Friday, August 19, 2011

They Just Keep Going

by Sheila Connolly

I own six vacuum cleaners.

This is not because I'm a neat freak (I'm not), or because I live with three cats who shed a lot.  It's because the blasted things will not die (hmm, zombie vacuum cleaners?).

It all began innocently enough.  When my husband and I were married (35 years ago this month!), we were broke, so we bought a reconditioned Electrolux cannister model, because that's what my family always used.  Guess what:  it's still going.

When my grandmother died, somehow I inherited her vacuum.  Now, she was a neat freak, but she lived in a studio apartment in New York, so it didn't see a lot of hard wear.  Guess what:  it's still going.

Yes, that's the one
My mother, based on her mother's example, also had an Electrolux.  I remember when she proudly upgraded, ca. 1962, to a fancier model--with what she called a Rug Beater attachment.  I remember when she proudly upgraded, ca. 1962, to a fancier model--with what she called a Rug Beater attachment (she demoted her earlier one to the basement). Forty years later, the belt broke. I went straight to the Internet and found a replacement part in minutes. What was interesting was that when I disassembled the head, the brush roller was wooden. Fancy that!

When my mother passed on, I inherited both of her vacuum cleaners. Now I was up to four, all in working order. I nearly celebrated when a cord crumbled (from age, of course) on one model, and I could officially retire its predecessor to cannibalize the cord from that. The replacement was easy, and the decorded one is still around, having given its all to provide spare parts.

The other two are shop vacs. When we moved into our home in Pennsylvania, we knew that it would required a lot of renovation, and we needed something heavy duty, so we bought a hulking big model--a sixteen gallon wet-dry vac (Sears, but only because I don't think Electrolux makes one). Guess what: it's still working (although it makes a shriek like a dying dinosaur when you turn it on, and it lost a roller foot years ago so you have to drag it around). We ended up with a second one when my stepfather passed away a decade ago. It's still going too (also minus a roller--in sympathy?).

Six vacuums, and I can't seem to get rid of any of them. I'm haunted by undead vacuums. But there's something endearing about an appliance that is so well made that it simply will not stop working. Obviously the marketplace recognizes this, because vendors are happy to supply all and any parts. But even that must be a slow business, because apart from bags, I've bought a grand total of two replacement parts in forty years. Those things are indestructible, and I respect that.

But technology has changed, and I'll admit to coveting a Dyson with that cool and colorful ball and its own little tornado. The problem is, I don't need it. I'm stuck back in the technology that was born in the 19th century, because it still works. And in this era of throwaway appliances, that's something of a miracle.

What's your oldest working appliance?


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sheila, my mother swore by Electrolux too, and I would still have both hers and the one I bought 40 years ago except that when my husband took over the vacuuming (thanks to my convenient allergy to dust), he insisted on periodic upgrades. (So whaddaya think? Is it worth it to me?) I would have kept my mother's 50-year-old Chambers stove, too (now there was an appliance!), but I got overruled. When the Sears guy pronounced our 25-year-old refrigerator dead recently, he assured us that none of today's models, no matter how expensive, would last more than three years. The oldest? We're still using our first microwave, a GE that doubles as a toaster oven. It might be 35 years old. I remember at first we were afraid our innards would get nuked if we stood too close while it was on. Hasn't happened yet.

Anonymous said...

My oldest appliance is my Sunbeam Mixmaster, circa 1969. It's white with a cast-iron base that would serve as a blunt instrument, and a motor that can mix concrete. Still have the original stainless steel bowls that came with it, too.

Sandra Parshall said...

I've had a food processor for about 30 years. It's in perfect condition because I never use it. Way too complicated -- it's easier to cut things up with a knife. It has joined other undead appliances like the blender in appliance limbo.

Dru said...

My oldest appliance is my refrigerator and it just keeps working while I dream of a smaller size one.

Jeri Westerson said...

My oldest appliance is a circa 1950's Waring Blender. Chrome, with fluted glass container and what could be a bakelite lid. 30 some odd years ago my brother changed out the cord since it was one of those cloth kind. It has an on and off switch. No speeds. I've been through 3 "modern" blenders that all died but this one from my parents (probably wedding present) is still working!

Julia Buckley said...

Sheila, I also have three cats, one of whom is a long-haired devil. :)

I will be happy to take one of those good, reliable vacuum cleaners off your hands--just tell me what you want for shipping. I vacuum constantly with my cheap online-purchase model, and the canister is instantly filled with junk every time. It's hard to believe we live in that much dust and hair.

And while we're talking about old versus new appliances--there is not one telephone you can buy now that is worth much, but I think my parents only ever needed one. It was big, heavy, wall-mounted, and it WORKED. As an added bonus you could actually HEAR the voices of the people who called, unlike every telephone in existence now. Even salespeople are talking on cell phones, and I just can't hear them.

Leslie Budewitz said...

"When the Sears guy pronounced our 25-year-old refrigerator dead recently, he assured us that none of today's models, no matter how expensive, would last more than three years."

Liz, my first house, a 1910 bungalow in Seattle, came with a Sears dryer made in 1959--same year as me! 30 y.o. at the time, the sellers had left it rather than try to move it. I had to jam a broom handle into the lowest basement step to keep the door shut, but it otherwise worked like a dream! So it made a Sears buyer out of me.

When our oven died a couple of years ago, the repairman told me what the salesman told you: newer stuff is made to not last, in part b/c people move and remodel more frequently now and don't expect appliances to last as long as your fridge, my dryer, and Sheila's Electrolux collection.

Diane said...

Planned obsolesence. Didn't work too well for Detriot, did it? Instead of continually having to take a car in for repairs, and/or buying a new car every few years (like right after the warrenty expired), many - including me - bought Japanese. I bought a new Camry in 2000, and for the first time had to put $1,600 in it. That's it other than tires, winshield wipers, oil changes; small, general stuff. I've got a bit over 160,000 miles on it, and hope for a lot more. Planned obsolesence can backfire on these companies.

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