Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dire Dryer Despair

Since when did quality of manufacturing in America decline to substandard levels? I thought we were the pride of the world when it comes to building quality appliances. Was I wrong? All I want to do is buy something, take good care of it and have it last. I’m talking about our dryer, a seemingly simple idea that has given us enough problems to last a lifetime. Plug it in, dry the clothes. How hard could it be? We can put a man on the moon, but I have to walk around in clothes like I just got dipped into a pool. Nice.

The story starts in 1997, soon after Kara and I were married. We had moved into a small apartment on the border of Pomona and Diamond Bar (The Crest on Mission Blvd.), and the place had hookups for a washer and dryer. The catch was that the dryer had to be electric, given that it was an apartment complex… but the last laugh was on Sears. Well, it guess it was on us because we bought an electric dryer. However, we barely did laundry, and when we did, it was marathon laundry, an all day affair. Usually, a mountain of clothes would collect in the hallway between our bedroom and the laundry “room,” an alcove cut into the hallway and hidden by accordion doors, and we’d have so much that I’d have to hire some Sherpas to guide me over it and into the bedroom. When the pile became too large for even the Sherpas to climb, it signaled laundry time.

It was a bad habit that took years to break, but it didn’t help that both of us came from doing laundry via pressure cooking. What is that, you ask? Pile the clothes up in the corner of your room, and via the magic of composting, heat and moisture automatically washes the clothes on the bottom; therefore, a shirt, for example, after a couple of weeks languishing under the pile, comes out clean… and pressed too! That’s what we learned in college.

Needless to say, in the 12 months we lived in that apartment we rarely had laundry days (they raised the rent from $920 for the two-bedroom, two-bath place to $1020, which seemed drastic to us so we moved to the little house on Zara Street in Glendora). The little bungalow we moved into didn’t have hookups for a dryer. Sure, there was a washer, but the official dryer was three wires strung between two posts in the backyard (another thing we didn’t use, but I did crack my head open on it while I was mowing the lawn one day—good times). The relatively new dryer, put through its cycles approximately 100 times since new, sat in the one-car garage for two years, a big albatross that became the bane of my organization whims when I often rearranged the garage to better suit my needs.

Two years later, we finally moved south about 35 miles and the dried-by-an-old-lady-on-Sundays dryer went along for the ride. But, the glory day for the relatively new electric dryer never came. The new house offered gas hookups, so again, it sat cold in the garage. I ended up selling it for about a third of what I paid for it and put that money into a new dryer, plumbed for gas.

Happiness and clean, dry clothes ensued. Fast forward five years later and we moved to another house about a mile away. The dryer, a year 2000 model Roper—granted it was the cheapest one I could find—did just fine, until we moved here, as if it missed the old house. It’s not like we took away its mate; the washer has survived unscathed each location. Suddenly, one day, much to my chagrin and disappointment, the Roper that I’ve grown to love and trust, decided it didn’t want to do it’s job anymore. It just decided that it wanted to get lazy, take longer and longer to dry even the simplest of loads. Why? Just because we started to ask more of it? Because we had a couple of children and we started using it more and more, sometimes several times a day? You think it would be happy. We gave it purpose again, made it part of the family, brought it back inside from the garage (where the last house required the laundry location) and welcomed it to our lives. Just dry our clothes. I will keep the dust off of you, the lint from your traps and the change out of your drum. In return, all I require of you is that you dry my clothes. The washer is keeping up its end of the deal, why can’t you?

Poof. Cold shoulder, as if I wronged it somehow. This is the thanks I get? Pretty soon, it would take two cycles just to dry a few items of baby clothes. I gave it one more chance, and it failed me. Fine. I see how it is going to be. If that’s how you feel about it, I’m going to find a dryer that will respect authority, do it’s job, take orders, and, yes, make my clothes dry.

When I went shopping for a dryer five years ago, I didn’t have the use of the Internet as a source for research. Sure, it was there, but I didn’t use it for whatever reason. This time, I scoured the big-name stores online for the lowest priced dryer that has the same dimensions and properties of the old one. Guess what, I bought a freakin’ Roper again, as if I didn’t learn my lesson the first time.

So, out with the old, in with the new, plug it in, fight with a small gas leak… light a match to be able to see better… put out the fire, start it up and nothing. Sure, the drum spins, the dryer is quiet by comparison, but the heat isn’t there. Again a chill runs up by spine…and in my dryer. What gives?

It works better if you actually turn the gas to the “on” position. Okay, so attention to detail in my work is a sore subject. Pull the dryer back out from the wall, turn on the gas. Now, for its maiden voyage. Toss in some wet clothes and give it a whirl. After a normal cycle, set on automatic sensor (a fancy selling point that claims it automatically senses when the clothes are dry and turns itself off), which I’m sure I can time to be identical to every other load. After the cycle, the dryer still doesn’t work. Brand new dryer and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t get hot enough, and a pile of wet clothes was the result.

Very unsatisfied (since I won’t swear here, I’ll stress my dissatisfaction by traditional comic strip methods), I contacted %#@$! Whirlpool, %#@$! Roper’s %#@$! parent %#@$! company, via email. I asked if I was doing anything wrong or if I needed to press some magic %#@$! button that tells the dryer to actually do it’s %#@$! job. You’re right, I didn’t ask them that and I was tactful, but I wanted to tell them to come get their dryer, and next time I would think twice about buying an American appliance.

You know what, to this day, they never got back to me. So much for customer service.

An email to a friend who has a friend who fixes dryers, etc., produced a suggestion that I make sure the exhaust pipe was cleaned out and perfectly straight. Hmmm, a new development, as I didn’t think of that. The flexible pipe from the dryer to the wall was cleaned out when we moved, and there were scant leavings in there when I replaced the dryer. However, as I was leaving the house one morning, I walked by the outside vent (where the dryer’s exhaust finally empties out) and there was a huge clump of lint laying there underneath a bush, spit out by a dejected dryer.

“Of course!” I said to myself in one of those frequently occurring, family-curse-like moments, with slap on the forehead, V8 style. The exhaust pipe runs from the back of the dryer through the metallic flexible tube and into the garage via a 10-foot-long extension pipe running to the outside vent. It seems excessive, but I guess it is so the vent doesn’t empty out right by the front door of the house. That’s where the problem must be; it has to be. That’s the solution, and like a forensic detective, investigating the murder of an appliance, I pieced together the last few moments of the old dryer. It died of heart failure, unable to push out the clog, like cholesterol blocking an artery. The new dryer, stronger than the old one, was able to push some lint glop out. It was a cry for help, indeed.

Once I took apart the three connection pipes in the garage (I had to move everything out of the way, of course), I was able to vacuum out enough lint from hundreds of loads of laundry to build a thousand warm and cozy bird nests. Flashlight in hand, it looked like the insides of a professional butter eating contest champion’s heart, clogged to about one-third its potential capacity. If this put the nail on the coffin of my old dryer, it surely had the new one up in the hangman’s noose. Then again, I’m left to wonder whether the old dryer had actually died a natural death (it was five years old) or was it ultimately executed by a clogged exhaust vent? It’ll be one of my life’s greatest mysteries, but I’m guessing foul play.

As fortune would have it, the previous owner happened to drive by that day and his wife agreed: Having six children, she did several loads of laundry each day, everyday, all day. And they never cleaned out the vent, ever.

It was just a matter of time before something gave out, burned down or blew up. Now that the exhaust is clean, the dryer works flawlessly. Anyone need an old dryer?

As I write this, my faith and loyalty to American products is restored. As it turns out, Roper is a Canadian company. So much for buying American.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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