10 April 2007

On What Sucks and What Really Sucks

For years, I have used vintage vacuums. My first one was a Hoover Constellation. I bought it for four dollars at Renslow's Bargain Barn.

Even though I had to buy any store's complete supply whenever I found Hoover Type "J" vacuum bags, my Constellation was a trusted way to keep my hardwoods clean. It was one of the earlier pale yellow models designed during the height of the hovercraft craze in the 1950s. The exhaust port was located on the center of the underside of the machine, causing it to float across the floor. It was an elegantly designed, functional piece of art.

A vintage ad for a later model of the trusted Constellation.

A bit later, I found a vintage Hoover upright I figured was a mid-1930's model based upon a limited amount of research. It was brown. I found a similar model on Paul Linnell's Vacuum Cleaner Museum as Hoover Model 150, circa 1936. Turns out, This machine was designed by Henry Dreyfuss, celebrated industrial designer of the 1930s and 1940s. And until I continued doing research for this vacuum, I didn't realize that he designed the Constellation, as well. No wonder I was drawn to it. It was an Industrial Age classic. To have this beauty join my arsenal of vintage appliances and further complete my time warp of a home, I paid Norma, five dollars. This machine would suck dust from the hardwoods through the oriental rugs and take all the cat hair with it.

These two were my mainstay of floor cleaners (besides my O Cedar dust mop and a good old fashioned natural cane broom) until Cameron and I moved in together. As with most appliances in our house, I have several of just about everything. At this moment, there are at least five irons in the laundry room. This is because I love classic design and I don't mind a little inconvenience of less than the most up-to-date to have something that works very well, is dependable, and is beautifully designed. Some don't appreciate that, but my neuroses are mine, and I own up to them proudly. Anyway, back to when we officially became a couple. Cameron bought an estate house in St. Petersburg a couple of years before he accepted the position at Northwest. Included in the purchase of the house was a mid-70's (estimated) self-propelled orange and white Hoover upright that weighed about 5-million pounds and was ugly as hell. But, as was standard back when there was "nothing like a Hoover when you're dealing with dirt,"* the thing sucked. So, I used the old one less and less and eventually loaned it to a friend. I regret not going to pick it up when he moved. Apparently it was still in the house when he left and God knows what has happened to it since. I hope it didn't end up in the trash.

A few years later, Thom came to live with us after he completed training to become a flight attendant. He hated all of our vacuums. So he bought one of the new Eureka plastic pieces of shit. He paid several hard-earned dollars for it. It had a HEPA filter. It worked well enough, until one day when Cameron went out to empty the bagless dust canister. He didn't notice that when he beat the cone shaped pre-filter on the side of the dumpster to clear the collected dust that a foam thing fell out of the piece making the vacuum useless. As a result, I promptly went to Value City and bought a refurbished "Cadillac" of Dirt Devil uprights. The refurbished model was over $250. It was amazing. It did as well as the old Hoover upright, had a lighted fascia, a lighted indicator telling me when the carpet was no longer dirty and a buttload of attachments no longer found on newer vacuums, like a crack/crevice tool that's longer than four inches. It lasted for maybe two years before bolts, screws and sundry other pieces started flying out of the back of it while I vacuumed the living room carpet last summer. I threw it 20 feet out the back door onto the patio. It met the garbage truck shortly thereafter.

Following the Dirt Devil, there is the hand-me-down Kirby that was on it's way to the curb until John told me what he was doing. I said, "I WANT IT." A couple of hours later I had an early 1980's model Kirby "Heritage" with ALL of the attachments (even the hair trimmer). It was making an odd noise, which is why John wanted it out of the house that he and David share. Of course, the Kirby made the horrid noise because David's ex stupidly decided to vacuum the patio to get rid of leaves before a party. With a $35 repair and a new guidelamp bulb, I had a Kirby!

Um. It sucks. Really. It's unbalanced because the motor is located to the left of center of the machine body. It tends to tilt to the left on the backstroke which leaves the right side of the area vacuumed virtually untouched. In order to use the myriad attachements, or even the upholstery brush, one has to remove the beater bar (or half of the vacuum) by twisting a mechanism on the front of the machine that releases the belt from the drive. And, as of two weeks ago I discovered a large crack in the resin-coated fiber tube from the motor to the bag that was allowing as much dust as it collected back into the air.

So since I sold the Constellation to Cleo for $5 at a yard sale a few years ago (yes, a dollar profit from my close friend -- shame on me -- but she still uses and loves it), lost the late thirties upright for putting off picking it up, sold Cameron's orange monstrosity in a yard sale, threw the aforementioned Dirt Devil out the back door and now refuse to use the Kirby because all I am doing is circulating dust, I went to buy what I've wanted all along at Sears this past Saturday.

It's not nearly as sturdy feeling as the one I begrudgingly vacuumed my mother's house with when told to do so thirty years ago, but it's exactly what I've wanted.

Retractible cord just like I used to scare our cat with. Powermate. The usual attachments. But this one has a telescoping wand that allows me to clean the crown mouldings without a ladder or adjust normal vacuuming to someone taller than five feet, a mini-Powermate for cleaning upholstery and it is QUIET. I was actually able to talk to Cleo on the phone on Sunday while continuing my vacuuming chores. So, it sucks. And, I love it.

*Thank you, Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner for the Hoover reference from "This is a Recording"


Gina Bruce said...

oh my god.

I thought I had a vacuum cleaner fetish - granted it was when I was 4-6 yrs old. But then you go and butch it up and talk about motor to overall body alignment and balance issues.

You make me a bit moist.

Come vacuum my rugs. NOW! ;)

Lose it all said...

I read your commentary while surfing for directions on "adjusting the beater bar" on my Kirby thinking that might redeem it. I know I am supposed to love this machine, but have had better results with a 1970's hoover upright I found on the side of the road! I am on my third one and still havent found that "magic" that everyone talks about! Mine also tilts when being pulled and cant be lifted except with the help of my mate. But then again, I thought the weight might make compliment the cleaning process, much like the vintage iron I use that weighs approx 10lbs. Sometimes I dont even plug it in. I just iron. I also had the vintage hoover from the 30's and lost it in a move? it was great watching all the dirt spin around in front of the light! Wheres all the entertainment in cleaning gone???
Anyway, I have gone back to my grandmothers old electrolux model xxx, also another design icon, and hope to meet "mr. right" vacuum soon. Good luck in YOUR such!
Ken Hedrick