[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.
Aid Station: Eugene Curnow
12 hours ago