Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Vacuum Cleaner Saga

I am in the middle of repairing one of our vaccuum cleaners, and have identified a broken part in it that needs replacement. Newer vacuum cleaners, even expensive ones, are mostly plasticky pieces of junk. We started off our marriage in 1974 with a $50 vacuum cleaner that we bought with a gift certificate to Sears that we got as a wedding present. That machine was cheaply made (not in China, either) and lasted about a year. I decided that it was no good spending $50 a year on cheap vacuums, so I went shopping for a Kirby like my mother has used for so long. I think it's a Model 520). The one she has belonged to my dad's mother, and my mother got it in 1958 and is still using it. I figured with that kind of history, they must be good. So, I bought a used Kirby around 1975 and we used it until around 2003 when it finally died for good. By that time, my wife wanted a lighter weight vacuum (which the all-metal Kirby isn't), so we shopped around and bought a machine called Miele for $300. Miele is a German company, but our vacuum is made in Spain (Model S175i; the number inspired by BMW, no doubt). It's not China-grade stuff, but still a plasticky neo P.O.S. It takes expensive bags (the Kirby just dumped out the bottom hopper with no bags) and goes through beater bar belts every six months or less (and the saleman told us it would). Lately, the belt position between neutral and drive just wouldn't adjust correctly and as often as not, the beater bar wasn't rolling. I determined that a part in this area (plastic, of course) was broken and wouldn't allow the belt tension mechanism to hold in place properly.

The saga continues. In the meantime, we've been using another vacuum that I adopted. When my daughters both got married in the same year, we bought them each a sort-of cheapie vacuum from K-Mart, a model of Hoover (Runabout U5023-900) that I think was made just for that store. They were solid, not fancy, plasticky, but like I said, rather sturdy. One time a couple of years ago when I was dropping stuff off at one of the daughters, I saw their (green) K-Mart Hoover vacuum sticking out of a trash can. I picked it out of the trash (in several pieces), made sure with her that they were really throwing it away, and took it home. After I checked it all out, it turned out that all that was wrong with it was a broken belt. I used to replace the belts on the Kirby, and I know that this must be done from time to time (but not like on the Miele). After I put it back together it worked like a champ, and that's what we're using right now until I get the Miele back on line again. My wife doesn't like it as much as the Miele (it's heavier -- because it's made better). Funny, though, that the $50 K-Mart Hoover is actually better made than the $300 Miele). The Hoover also needs it's little dust bin emptied more often that I like to do it, but at least it doesn't take expensive bags. It's also very easy to empty. I have a couple of vacuum cleaners that I use. One is a 10 gallon Shop Vac, not very old and sucks like crazy. Very big hose. I also have an old Hamilton-Beach Model 26 caniser vacuum that I inherited from my father-in-law that they bought right after WW2. That one sucks like crazy too, and just has a built-in cloth dirt bag that you have to empty once in a while.

You must think I'm vacuum cleaner crazy, but I also have in reserve an old Kirby Dual Sanitronic 80 that I got for free. I fixed it up with a new bag and dust door seal and it works well, but is heavy.

For Christmas, my younger daughter wanted a vacuum cleaner. I don't know what happened to her green K-Mart Hoover that we bought when we got those two for the girls; they also left another one behind in one of their moves. They didn't have any vacuum cleaner at all. So, my wife bought a $28 machine at Wal-Mart. Oh brother. This one was a flourescent green Bissell Model 3130-3 08254B "Easyvac" (sleazy vac). I took one look at that and just knew that it wasn't going to work out. It's like a child's toy in size and construction. Anyway, I just let the process go along knowing that it was a sub-standard gift. Then during the big car replacement fiasco (for the same daughter), we were over at their place. Afterward, my wife said she had seen the latest gift vacuum sitting there forlornly, choked with debris, and when I asked Annie about it, she said it would barely pick things up. Here I go again, getting involved with "helping" but I can't let that ultra-cheap vacuum just get thrown away. I'm going to take it back to Wal-Mart and let them throw it away, but I'm going to get our $28 back and start over again. If I can find a used hose attachment for the Kirby, I may give her that, or I might go to D.I. store and look at used machines. I really believe the older ones, so long as they are working properly, are basically better than what can be bought new.

I don't ever recall seeing my Grandma use the Kirby that my mother inherited from her. What I do remember well is my grandma used an old Bissell carpet sweeper, the old kind made of wood and metal with hard rubber tires. Even in the 1950's, that thing looked like it had been made in the '20's. One of the big differences between staying with grandma and being at home is that everything at grandmas looked old (not necessarily worn-out, just old) and everything at home looked newish. At her home, she had a storm cellar or small basement. Access to this mysterious place was via two angled flap doors on the east side of the house. This was a spooky, weird-smelling place that I was only admitted to a few times but contained many interesting (and old) items. I've no idea why they put storm cellars in houses in Long Beach, Calif. (no funnel clouds in sight), but it could have been because lots of those old places didn't have garages. Gotta have some place to store the garden tools.

Postscript: While I was at D.I., I found a solution for my daughter's vacuum cleaner problem. It was in the form of a vintage 1980-ish Hoover cannister vac (Celebrity QS Model #S3193), a nice little unit with all the stuff with it. Very powerful, has a very strong motor that sucks like crazy (which is a good thing with vacuums), excellent condition for $10. Made of metal in the USA, which you cannot buy any longer. This machine looks like a miniature, turquoise flying saucer.

It has occurred to me that many people buy a vacuum cleaner and think that they will use it until it stops working, then go and buy another one. They don't consider repairing it to prolong it's service life. "Belt breaks; get a new vacuum."

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