final delivery, and working on the ironers and presses. The boiler always reminded me of a fire breathing dragon because of the heat, noise and flames.
In those days, the usage of water (volume), water pollution, air pollution, chemical spills, the spread of germs and toxic materials, repetitive motion injuries (workers’ compensation) and the environment were really not a big concern. The minimum temperature was in the low 90’s each and every day, even during the winter. Summers were hotter, however, working in San Francisco, there were never high temperature extremes. The working hours were long and the work was very physically demanding.
I decided not to stay in the family business and attended college and became an accountant. Most of my career was with one company, but a change in employers was necessary after over 20 years of employment. When I was informed by the recruiter about a position in the accounting department for Western State Design (WSD), a company that sells and installs laundry equipment, my thoughts were “I am the perfect candidate. Where else would they find an accountant who has actual hands-on experience with laundry equipment?”
I visited two large commercial laundries after six months of employment at WSD. The first plant processed hospitality linen only and the second handled only healthcare related laundry. Visiting these plants brought back memories of my working days in the family laundry. There is still manual labor involved in processing, but the advances in automation were amazing to me. Even the sorting of soiled laundry moves much faster because there are conveyors transporting the laundry and workers direct each piece to the appropriate bin based on color, size, weight or other criteria.
In our family laundry, the employees would have to load the sorted laundry into the washer, control the water levels, mix steam and cold water and add soap or chemicals to the wash. Moving wet laundry was one of the most physically demanding tasks. This process required moving wet laundry from the washers to the extractor, and finally removing the laundry from the extractor and rolling a cart to the dryers or the presses. The procedures are now automated and the laundry is transferred by an overhead monorail system which minimizes employee contact for processing/handling soiled or clean laundry. The Milnor, Chicago Dryer and E-Tech computer controls which monitor the material handling system, move the laundry automatically throughout the plant. The whole process commencing from soil sorting to loading the carts with clean linen is monitored by the controls.
The family laundry required four people working on a small steam ironer- two to feed linen into the ironer and two to manually fold the ironed pieces. The ironing systems I saw were completely automated. Depending upon production, it may require only one person to feed linen and the ironing/folding is automated. There may be one person operating multiple folding machines. The equipment has all automated control systems. And, one can set the size of the folds and the counts in each stack using the automated systems. Clean laundry stacks are loaded into transport carts and delivered to the customers. The carts are then turned around and loaded with soiled laundry to the laundry for processing. The laundry has an automated cart washer/sanitizer for cleaning soiled carts.
The laundry industry has advanced considerably from when I worked in a family laundry. The equipment is designed to be very efficient, reduce energy/water and the manual tasks of processing laundry. I am pleased to see the advances in the laundry industry and how my company, Western State Design is a leading designer, supplier, installer and provider of post-installation services to this industry.