The Dirt Devil

Way back when, when Frank immigrated to Canada all of his qualifications were as if they did not exist. Added to that, he was struggling with the English language. After twenty years here, we still spoke in French when we were together. His command of the language was never great, but he always managed.

He’s a clever kind of guy. I always admired his ability to get him out of the situations he got in. He worked at a French bakery for awhile. He’d apprenticed at that when he was a youngster – fifteen or so – when he refused to go to school anymore and his dad, having none of that, arranged for his apprenticeship and marched him into the bakery the next day. It was school or work. There was no choice. When he came to Canada, it was an easy job for him to fit into. Lots of bakeries employed French bakers and he could communicate; but he’s allergic to flour – a common thing in the bakery world – and he didn’t last long at that job.

I’ve got to hand it to Frank, he’s got a fantastic work ethic. He’s always there and on time. He’s never faked a day off because of an imaginary illness. If he had to be there at four in the morning because that was when work started, he’d be there at four even if he had to walk ten kilometers to get there.  He works well independently and sometimes, he’s good at commanding a group of men to get work done, although I’ve seen him get pretty argumentative and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.

So here was Frank without a job and going stir crazy in the house, unable to speak to neighbours and friends.

One day, something needed to be fixed – a neighbour’s washing machine, I think it was. Well, it wasn’t long until he had another request for his services to fix a vacuum cleaner; and then a  dryer, and then a sump pump and then a stove and then, and then and then….

And then he was in business for himeself. We didn’t have a car. He took the bus complete with his heavy took kit and a map to find his way around. I was working full time. I didn’t have time to help him out except a bit in the evenings – locate something faster on the map, tell him what bus to take, or phone his customer and straighten out what was needed and what time he expected to get there.

Not only that, but he had to go get parts once he’d decided what was wrong. It would take him all day to look after one customer; but he was fiercely independent, wanted his own money to spend, not depend on me, and so bit by bit, by word of mouth, he built up a good business.

Of course, he got to know what were good brands to buy – which ones were dependable and of long service, which ones were easy to repair, which ones had quirks to be avoided.

Last year when I needed a vacuum cleaner, it was Frank who picked it out. It was a shiny red Dirt Devil which we brought home from the big box store.  I have an aversion to assembling things and I always assume that these products will need something to be done, so I left the machine in the box. Frank, however, can never wait to get his mechanically minded hands on a new toy, so he was the one who unpacked the vacuum as if it were a Christmas present. He was happier than a kid with his first hockey stick and a pair of skates!

When it was all assembled and he led it through its paces, he brought me out of the kitchen to the living room to see the new toy. He showed me the switch to activate it, and the lever to lower the handle to an angle for sweeping the machine across the carpets.

The vacuum was one of the new models without filter bags. There were two chambers, each with a gizmo that filtered. When this chamber filled up, it had to be emptied. There was a little catch to open this up and then underneath, when this part was removed, there was a filter bank that had to be pulled out an cleaned occasionally. It was held in by two locks that needed to be snapped open.

If you remember one of my earlier blogs of August, you might remember that just before the Wedding Anniversary party, I intended to vacuum the rug. After all, there were visitors coming that had never been to my house before and first impressions are pretty important. The vacuum cleaner was not being cooperative. It was picking up dog hair and depositing it back on the rug in curious polka dot shapes.

After some frustrating trials to fix whatever was wrong, I gave up and used a hand vacuum to do the job. This small vacuum  did a wonderful job, but doing eight hundred square feet of carpet completely bent over is not to be recommended. I’d have to fix the vacuum or get a new one. The cost of getting someone in was going to be about the same cost as a new machine. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s the way of things in the labour market these days.

It’s been a month since then. Frank and I are no longer an item and our parting was acrimonious. There’s no way I would take it to him to fix, if fix could be done.

You may also remember that Whistler, my nephew, is staying with me while he awaits some medical tests. He’s feeling a little sensitive about having to be here and, not being able to work, he’s eager to help to make up for his contribution to the household.  For my part, I’m trying to keep him gainfully occupied so that he doesn’t go crazy with the uncertainty of his situation. At the same time, I’m quite sensitive to his energy levels. I don’t want to overtax him and I don’t want him to equate my listing of things to do that I mumble out loud as I think of them, as a request for him to do it.

So I extracted the vacuum from the cleaning closet and armed myself with some tools and a layer of old newspapers to tackle the ailing Dirt Devil. First I ran the motor and confirmed that there was some suction, but it was so little. Then I took off the chambers and looked for something clogged. There was nothing there. Even after I vacuumed a little, there was still nothing there. Nothing was coming through at all.

Next I checked the hose, but it appeared to be clear as far up as I could see without a flashlight. That wasn’t it.

Next I extracted the filter bank but it too was clean. There was nothing that could be stuck there. It just wasn’t possible.

The only other thing I could see that could be removed for some kind of a check was a kinky little clear plastic cover, about four inches long, that covered the place where the hose joined the machine. There were three black magnetic screws with Phillips heads on them.

“Hey Whistler,” I said to him as he lounged on the couch. “This used to put your grandmother in awe when I did this kind of thing.  I’d take out three screws and she’d just shake her head saying “where did you learn to do that?'”

“Three screws. It’s hardly rocket science. And then she would go tell my siblings that I knew how to do everything; and she would forget how many times she had said it and they’d all get mad. ” I laughed.

Whistler laughed too, and it was good to hear him laugh. He rose from the couch and came to watch what I was doing. I showed him the three screws and the little clear plastic cover.

“Three screws,” he repeated, shook his head and entertained a wry smile on his ingenuous face. “But really, I wouldn’t have know where to start either.”

“Well, Frank taught me lots of things. And he showed me, when I bought this thing, how I should take care of it. I’ll have to see what I can do now.”

Sure enough, there was a wad of dog hair, dust bunnies and fine powdery dirt that was compacted into this little passage. I fished it out with my fingers and let it drop onto the outspread newspapers. I fished a little deeper and there was still more, both up and down in the tube.

That done, I replaced the cover, screwed back in the screws and ran the machine.  It still did not draw well. Whistler proposed that there was still blockage further down and if I let the machine run a minute, more would rise to the opening.  And so it was.

I removed and replaced the cover about four times, and then it seemed, there was nothing left to pull out. It amazed us both, not only how compacted all this dirt matted together with dog hair and other detritus had become, but also the sheer quantity of it. It kept coming and coming. No wonder the machine had not worked. Just so you don’t think this was an easy operation, we had to pull this stuff out with a fondu fork with a little catchy tine on the end; and once, when we could hear pebbles or stones or marbles or something in there, Whistler helped me turn the whole machine upside down because we couldn’t get it either with our fingers or with the fondu fork.

Whistler found his opportunity to do something with his day.

“I know you don’t like doing it, and I’ve nothing better to do. I don’t mind. And you can go do something more important, ” he offered.  He took the machine, plugged it in and started to vacuum. This lasted about three minutes when the engine shut down and refused to work. The red cover was hot to the touch.  Obviously there was still something wrong.

I looked for another entry or exit for this tube. Something surely was blocking still. It wouldn’t be long before the machine shut down again and went on strike. After some poking and dismantling the dirt chambers, I found the tube exit and poked my fingers in it. There was a rubbery part, a bar that seemed to move.  When I pressed a little harder, it moved deeper into the machine.

“Oh, grief!” I thought. with a groan. What if I’d dislodged a working part? What if I’d made things worse? I continued to poke and the object went sideways, my fingers just barely holding its rubbery surface, working its way up until, with a jerk, it dislodged and was free in my hand. It was a wine cork, the new kind made of plastic or rubber.  No wonder the machine was complaining. No wonder there was no suction draw.

It took a few more times of cleaining out the passage as the newly freed hose allowed the suction to bring the remaining dirt into the chambers.  Now the whirlygig metal parts turned freely in the dirt chambers, Now the dirt was sucked from the carpet like it was supposed to.


“Good for you!” declared Whistler. “I’m impressed. I don’t think I could have done that.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I said, thanking him in return for his assistance. ” And we just saved $170 of a new vacuum or $90 for a repairman,” I added, “so let’s go thrift shopping. It’s seniors day at the Sally Ann, and I’m over 55 now. I think I get twenty percent off”

“Do you need anything?” he said, a bit incredulously.

“Nope. It’s just to get out and do something. And you never know. You might find something.”

And so we did. After all, I’d saved some money, so now I could go spend it, don’t you think?


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