It’s a wash

My washing machine is older than I am. It was born before Elvis died, but stopped working the night before I left town for six weeks in Alaska.

It filled with water and got “agitated” (a technical term), and then it just quit. There was an eerie ticking noise, but nothing else. I used a manual bilge pump (who knew it would be so handy around the house) to bail out the drum of dirty, soapy water. Tried again. Same result.

Not seeing an obvious way to open up the machine’s belly for a look inside, I told my roommate she could try fixing it or find an alternative while I was gone. And if the latter, I’d figure it out when I got back. She became acquainted with the laundromat down the street.

I returned a few days ago with a small pile of dirty clothes. Thankfully, the salmon stayed vacuum-sealed and the ice intact while surrounded (insulated) by them in my checked luggage. But a couple days of yard work added a pile of sweaty clothes to the hamper. It was time to get acquainted with the washer.

Googling “Maytag washer repairs” scored some helpful how-to videos. I also found this site to determine the machine’s age from its serial number. (Ending in “ZF” means that mine was made in March 1977.) These and a few other online forums provided me with useful tips and optimism that I could fix it, myself. (Getting parts was another matter, but as it turned out, they didn’t matter.)

The front of the machine came off with minimal effort and revealed a refreshingly simple mechanical system inside. It basically consisted of a drum, a motor and a water pump, connected by belts that came off easily – especially the pump’s belt, which seemed very loose. Repair Theory #1: Replace the belt.

Maytag washing machine

The guts of a 1977 Maytag, from left to right: motor, drum, water pump. Simple, eh?

Maytag’s (now Whirlpool’s) online repair locator brought up a long list of mostly big-box stores. Representatives from Lowe’s and The Home Depot all had the same story: “We don’t carry parts in-store, but you can order them online.” Nevermind that I had a 35-year old machine and wanted to look at the parts and talk with someone knowledgeable first. “Would you like the toll-free phone order number instead?”

In retrospect, I should have gone directly to the company that didn’t have a website. They were also closed on Sunday, so I left a message on the answering machine. Not only did I get a call back early the next morning, the guy talked me through Repair Theory #2: Belts don’t really stretch; instead, check the safety switch connected to the lid. “Just take the switch out and hold the wires together to see if it runs.” I did as instructed and it ran.

Simple repair tools

Simple repair tools

When I got to the shop (which actually stocks replacement parts), a different guy tested the switch for me. Trouble is, it was fine. The guy I spoke with on the phone came out and we brainstormed a bit. Rather than sell me something I didn’t need, he suggested that if connecting the wires sans switch did the trick, why not just leave it like that? “Maybe some electrical tape to keep it from shorting out. Oh, and just don’t open the lid while it’s spinning. You might lose an arm.”

I followed his advice. The machine now works, I have clean laundry, both arms are still intact and so is my wallet.

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