"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Laundry: an Adventure Story

[Someone will ask, so the following is completely factual, excepting that I changed the name of a business.]

Running outdoors in a Minnesota winter seems to mean almost continuous laundry chores. Yesterday, I put a load in the washing machine, turned on the water and found only a trickle coming out. I switched the water temperature to cold and it flowed normally; I'd seen this once before, so I knew it was a valve that needed replacing and that the repair was relatively easy. The laundry would be fine in cold water, so I let it run while I made breakfast.

After the machine stopped, I went downstairs, opened the lid of the washer and saw that it was half-full of water. This was not good. I figured it was going to be a day of repairs, so I thought about just wringing the clothes by hand and tossing them in the dryer. Two shirts later, my hands were freezing cold and sore and I knew that this was not a viable option, so I set the machine back to spin cycle, pulled the hose out of the drain and saw that it was spurting water, but not nearly as fast as it should - most likely, it was a plugged hose. A spin cycle later, the machine was still half-full, so this was not working. I needed another way to wring the clothes.

That was when I remembered that in the dead space in the corner between my washer and dryer sits a mangle, which wasn't discarded because it's the perfect size for a shelf to store laundry supplies. No one reading this, I'm sure, has even heard of a mangle. It's essentially metal rollers used to squeeze the water out of laundry. The thing's at least 40 years older than I am and, except for the top surface, undoubtedly too dirty to consider using. Plus, it probably also needed repair.

I had to unplug the hose of the washer, which meant removing a clamp, which meant moving the entire machine, which, being full of water, weighs more than I do. So... time to siphon the water. I searched through the house for a hose and eventually found one very undersized for the job, but serviceable, so I put one end in the machine and sucked on the other... and then spat out a mouthful of dust and cobwebs and nearly my breakfast as well.

When the machine finally emptied, I removed the hose and stuck a screwdriver into one end, which hit a mass of some sort, but which couldn't be scraped out with the screwdriver. I then fashioned a hook from a wire clothes hanger and fished out a wad of lint that appeared to be mostly my long-sleeved red and purple running shirts. I put the hose back on the machine, reset it to spin and voila! I soon had clothes ready for the dryer.

I put the clothes in the dryer, set the timer and went about cleaning up after  myself and trying to figure out how to get at the part I was going to replace in the washer. Half an hour later, I opened the dryer to remove my running shorts, which dry quickly and which have elastic bands that would be hurt by a long time in the heat. Nothing was dry. The dryer, too, was not working right. I closed the door, pressed the start button... and it refused to start. It might be overheated, so I let it sit for a while and tried again. No luck. It probably was just dirty, lint having over the years made it past the filter and now clogging the motor assembly. I'd cleaned it before, but this meant that I had to dry the clothes some other way first. There's a laundromat not too far from my house, but I didn't want to drag a pile of wet clothes around (and I had this weird feeling the car would refuse to start, it being "that kind of day"). It was time to string up a clothesline in the basement (it was far too cold outside to dry outdoors). A search led to twine not strong enough, a thick nylon cord not nearly long enough and an old hemp rope that was perfect for the job, except for being filthy. I figured that, if I used clothespins, the clothes wouldn't touch the rope, so it would work. I strung up the rope from the exposed rafters (there were nails in just the right places, suggesting this had been done before) and attached the clothes with both Shaker pins and both wood and plastic spring-type (which shows I've bought clothespins more than twice).

Now on to the washer again. Removing a few more screws than necessary, I reached the part that seemed the likely offender (washers have few parts), a piece of blue and white plastic with 8 wires attached to it. There was no way I was going to be able to ask over a phone whether anyone carried the part, as I couldn't say just what it was called, so I'd have to remove it and take it with me. There was also no way I'd be able to remember where all the wires went, so I made a drawing of the plastic valve thingie and wrote the numbers 1 through 8 on the places wires attached, then got a roll of tape, wrote the numbers on the tape and put them on the wires for future reference. Unplugging the wires and removing a screw and some hoses and I had the part free.

This was not something one would find in a hardware store. I did a search and found an appliance place that sold parts and, as expected it was in a run-down blue-collar neighborhood not far from me. I drove out there and, past the dive bars and closed antique shops, stood a number of warehouse-type structures with signs that read "Yarelly" and "A-1" and other things that gave no indication of what the businesses were. The one I wanted merely had a street number above the door.

The door was open, so I went in. Immediately to my right was a long counter and behind it, stacks of bins with parts, including one that had about 500 of what looked like my part. There was nobody there. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see the cavernous building was bare wood beams, probably dating from the 1920's or '30's and completely empty beyond the counter except for a few appliances in the far corner. This was not a going concern; I was pretty sure it was a front for illegal activity. I could hear a radio, so someone was around. I followed the sound and saw a light from what was apparently an office.

In the office were two men. The one behind the desk looked up at me and gave me a look that I read immediately as "You're not going to arrest me, shoot me or rob me. You are of no interest." and he looked down again. The other was a non-descript middle-aged white guy, except for the fact that he probably outweighed me by 120 pounds without being fat. I held up my part and said I was looking for a replacement, but didn't know what it was called. The big guy said, "It's a valve. They're up front." He led me out of the office back to where I was and asked "Hot water fine, cold water just a trickle?" I told him it was just the opposite; cold fine, hot trickle. "That's the valve."

He went behind the counter, pulled one of the 500 from the bin and said " 25 bucks." It was at most a $4 piece of plastic. $10 was gouging. "Cheaper than a service call," big guy said. I reached for my wallet and noticed there was no cash register; this was going to be a cash-only transaction. Big guy pulled a receipt pad from under the counter, then got out his cell phone, speed dialed someone and asked, "How do I make a sale without a number? Guy just came in off the street." A pause, he looked at me, "Nah... okay, right." He wrote down: "Valve. $25. Paid cash."

I took my new part and what was left of my frayed nerves back home. I replaced the part, tried it and found it worked. Then I pulled the dryer away from the wall to access the motor compartment (causing the exhaust venting to fall apart), flipped the circuit breaker, checked to make sure I flipped the correct breaker, removed 14 screws, took off the panel and found a dust bunny wonderland and a few sowbugs. I got the vacuum cleaner out, carried it downstairs, attached the hose extenders so I could get deep enough to reach the motor area and... yep, the vacuum cleaner wouldn't work. Turned out the outlet was on the same circuit breaker. Found an extension cord, plugged it in, attached the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, cleaned the machine, put the back panel back on the dryer, reconnected the exhaust vent, put it back in place, reset the circuit breaker and turned it on. Then I took down all the wet clothes from the line and put them in the dryer and started it up.

Got my laundry done and it only took 16 hours.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

We just bought a new space-age washer and dryer and I virtually never use the dryer - only for towels because Teh 'B. hates air-dried towels. Too crunchy - not soft enough.

I hang clothes up in the the basement year-round.

The earth is my mother and I try to love my mother ... but not in a weird, Oedipal way.

wildknits said...

I indeed do know what a mangle is - spent a few years washing clothes with a wringer washer. Best way to get clothes clean!! This all in the era when I had two kids in cloth diapers.

It was an electric wringer washer - plug it in, turn it on and it agitated until you hit the stop button. Drain the water, run the clothes through the wringer (aka mangle), toss the clothes back in, fill with rinse water, repeat.

With two small children in the house clothes could agitate for awhile. But the whole process of wringing them dry, rinsing, and repeating really seemed to get the dirt out (Mr. Wildknits is an airplane mechanic and needless to say his clothes get a tad dirty).

While quite the process to do your laundry at least you had the ability to problem solve and fix it on your own.

We hung all our clothes to dry as well - outdoors in nicer weather, indoors otherwise.

JojaJogger said...

Only you have the ability to make laundry an adventure. I did know what a mangle was, but I did not know the correct terminology, good thing I read your blog.

Anonymous said...

I just finished writing a post about one of your entries from a couple of years ago, and then I read your latest - gave me the feeling I had just finished a short story by George Orwell stuck in Minnesota for the winter - bows to the master......

JojaJogger said...

Oh, and just in case you didn't know, there is a 1995 movie called "The Mangler" starring, you guessed it, an industrial sized mangle.

sea legs girl said...

Yep - I did NOT know what a mangle was and I am sitting here wondering how you knew - I imagine it being labled: "The Mangle".

Not that you want to know what I would have done in your situation, but I would have added warm water (from the house)to the cold water so I could wring the clothing out and then would have hung them up to dry by a heater. Then I would have called someone for help, thus continuing my adventureless life.

joyRuN said...

When I was a teen, we lived with Auntie Flor. She made us hang all the clothes out to dry - outside when warm, basement when cold.

I've projected (transferred?) my disdain for those years to hanging clothes to dry (as well as all other matters of housekeeping - cooking, cleaning, etc.).

Jean said...

Wow, that was definitely an adventure in doing the laundry! Good grief, what an ordeal.

And I hate doing laundry in the winter. Every load is at least 50% winter running gear!

PiccolaPineCone said...

i am way behind on your posts but wanted to comment about your post on your diet. is that really how you eat consistently on a day to day basis? wow. WOW! impressive! or, was there a bit of heisenberg's uncertainty principle at play there i.e. the act of observing changes the outcome?? either way i am impressed. i am living on wihte flour and white sugar over here.

RBR said...

I have a scar on my hand from a Mangler (not that I knew the f-ing thing was called that at the time, because I only called it that 'old f-ing thing') the old-ass handle disintegrated in my hand as I attempted to wring out a towel that was apparently thicker than 1910 standards. Stupid piece of Sh*^...

Snow, snow go away. Loved the picture, by the way.

I am so happy for your list in the previous post. You deserve it friend.

I just painted my toenails with 13-year old angst-riddled, Goth girl black/glitter nail polish, so I may have screwed up on the whole "Normalcy starts from the toenails and works its way up."

shannon said...

I confess, the word mangle was missing from my working vocabulary until I read your post.

Like Glaven, I hang laundry from the trusses in the basement. This reduces energy costs (compared to using an electric dryer) and also humidifies the air in the house in the winter.

BrianFlash said...

This is exactly what happens to me every time I attempt a home appliance repair.

Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't be better off just getting a professional involved, but my engineering background won't let me!