Some sentimental moments warm toaster resuscitation


November 19, 1994|By ROB KASPER

When the kitchen toaster fails, it is the equivalent of an airport commuter system going down. Routine procedures, such as preparing the Pop-Tarts, become incredibly complicated. Everything slows down. Everybody worries about being late.

Our toaster broke on a Thursday, right after breakfast. On Friday morning, I attempted to make toast in the oven. Instead I made smoke. On Saturday, I began the toaster-repair process.

The first phase of the process is called "jiggle and slap." The procedure consists of unplugging the toaster, shaking it and slapping it upside its solenoid. Sometimes this works. But even when it doesn't work, slapping around a broken appliance relieves stress.

After jiggle and slap failed, I moved to the "take the darn thing apart" stage. This stage requires tools, namely a screwdriver and plastic bag. The screwdriver loosens the screws on the bottom of the toaster. The plastic bag holds the screws captive. Experience has taught that if you do not jail loose screws -- they will flee the scene. This particular toaster -- a long, sleek, stylish number -- shed its screws and its covering pretty easily. It was not very old.

I had given it to my wife as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. The toaster had sentimental value, at least to me. Maybe some day I will be like those guys on TV who give their women jewelry the size of softballs. But for the time being, I am in the toaster-and-tires stage of my gift-giving career. I'm thinking radials for Christmas.

Once I got the toaster apart, I had a flashback. I recalled years ago standing in the basement of my boyhood home, looking at the inner workings of another injured toaster. It was my parent's old toaster. I was standing next to my dad.

At my mother's request, my dad had taken the smoking toaster '' apart, and was poking it with a screwdriver, hoping to get it working. The toaster was ancient. It had been given to my parents as a wedding present, a fact that my mother always brought up when my dad threatened to throw it away and buy a new one. The toaster had sentimental value, my mom would say, adding that "they don't make toasters like they used to."

These days, I don't understand the global complexities of toaster economics. I know that many small appliance factories are located on the other side of the world. I have a vague feeling that most of the crucial small-appliance repair parts are floating on a freighter somewhere in the Indian Ocean. And I have the feeling that getting them involves treaties, tariffs and kissing up to Sen. Jesse Helms. I am murky on the specifics. But I do know Mom was right. They don't make toasters like they used. The old family toaster, a Toastmaster, lasted 25 years.

Having been reminded of my toaster- repair roots, I looked, with newfound fervor, for a loose wire in our balky 2-year-old toaster. Sure enough, a wire that connected a switch to the toaster's heating element was broken.

The metal end, or crimp, at the end of the wire had pulled loose. I tried to force the crimp back on the wire. That didn't work. I tried to get a new crimp at the neighborhood hardware store. The crimps it had were too big. The correct crimps were, no doubt, on that Indian Ocean freighter.

I closed my eyes and tried to remember what my dad had done to fix the old family toaster. It came to me: Dad had soldered toaster parts together. I quickly pulled out the soldering gun Dad had used to make the repair. He had given me the tool during my recent visit to his home.

It had been a long time since I had soldered. But I read the instructions that came with the gun, and recalled the basics. The tip of the electric gun heated up and melted a thin piece of metal called solder. When the liquid solder cooled, it turned into a lump. The lump healed the broken electrical connection.

It took a few tries, but eventually I got the lumps of solder to fall on the right spots, and the toaster wire was reunited with its metal crimp. I snapped everything back into place, and toasted a few test pieces of bread. I sniffed around to make sure the aroma was coming from the toast, not the wiring. Then I put the toaster back together.

The threat to Pop-Tarts and smoke detectors had been quelled. The household was, once again, ready for its morning launch, an activity some call breakfast.

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