Aging man and machine good for one more spin


March 12, 1994|By ROB KASPER

It is hard enough to face your birthday without having your house remind you that when old things get old they fall apart. But for me the reminder of the ill effects of aging was right down in the laundry room. The old family washing machine tub had suddenly lost its ability to spin.

Birthdays are supposed to be time for celebrating and reflecting, not fixing broken appliances. But pouting about my bad luck wasn't going to get the clothes washed. So I spent part of my birthday tinkering with the washing machine innards.

The machine had stopped working during one of those early morning "one more load before I get out of here" maneuvers. As you are getting dressed to go work, you put a load in the washer, and hope that sometime in the next 24 hours, the clothes find their way to the dryer.

I have been through this drill so many times that I am familiar with the melodies the washing machine sings as it travels through its cycles. When I hear a deep bass thump, I know the machine is agitating. The piercing whine means it is spinning.

The other morning the machine played only half its repertoire. There was a thump, but no whine. I went into the laundry room and tried to think of ways to coax the machine into doing its spin number.

First I offered the let the machine choose the working pace it found most appealing. I let it wash in the gentle mode, then the heavy-duty mode, then the sit-around-and-soak mode. Pace didn't seem to matter. Whether it was working fast or slow, the machine always thumped. But regardless of the pace of thump, it wouldn't move into a spin.

Then I let the machine rest. I returned late at night to lighten its load. I pulled out the heavy wet clothes. I siphoned gallons of gray water out the washing machine tub. But even in its new light and dry condition, the tub sat still. It wouldn't spin.

Then I did what years of experience has taught me to do. I admitted defeat. I called up a washing machine repair service.

The repairman was there in a flash and quickly had the problem diagnosed as a faulty lid switch.

Like most washing machines, ours was designed to spin only when its lid was shut. This was a safety feature and was controlled by a brown device called a lid switch. The switch did two things. It locked the lid shut when the machine was in its spin cycle and it prohibited the machine from spinning if the lid was open.

After years of duty our lid switch had gone haywire. It was telling the machine that the lid was open when in fact the lid was closed. That was why the machine wouldn't spin.

On the mechanical level I found this information about lid-switch life mildly interesting

On the financial level, it cost me about $34. That was what the serviceman charged for coming to my house. At first I was willing to pay the guy more to install a new switch. But he did not have one with him. His office, he said, would call me back later with an estimate of how much a new switch, plus the labor to install it, would come to.

Once again the wisdom that comes from years at staring at broken machines came to my assistance. When the repairman left, I pried open the top of the washing machine, looked at the broken switch and realized I could replace it myself. All I had to do was loosen two screws and snap two wire clips in place. I could do that, even at my newly advanced age.

I found the model number of my washing machine. It was stamped on a piece of metal fastened to the side of the machine. Armed with the model number, I called a couple of washing machine parts stores and asked if they had the lid switch for my washer.

It took me several phone calls and a fair amount of driving, but eventually I found myself standing at a parts place in an industrial park in Woodlawn. There I bought myself a washing machine lid switch for my birthday.

I paid for it by tapping some "fun money" my parents had sent me as a birthday present. My mother had written me a check paying me $1 for each year I have been on earth. The lid switch cost $42. So as I begin another year of mortal toil, family will have clean clothes, and I will have a few bucks of fun left.

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