Collecting Is A Breeze For Fan Fanatic

July 07, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

GERMANTOWN -- David Rouse has a house full of remedies for these still, oppressive days of summer.

Mr. Rouse, 37, a seemingly normal chap, has accumulated about 150 old, electric fans in the past 14 months at his house here in Montgomery County. His co-workers at Standard Federal Savings and Loan Association in Frederick, where Mr. Rouse is a computer-systems programmer, have taken to twitting him.

"Are you going to start collecting air conditioners next?" asks one.

"Ooh, look Dave," chortles another. "It's a 1973 heat pump!"

Mr. Rouse remains cool. He accepts the good-natured ribbing and even laughs at himself. He realizes he's obsessed, stung by the same bug that stings others who collect.

But fans?

Imagine a rush of cool air on your sweating face as Mr. Rouse explains about his grandparents' fan. There was something magical about that tall, floor fan, at least in the mind of the boy who spent summer vacations at his grandparents' house in West Virginia.

"I just remember being real fascinated by it," Mr. Rouse says, "fascinated by the spinning blades, by the sound it made -- it almost made an airplane sound -- and the breeze it put out on a hot summer day."

Mr. Rouse remembers asking his grandparents whether he could have that fan someday. He got it six or seven years ago when their house was sold. He placed it proudly in his living room. It was so powerful it nearly blew the windows out of their frames.

His wife, Nikki, tried to move it. It wouldn't budge.

"It weighs a ton," she says. "I finally convinced him it made a real good garage fan."

In the garage it freshened Mr. Rouse as he worked on engines. Attracted to mechanical things all his life, he put together models of World War II planes as a boy and dreamed about owning an actual fighter plane one day. He settled for learning how to repair engines of cars and motorcycles.

He got his grandparents' fan. Then, driving past a yard sale in May last year, he spotted a small fan, stopped, offered all the change in his pocket, $2.50, and drove his prize home.

This caught the attention of his wife, who collects antiques and had tried for years to convince her recalcitrant husband how joyous that hours spent at yard sales could be.

"When he brought that fan home from a yard sale, I knew he was hooked," Mrs. Rouse says. "It was not a pretty fan. I was not impressed."

It was a diamond in his eyes. He spent hours tinkering with that Eskimo fan from about 1950, taking it apart, cleaning it, putting it back together. When he finished, he looked up from his workbench and declared: "I really enjoyed that. I'm going to begin collecting fans."

And he did.

"Once I started looking and finding out what was out there, that's when it really took off," he says, surrounded by fans in his living room. "These old fans were built well. They had character. They were made to last -- to last a lifetime, and to look at these fans, more than a lifetime."

He began flitting from yard sale to flea market to antique store -- to the amazement of his wife. He accumulated about 150 fans. About 40 are displayed in the house, and the rest sit on shelves in the garage waiting for him to refurbish them. He has fans with blades of brass, cast-iron, steel, plastic, aluminum, ribbon and rubber. He has a fan from the 1930s with a heating coil. Turn it on, the coil glows red hot, and the blades circulate the warm air.

"The first fans -- they were battery-operated -- came out about 1888," Mr. Rouse says. "I don't have anything before 1900 at this point, although I'm desperately looking. Those are extremely rare."

He has paid as much as $200 for a fan. The ones he buys these days average about $50.

"What I'd like to end up with is a substantial collection of, say, 100 fans, from the early years -- as far back as I can go -- through the 1940s," he says. "Generally speaking, they got less interesting the newer they got."

As he realized that, he changed his mind about other things, such as how he wanted the house decorated.

"He always wanted a modern, contemporary house," Mrs. Rouse says. "I wanted an old-fashioned house with antiques. He changed. I won, I think; fans weren't what I had in mind."

But she came around. Early on Mr. Rouse hauled home a cute little Westinghouse fan from the 1920s -- this was his fourth or fifth find -- and Mrs. Rouse nodded approvingly. She liked the dainty design and eventually came to share her husband's enthusiasm -- to a point.

"I guess I have gone a little overboard," Mr. Rouse says.

"Be honest," admonishes his wife. "You even have to go say good night to them."

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