Lee Johnston

Washing Machine Woes
By Lee Johnston

Where was I when the washing machine crisis happened? Was I sleeping, out of the country, in a coma, or just not paying attention? The last laundry washing machine I remember buying was admittedly some time ago, but not all that long, not a lifetime or anything like that. It was a nice washing machine, nice heavy steel sides and top, a pretty light tan color, and it worked. It worked for a long, long time and so did the nice matching laundry dryer that accompanied it.

That washer had one knob and one button; the knob had four settings that covered every conceivable type of laundry load that could be assembled by man or woman. The button said, "Start." That's it, just Start. To stop, one only needed to open the lid and it stopped whatever it was doing. Close the lid and away it went, again doing its job. The dryer also had a knob and a button, the knob had four heat range settings. You guessed it, they covered everything that could possibly be put in a dryer, and oh yeah, the button said, "Start."

It seems to me the washer was priced at 249.00 dollars. I thought it a bit high, however the set came for 349.95 so of course the set it was. They worked flawlessly for years even though almost always overloaded with too many heavy clothes, including rugs that were too big to even fit in them correctly. One day the poor dryer just up and quit after smelling bad and rolling out a big puff of electrical fire smelling smoke. I figured it was dead but it sort of deserved to be, so I didn't feel so bad about the situation.

I took it all apart just to see what was in there and found the electric heater coil to be all covered with gunk and burned up. I just happened to check with Sears and guess what? A replacement element was available locally, only five miles away, for the huge sum of 36.00 dollars! I put in the element, it took about fifteen minutes and bingo, another ten years of drying last time I checked. The washer never did have any illnesses and still may be alive today for all I know. I could "do laundry" because I was able to master the knob and the button; they made perfect sense to me.

Yesterday we had the occasion to buy a new washing machine and dryer. The good news was that they were on a big discounted rebate deal. They of course had to have an extra extended hose kit, a metal expanding retractable exhaust tube, and a longer than standard electrical cord. The price for the pair worked out to be a mere 2,939.73 dollars.

Where have I been? I bought a brand new Pontiac car in 1972 for three thousand dollars!

The washing machine is white, so is its friend the dryer. The pair has thirty-two buttons altogether and four screens with flashing messages on them. The washer has fifteen cycles; I don't even know what some of them mean. The dryer has ten cycles -- how many kinds of dry can there be?

They both make beeps and buzzes and things at certain times that apparently mean something to someone and the volume is adjustable wouldn't you know? The washer has to have a special high performance low suds detergent that costs more than twice as much, and when not in use the door has to hang open or the world will reportedly come to an end.

I'm not sure if I can "do laundry" anymore. Maybe there is a class available, maybe a support group exists for the laundry challenged, or perhaps the company has consultants to assist for a minimal fee. The thirty-two buttons were all made in China even though the brand name of the units is a famous respected American company. How do you think my chances of picking up a spare part might be?

Both units' performance is controlled by sensors, one tells the washer how much water to use for each individual load based on it's size and weight, even the spin is "smart." It knows just how fast to spin so it won't shake. The dryer has sensors to tell it how hot to get, how long to run, and it will even leave things a little moist if you know which of those cycles to use and which buttons to push.

If they ever break I won't be able to do much, and I suspect the union repair technician would be able to do just slightly less. All in all, I'm wondering just how on Earth I missed all that progress without noticing, and at the rate of price increase that has taken place, I'm curious how long it might be before a bar of lye soap and a good flat rock alongside a stream might look pretty good. Lord knows we won't be able to go back to the kick-start Maytag two-cycle gasoline engine powered washer with the dangerous power wringer like my Mother used. The price of gasoline may be too prohibitive for that.