Trials and tribulations of a repairman
Forget the image of the bored Maytag appliance repairman who spends long, lonely days without a single service call. The reality is that the life of an appliance repairman is anything but boring.
While the Maytag advertisement made for a great commercial, most appliance-repair companies say their days are very busy, with thousands of house calls in a year.
A typical appliance repairman usually attends between four and a dozen service calls every day.
They get to fish missing socks, lost G.I Joe dolls and loose change from washers, remove bra wires from dryers and even put out the occasional fire.
Doug Knowles, owner of Doug’s Dependable Service in Victoria, recalls the time he went to a house to service a broken clothes washer in a basement early one morning.
“The height of the ceiling in the basement was low,” Knowles says.
“While the lady of the house was explaining the problem to me she backed up against a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The bulb explodes with a ‘poof’ and sets her hair on fire.”
The woman had just used hairspray and the exploding light bulb had ignited the fumes. Knowles quickly doused the flames and the lady was shocked but unhurt.
While he hasn’t had to put out any fires since, Knowles has found and removed numerous items from the motors of washing machines.
Missing socks are the most common item he finds, but he once retrieved a rosary from the innards of a machine.
Sometimes losing and finding pieces of clothing can be inconvenient. At other times, it can be more serious.
“I once had a customer call after returning from a week-long business trip,” says Joe Lessard, owner of Lansdowne Appliance.
“Her washer was full of water and wouldn’t wash or drain. Her husband had done laundry while she was away. I figured something was stuck in the pump.
“I removed a pair of women’s underwear from the pump and left them on top of the washer and proceeded to reassemble the washer.
“When I showed her what had plugged the pump she exclaimed ‘What the heck is this?’ and rushed out of the laundry room. I heard her yelling and screaming on the phone in the next room.
“A few months later I was doing a call at a neighbour’s house, and found out the original customers were getting divorced.
“It turns out the husband was having an affair and his girlfriend was doing her laun- dry while the wife was away.”
Guilty spouses wishing to hide evidence and frugal homeowners looking for ways to save a few dollars sometimes take it upon themselves to fix an appliance.
The latter take on the chore when confronted with the $70 fee for a service call and the first half-hour of a technician’s time. Their confidence is buoyed by the many doit-yourself books and videos on the market promising simple fixes. However, many overzealous homeowners neglect to take the time to study and follow the instructions given - with predictable results.
“I once arrived at a client’s house and got handed a bucket with about 500 screws,” says Abatis. “The gentleman had taken apart the appliance, removing 20 things instead of just the one part that was broken. Instead of a 15-minute repair, it became a 45-minute job to put everything back together.”
Newer machines are more complicated. While some machines are repairable, many new machines aren’t built as sturdily as appliances in our parent’s time.
One retired appliance repairman tells of people using appliances for purposes they were never intended for. Earl Mycock of Sooke says it really isn’t a good idea to poach fish in the dishwasher. “And don’t use it to wash underwear,” he says, adding that misguided attempts to wash small items of clothing in a dishwasher can result in damage to the garment - the fabric can break down and bits of elastic can plug the drain.
In some instances, potential disasters can be easily remedied. Some people (usually men) faced with using a dishwasher for the first time will mistakenly pour ordinary dishwashing liquid instead of dishwasher detergent into the machine. Instead of washing dishes, the machine becomes a soap suds maker.
Abatis recommends homeowners faced with the prospect of a kitchen overrun with suds promptly pour cooking oil, butter or mayonnaise into the dishwasher. The oil attaches to the suds and will help break them down.
Abatis, a 10-plus year veteran at appliance repair also warns of one preventable disaster that happens every holiday season.
“Don’t use the self-clean function on an oven just before the holidays,” he advises. The self-cleaning cycle is stressful on ovens, with temperatures often reaching up to 500 degrees Celsius. It is enough to push an old appliance on its last legs over the edge. If that happens just before the annual Christmas dinner, it may be a week or two before it can get fixed.
“People get the urge to clean up the oven ahead of guests arriving. But if the oven packs it in, the homeowner may be faced with having to cook the turkey in the barbecue or microwave instead.”