Orphan or Outcast...or Both!

| October/November 1992

35901 WCR 31, Eaton, Colorado 80615

Wouldn't you think among all the collectors and collectibles that one of the most important contraptions of modern times would have been given its proper due?

The washing machine, especially the powered one, is almost universally shunned by antique buyers and sellers. The WMCA (Washing Machine Collectors of America) has yet to be founded, since there aren't enough collectors to properly fill the office positions, and there is definitely no periodical that proudly features restored washing machines in full color on both its front and back covers.

Nonetheless, if you will allow me, I'd like to let you in on the fun and fascination of the hobby of washing machine collecting. About half the machines in our collection have come from within a hundred mile radius of our home west of Eaton. The others, from as far away as Maine, have been brought back via a trailer (with a capacity of 15-18 machines) behind our camper. If you've ever seen what you thought to be a traveling junk yard, that was us. The 18-wheelers have joked with us on their CB's about our being Gypsies. Three years ago, we even brought four machines back from a visit with our son who lives in Australia. First time the customs agents, with more than a few raised eyebrows, had ever seen washing machines used as suitcases. Didn't cost us an extra cent by checking them onto the airplane that way. Each of our more than 300 machines has its own story, some more interesting than others, and many that we fondly remember, just as the one to follow.

On our most recent hunting safari, all through Missouri, we ran into Tom Coffey in his unique hardware store that houses his extensive collection of clocks and kerosene lamps. It seems that Tom, who celebrates his 86th birthday in February, was a Maytag dealer and repairman, beginning over a half century ago. After an hour's chat with Tom and after hearing about his exploits as a repairman (he just didn't sit around like the guy on TV) and as a one-man 'Crabgrass' band, he gifted me a machine. The gift had two strings attached: 1) that I would buy a copy of his recently recorded audio tape and, 2) that I cut down the unwanted tree that had been growing up through the framework of the machine, Fig. 1. In retrospect, I think Tom had been waiting for someone like me, just to get that little chore done. After getting the machine out, and the roots holding the base, Tom hiked us up to his house where, in his 'Fibber McGee's' shed, he had two more machines. He agreed that I could buy these if I would unload the mountain of stuff on top of them. While I was trying to develop a hernia to get at the machines, Tom came with his Cajun accordion and stool, and proceeded to serenade Barbara (my trusty washing machine hunting companion, and wife of 40 years) and me with renditions of his 'Crabgrass' music. After four or five very lively tunes, Barbara helped me load some 400 pounds of rusty washing machines. At a time like this, she wishes I could have taken up collecting something smaller; I remind her there are some in this world who collect big engines and even tractors. All loaded and tied down, we told our new friend that we'd be back another day and then took off to continue the hunt.

Like more than a few of the machines we have come onto, the 'tree-bound' one was missing most of its original wooden tub, as well as most of the wringer. Except for a couple of cast iron guards, all of the metal parts were still intact, although completely rusted to an extreme state of rigor mortis.


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