Geezer Stuff I (2004-2010)
Newer 'Geezer Stuff' postings can be found here.
The Truth About Appliances: Last month, we had the transmission, bearings and seals replaced on our seven year-old Maytag washer. Our last one lasted almost 20 years. The technician told us that "they don't make them like they used to" and that many washers now fail in 5-7 years.
Our first Maytag - from 1984 or thereabouts - was actually made by Maytag. This 2003 one was made by Amana which used to make good refrigerators but its washers were considered mediocre.
Maytag had acquired Amana in 2001; the rebranded Maytag models, later termed 'Amanatags' by dissatisfied owners, received poor customer reviews after reports surfaced of major mechanical and/or durability problems. (This stuff didn't come to light until after we bought ours.)
The 2010 Maytags are now made by Whirlpool (the company acquired Maytag in 2006) and the quality is poor. The transmission on ours was still under warranty but the seals, other parts and labor were not, so the repair cost about $280.
Most "American" washers are now made in Mexico. We'll keep getting our present appliances repaired for as long as we can get parts for them, since the newest ones are apparently junk, according to our repair guy.
I've written before about the badge engineering of appliances and the poor quality of many of today's appliances. So, don't run out and buy an Amana because Aunt Nellie's old upright freezer lasted forever. Or select a Norge washer because your mom's venerable Harvest Gold one from 1972 soldiered on for over 30 years.
The new ones just aren't the same. "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," so to speak. (posted 6/4/10, permalink)
Get The Lead Out: Using the subversive mantra of 'But think of the children', misguided do-gooders are trying to ban lead in all forms. Funny, none of my childhood friends ever died of lead poisoning, despite the fact that all of us did our teething on cribs and playpens painted in bright, lead-laden colors. And chewed on slush-cast toys that were either made of lead or painted with it.
Ignorant bureaucrats have forced solder producers to go lead-free, even though more problems are being caused than solved. For instance, last year's deadly Washington Metro crash may have been caused by tin whiskers, a phenomenon resulting from the use of lead-free tin solder.
According to J. Storrs Hall, tin whiskers have caused problems "on the Space Shuttle, nuclear power plants, and various military systems."
Others have mentioned that satellites, including the failure of Galaxy IV, nuclear power facilities and pacemakers have suffered from the effects of tin whiskering.
Paul Niedermeyer at The Truth About Cars has reported, "A number of articles have appeared implicating tin whiskers as a potential source or complicating factor in Toyota's (and other manufacturers’) unintended acceleration issues. The phenomenon of tin whiskers, a crystalline metallurgical phenomenon involving the spontaneous growth of tiny, filiform hairs from a metallic surface, can cause short circuits and arcing in electric equipment. First discovered in phone switching equipment in the 1940s, the addition of lead to tin solder largely eliminated the problem. But the push to eliminate lead from electronic assemblies has led to a nasty re-growth of the pesky whiskers. And some are pointing fingers."
Such problems fall under the Law of Unintended Consequences caused by nanny-state overregulation due to arbitrary demonization of a substance.
As for me, I'm OK as I have a lifetime supply of Sears lead-tin solder from the 1960s. On the other hand, I'm fresh out of DDT; so, if there's an outbreak of malaria, Dengue fever, West Nile virus, yellow fever or other mosquito-borne illness, we're all screwed. (posted 3/15/10, permalink)
Milestone: Fifty years ago, on Columbus Day 1959, I got my driver's license. That fact makes me feel unbelievably ancient.
Badge Engineering: Pay little attention to the brand name applied to your fridge, freezer, washer, dryer or dishwasher these days. Names mean a lot less than they used to. There's a limited number of major appliance manufacturers remaining in today's marketplace. Over the years, the big guys have bought up the smaller firms and merged those products together - just as GM did with its cars. Sometimes, they stopped making products and jobbed out the design and manufacture to someone else, providing only the logo design.
So, don't run out and buy an Amana because Aunt Nellie's old upright freezer lasted forever. Or select a Whirlpool washer because your mom's venerable Harvest Gold one from 1972 soldiered on for over 30 years. The new ones just aren't the same. "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," so to speak.
We had an ancient Whirlpool freezer which my wife bought used from a coworker in 1982 or thereabouts. We never put a nickel into it and finally got rid of it in 2006 because it didn't have self-defrost or an interior light. It was still working fine. Its new Maytag replacement failed in the first 60 days due to a short in the temperature sensor. Now - at three years of age - the fan motor bearings are shot. Between service calls and the $140 cost (!!!) of the replacement motor, the repair cost was more than half the price of a new freezer.
The motor itself was a cheesy-looking Panasonic model, made in Thailand. It had a mottled grey plastic housing (two molded pieces cemented together, embedding the wires and making it impossible to repair or modify) with stamped steel bearing plates pressed into each end. The shaft turned with difficulty, exhibiting two rough spots when spun. After disassembling and examining the old unit, I estimated the original manufacturing cost to be in the $2-3 range.
What happened to Maytag's legendary reputation for quality? Don't ask Maytag; they didn't make our freezer. In fact, most upright single-door freezers are now made by W. C. Wood Co. The firm simply slaps different emblems on them for companies like Maytag, ArticAire, Crosley, Danby, Edison, Estate, Frost Queen, KitchenAid, Quickfreeze, Quickfrez, Roper, Sahara, Whirlpool, etc. Wood has manufacturing locations in in Ontario Canada, Ottawa Ohio and Coahuila Mexico.
Our repair guy admitted that the Wood appliances are trouble-prone, noting that "these things are great job security for me."
I'm not alone. James Lileks is having troubles with his two year-old Electrolux dishwasher. Make that Frigidaire/Electrolux. God only knows who made the dishwasher or where it was manufactured.
I remember the good old days when appliances used to last - it seemed - forever. And a repair guy could set up some newspaper on your floor, knock out the old fan motor bearings with a flat-edged tool and whack $3.00 oil-impregnated bronze replacements into position with a soft-faced hammer. All done. Good as new. Sigh. (posted 7/24/09, permalink)
OFWG Alert: Greg Gutfeld observed the audience at a band reunion (The Police), "featuring all pudgy, balding white people, swaying, dancing in an orgy of self-congratulation. It reminded me that nostalgia is worse than porn."
These are the same OFWGs (Old Fat White Guys) who overpay for badly-restored Mustangs and Camaros at auctions and collector car 'dealers'.
And buy cheesy reproductions of period Coke signs as well as movie and concert posters from their 'youth'.
OK. I admit it. I have a few tin repro signs. Some car posters and lithos. A 1:18 scale model of my old 1963 Corvette Sting Ray convertible in the silver-blue color - just like the one I bought just after I graduated from college.
And enough other nostalgibles to fill a couple of large Dumpsters. (Sigh.) (posted 1/12/09, permalink)
"May Your Days Be Merry And Bright": Our Christmas tree is now decorated and lit. The tree adds much needed brightness and cheer to the dark, rainy days typical of Pacific Northwest winters.
As I grow older, I find that various tree ornaments - added over the years - bring back pleasant memories. Each one has a story to tell.
The oldest decoration on our tree is an injection molded, ivory-colored, translucent polystyrene cathedral. Mass produced shortly after World War II, it was a dime store purchase. It has a large rounded slot on the bottom so that if can fit over a tree light and be backlit.
In its early years, the structure could be found on various Christmas train platforms my dad built. It's not on the 1947 one though; the cathedral was probably purchased the following year.
The church itself is a generic design, nicely adapting elements of the great cathedrals of Cologne, Notre Dame, Truro and Washington's National Cathedral. At age 60, it is in fine shape - aging gracefully - and has been accorded a place of honor on our tree. (posted 12/8/08, permalink)
Ford Memories: Lawrence Henry reminisces about his 1948 Ford in The American Spectator. There is nothing quite like the sound of the starter on a flathead Ford V-8. I still can remember it, even though I've not heard one in years. It sounds like a large tin frog being strangled.
I grew up with that noise - my parents owned a 1936 Ford Tudor and, later, a big, black 1947 Mercury four-door sedan.
Returning To Childhood: All parents make jokes about stuff their kids did when they were little. Trouble is, the now-grown-up kids don't remember it. My parents used to joke that I had a 78 rpm record which I played over and over which drove them nuts. It was called 'Wilbur The Whistling Whale'. I had only a vague recollection of it - from 1946 or so.
We live in an age where everything is available online. I Googled 'Wilbur The Whistling Whale' and found an establishment that would provide me with a CD copy. Of course, I ordered it.
'Wilbur' is a children's story, narrated by one June Winters (aka - The Lady In Blue). She apparently had a Broadway singing career appearing in 'Hellzapoppin' in the late 1930s at the Wintergarden Theater. In the '40s, she did a couple of kiddie records for Mayfair Records of 1650 Broadway, New York City. June apparently hosted a local variety show during the dawn of television.
Mayfair diversified their recording portfolio by setting up the 'Bang' label to produce bawdy, adult party records in 1949. Ms. Winters was apparently not affiliated with that department.
Anyway, now I can hear Wilbur sing: "When I open my spout ... A shower to take ... No water comes out ... A whistle I make" any time I want. Over and over and over again. (posted 9/30/05, permalink)
Why I Sometimes Feel Ancient: Merriam-Webster has removed the following words from the 2004 edition of their dictionary: record changer, pocket-handkerchief, long play and ten-cent store.
More Evidence That The End Of The World Is Nigh: 'It's Hip to Hear' is the new slogan for Energizer's hearing aid batteries. The spokesperson: 1980s rocker-chick Pat Benatar!
Intersecting Data Points: In early 2004, we purchased a new washer and dryer. Our faithful, almond-hued, 20-year-old Maytag duo were exhibiting end-stage behavior - operating erratically, leaking, making bearing-noises, etc. A couple of brand-new, sterile-white Maytags have replaced them.
Reflecting upon the Consumer Reports appliance-life charts and the Life Insurance Institute human mortality tables, these may be the last such appliances we ever purchase. Gives one pause.
I Am Becoming My Grandmother. The Wellington Fund turned 75 years old in July, 2004. Now the nation's oldest and largest balanced mutual fund, it began just before the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed. Talk about bad timing!
A young Philadelphia accountant named Walter L. Morgan was its founder and offered a diverse portfolio of common stocks, preferred stocks and high-quality corporate and U.S. government bonds. Despite a rocky (How about 'cliff-like'?) investment climate during the fund's formative years, Morgan's conservatism and balanced approach paid off. Wellington Fund has produced an 8.3-plus percent average annual return since its 1929 inception and has paid an uninterrupted string of 298 quarterly dividends!
Over the past ten years, its overall performance has been just as good as the S&P 500. Yet it is far less risky and does not drop precipitously during stock market contractions.
Wellington isn't very flashy and gets little notice from those investment gurus du jour. But, as I got older, I began to shift some of my investments away from growth mutual funds into Wellington. I have not been disappointed. But I feel like a geezer ... my grandmother owned Wellington Fund shares in the 1950s. That's OK, though - during her 90-year life, she never ran out of money.
Progress: The 2004 J. C. Penney Christmas Catalog has almost 100 pages of toys, dolls and games. It's amazing how toys have evolved over the years. All of the little girls' kitchens are now made of blow-molded polyethylene instead of lithographed sheet metal. No more sharp edges to cut dad's hands to pieces during assembly.
I remember putting together an avocado-colored metal set for my daughter in the mid-1970s. I had bandages on every finger by Christmas morning. I wonder if any dads ever hit an artery and exsanguinated on Christmas eve?
"Merry Christmas, honey. Daddy's dead!"
Santa's Recycled Workshop: Last year, I took three of my son's long-discarded metal toys, cleaned them up and presented them to his son for Christmas. Two were trucks - a Tonka pickup and an Ertl dump truck. The other toy was a Hubley diecast airplane - a single-prop, radial-engined model with folding wings. It also has spring-loaded, retractable landing gear and a 12-inch wingspan (when open). Except for one missing sticker, it was in mint condition. These toy planes were originally sold with U.S.A.F. or Navy markings and had blue bodies with silver wings. They were models of World War II fighter planes designed to land on aircraft carriers.
The Hubley folding wing design dates back to 1941; I remember seeing these models for sale in five-and-dime stores when I was a kid. By the time my son was growing up in the early 1970s, 'military' toys were out of favor (except for G.I. Joe), so Hubley changed their planes to nonmilitary models. This one has 'Flying Circus' decals on its bright yellow wings and has a circus-red fuselage and tail. However, if you look underneath those folding wings, you'll find this 'circus' plane's true heritage - there are three aerial bombs molded into the underside of each diecast wing! Perhaps for killing clowns (a good idea, in my opinion).
Hubley toys were made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by Hubley Manufacturing Company which was founded in 1894. Early Hubley toy production consisted of cast-iron items including various horse-drawn vehicles, guns, household appliances and the like. By the 1920s, cars, trucks and other transportation became their primary focus. In the 1930s, Hubley switched from cast-iron to zinc diecasting. In 1965, the company was purchased by Gabriel Industries.
Along with the offerings from Tonka and Ertl, Hubley toys were always very well-made. That's why these examples are still in such good shape. And maybe because I used to apply a coat of automotive wax to each before I gave them to my son. And re-waxed them before presenting them to my grandson. (posted 12/18/04, permalink)
Obituary Overkill: Death Notices have certainly changed during my lifetime. They used to be fairly simple. Death came "suddenly" (code for auto accidents, unexpected heart attacks or suicide) or "after a long illness" (cancer). Family were listed - he/she "is survived by ..." but only immediate family members were named.
Looking at my great grandfather's 1920 death notice, I noticed that it didn't even mention all his nine children, only the priest and the nun. Nothing about his late wife, to whom he had been married for 50 years until her death 12 years before.
Times were different then and - unless famous or notorious - one's passing went without much fanfare.
Today, it's completely different. Survivors not only include blood relatives but also pets. And step-relatives from complicated, multi-divorced, extended families. As well as "special companions." For heterosexuals, such a term designates a common-law spouse or current shack-up. For gay males, it's the surviving partner. I have yet to see a female obituary (gay or straight) with a "special companion" designation. I'm not sure why.
Final illnesses are often noted - cancer, AIDS, ALS, etc. If someone commits suicide; everyone who reads the obit pages knows it. And sometimes, how exactly it was carried out - "self-inflicted gunshot wound" is a common phrase. People who have lived their lives as atheists or agnostics proudly announce it.
Hobbies are frequently enumerated: "He liked classic Camaros, motorcycles, bluegrass music and fixing old appliances." A few years back, one obit trumpeted, "He loved watching TV and hassling his grandchildren."
If you could resurrect the dead from fifty years ago and show them some of today's death notices, they'd probably be mortified. And drop dead. Again.
On the other hand, there used to be many more gruesome deaths. This news item, which appeared on March 14, 1904 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, is just one example:
No, she's not a relative that I know of, even though I once lived in Frankford.
The good old days ... were often awful. (permalink)
Notable Quote is from Martin Short (as Jiminy Glick) on aging: "I have a friend who once saw the Face of God. And he told me that God has a comb-over. But it looks pretty good on Him. Took four million years off His age!"
Other Pages Of Interest
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the Constitution. Probably.
Spelling, punctuation and syntax errors are cheerfully repaired when I find them; grudgingly fixed when you do.
If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of giving me free cars to try and change my mind.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.
copyright 2004-14 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved