Vickroy: They sure don’t make appliances like they used to
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy July 24, 2013 9:44PM
Old and antique washers are among the items scheduled to be sold at auction in August. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 26, 2013 4:15PM
It is a behemoth, weighing more than 20 pounds and standing nearly to my shoulders.
I remember feeling foolish the day I brought it home and told my husband it cost $300.
“For a vacuum?” he said, incredulous. That was 22 years ago. I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. My husband had started a new job, after being laid off for a few months. (Yes, companies closed back then, too.)
Needless to say, pennies were being pinched.
“The Montgomery Ward salesman promised it will last a lifetime,” I said.
I know he didn’t believe me, which is why every now and then, when one of us pulls the behemoth out of the closet, I remark on how well it’s working, considering its age and all.
Our Electrolux upright has outlived two refrigerators, two sets of washers and dryers, two Toyota vehicles and three lawn mowers. And it still can suck up socks, draperies and probably the dog if we’re not careful.
But now, at last, it is in need of some real attention. The original hose has fallen apart. I am not complaining, however, about dropping $25 on a new attachment kit. In fact, I’m grateful that the parts still are available.
Old appliances that still work fascinate us. I suppose that’s because we’re accustomed to cellphones barely lasting through the phone company contract and computers that are dated the minute you take them out of the box. A 22-year-old vacuum that is going strong is something to remark on, if not celebrate.
“Twenty-two years?” said Jim Jager, who owns Jim’s Appliance Service in Orland Park and Manhattan. “That’s older than almost everything these days.”
Jager, 71, has been in the appliance repair business for 50 years. He remembers when half the calls were requests to fix ringer washers.
“Those machines could last forever. They’d need repairs every now and then, but they lasted,” he said.
Unlike today, he said.
“Most of the calls I get these days are for appliances under 10 years old,” Jager said. “Things don’t last that long anymore. And I think that’s a planned thing.”
Thirty years ago, the average lifespan of a refrigerator was at least 20 years. Forty years ago, before self-defrosters were invented, the fridge could go 40 years. These days, most people who call are weighing the cost of repairs on their 10-year-old appliance against the cost of a new machine.
Newer appliances have electronic parts run by fragile circuit boards, with controls that break down more easily. In addition to making machines less durable, this development has made repair work more costly, Jager said.
“A lot of times appliances will be thrown out simply because a part and labor to install it are deemed too expensive,” he said. It’s not unusual to see a giant refrigerator kicked to the curb simply because a single part has failed, he said.
But every now and then, Jager comes across an oldie that it still going strong. He recently got a call from a customer with a 50-year-old fridge in need of its first repair.
Those moments are enough to make an appliance repair guy giddy.
Tracy King once chanced upon an old pink refrigerator.
“It had so much chrome, it looked like a ’57 Chevy,” said the owner of Appliance Repair by TMK in Lockport.
“It had to be from the ’40s or ’50s, and I wanted to buy and put it in my garage as a conversation piece, even though it wasn’t working,” he said. But the owner wasn’t selling.
King said electronic parts, coupled with government-mandated efficiency requirements, contribute to the shortened lifespans.
“You have to wonder, do you really recoup money with increased efficiency standards? Sure, you may save on gas or electric but when warranties are only good for 30 days and repairs cost $400 to $600, you have to wonder,” King said.
No one appreciated old appliances more than Tom Schmidt, a Bourbonnais resident who was general manager of C.E. Sundberg, an appliance parts distributor.
Schmidt collected all kinds of machines — ringer washers, wooden washers, old sewing machines, televisions and ice boxes — for more than 30 years. He also collected other people’s collections, including an eyeglass collection that includes a pair from Dick Tracy.
Sadly, Schmidt passed away last month from cancer.
His widow, Brenda Schmidt, will put all of the items in her late husband’s collections up for auction Aug. 10 and 11.
“I have to get rid of everything,” she said.
That will be no small feat. Schmidt’s collection is so big it is housed in three locations: her home in Bourbonnais and at C.E. Sundberg locations in Oak Forest and near Midway Airport.
“Tom always wanted to open a museum,” Brenda said.
But now that he is gone, the collection must go, too, she said.
The auction begins at 10 a.m.
Aug. 10 at the Schmidt home, 5987 N. Route 50, Bourbonnais; and Day 2 starts at 10 a.m. Aug. 11 at River Valley Auction Centre, 880 S. McMullen Drive, Kankakee.
For more information on the
Tom Schmidt auction, visit
Appliance Repair by TMK is at 16451 W. 147th Place, Lockport; (815) 693-5927; appliancerepairbytmk.com.
Jim’s Appliance Service is at 14124 Michael Drive, Orland Park; (708) 349-0756; and 12954 W. Baker Road, Manhattan; (815) 478-5232; www.jimsappl.com.