Rant: Fixin’ Thangs…


Weaner Pigs

In the course of history, a throw away society is to be discarded.

It amazes me how much is thrown away. Often very good stuff. Everything from paper to milk to cheese to appliances, etc. Sometimes there isn’t even anything wrong with the stuff, it is just the wrong color or a newer, ‘better’ version has come out. Much of what is broken is fixable but nobody bothers because the cost of labor and parts to get it fixed is greater than the cost of new things. Some of this is because people, society as a group has forgotten how to fix things. Then there is the whole issue of poorly designed and built things that shouldn’t have failed in the first place. Let’s look at today’s repairs:

Hydraulic hose on tractor backhoe: This is a classic example of bad design, and on a John Deere tractor no less. The hydraulic hoses attach at the wrong points on the cylinders leaving them exposed where they can be easily damaged. In this case the neck of the hose fitting snapped. A stronger neck would have held. A better position would have protected it to begin with. A shield would also have helped. Not only is it susceptible to damage but when this small piece of metal breaks the entire hose must be replaced along with a perfectly good fitting on the other end. Because John Deere uses special hose sizes they must be shipped from almost a thousand miles away rather than being able to be made up locally. I looked into replacing the fittings but it requires a tool that costs almost $1,000 – I’m working on designing a simpler, cheaper solution. Ideally the broken fitting should simply be nipped off and a new fitting put on but no can do as they use odd sizes. Cheap cotter pins as another major problem on the tractor. JD apparently uses the cheapest, thinnest cotter pins they can find. As a result the cotter pins drop out and then the retaining pins drop off and the armature falls apart leading to bent pieces and lost parts. Lastly, apparently the good folks at JD have not heard about designing for maintenance so they make it very difficult to replace said hose and other parts – a task that should take five minutes ends up taking an hour. A series of unfortunate decisions. This is the third time I have replaced one of these hoses. It went only slightly faster this time – No thanks to John Deere.

Washing Machine Water Pump: Right around the end of the warranty our Thor washer/drier started leaking. I disassembled it and discovered that the problem was a screw had not been tightened properly over a gasket on the water pump centrifuge chamber. (Exhibit #1: Shoddy workmanship) For want of care the pump seal leaked downward (Exhibit #2: Poor design) over the exposed motor windings. (Exhibit #3: cheap choice of motors – they should have used a sealed induction motor – this was a $1,000 washing machine so I would expect quality.) The iron in the motor rusted and the rotor froze up between uses. Not a pretty site. I disassembled the motor completely but the bearings are a complete loss. Apparently there wasn’t much grease in there either from looking at the wear – the track was shot as well. I called Thor’s parts department and they want $189 for a new motor. That is a wee bit expensive for such a small standard component – the term price gouging comes to mind. The tech informs me they have changed the design to compensate for this problem but that doesn’t do me any good and he won’t send me a free motor under warrantee even though it is really their own fault thrice over. I shop around and find a sealed induction motor for $50 (retail – a saltwater aquarium water pump) that exceeds all the specs. With a couple of adapters picked up at the local hardware store we’re back in business with a better machine for a lot less cost.

Air Popcorn Popper: A decided lack of heat, no popping action and no joy-joy. Disassembly and checking the circuit reveals the not too surprising answer that the heating coil broke. Yes, it did drop but the manufacturer could have used a better quality heating element that would not have been broken with a little rough treatment. A quick repair of the coil results in a new life for this little appliance instead of it heading for the landfill. The manufacturer used an amazing eight screws to hold this beast together. I would have redesigned it with two, maybe just one. That would have saved enough cost to be able to use a more robust heating coil that would have lasted better. Other than that it is a good, simple design.

Nikon CoolPix 990 Digital Camera:I have only had this camera for a few years and it has had repeated failures. In general I like it, even love it. I think it is a great camera – BUT! The plastic clip on the battery compartment latch broke. It should have been made of metal. I replaced it with metal. Works now. Periodically the camera operating system crashes – they need to release a bug fix but haven’t in years. This requires taking out the batteries to reboot the camera. Most recently the up and down arrows for navigating menus failed. Disassembly of the camera revealed the reason – cheap pop metal button springs that had locked in the pressed position. Cleaning with alcohol and reshaping the metal fixed this but it was a bother. Of note, this is one of those devices they used way too many screws on the outer covers. Bad design. Additionally the rubber grip on the handle came off requiring an application of rubber cement. Recently this camera has been having more and more trouble. I love photography. I loath having to replace the 990 as I would like to wait until much better cameras with the new vastly improved imaging chips are available. Given that my Canon A-1 lasted for 20 years before I sold it (and it was still working fine) I would like to see this camera, which cost over a grand, last as long. Come-on Nikon, I thought you stood for quality!

This is only a tiny sample of poor design and low quality manufacturing. Yesterday a friend of ours who repairs sewing machines was telling us all about how many of the common modern units are missing appropriate set screws so the timing can never be properly set. Piled onto that is the throw away mentality so that things that have small problems get added to the landfill rather than fixed. The saddest part is all of this is easily avoided through better design, slightly better quality parts, attention to detail when manufacturing and a little attitude adjustment on the parts of consumers such that things would get fixed rather than dumped.

In addition to these specific examples there is the horrendous waste that goes on in all sorts of industries. Some people are fighting it by trying to divert excess away from the landfills and back into uses. Remember, reuse, repair, recycle… Try to avoid being part of the problem.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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4 Responses to Rant: Fixin’ Thangs…

  1. Zach says:

    Walter,

    You sound like you’re my kind of person, a Dumpster Diver. :) I am a Canadian farm boy who is now living in a coastal city in South Korea and the things people throw out here..well it makes me sad how wasteful humans are.

    I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to the day where I have my own chunk of land.

  2. Evelyn says:

    I so much agree w/ you on the wastefulness of people! I'm a landlord & am amazed at what people (who can't pay their rent) leave when they move! I haven't bought clothing in over 10 yrs ('cept underware, socks & shoes). I have the garage sales w/ what I can't use & often end up paying the back rent!
    I also love Freecycle! I've given many very large dumptsers worth of stuff (the big truck mounted ones) away on Freecycle, or Freebies on Craigslist.
    We really have too many Environmental Activists & now where near enough Active Environmentalists in this world!

  3. Julia says:

    I had to comment about the “too many screws” thing. We recently were forced to buy a new FoodSaver vacuum sealer (for which one of the main uses is packaging pork and lamb, actually). Prior to making the purchase, I took apart the 10 year old FoodSaver: at least 20 tiny screws!! My husband is good at fixing things, but the problem seemed to be in a circuit board and we could not overcome it.

    I’m less happy with the new one because it takes up more room (it stores a roll of bag material within it) and it makes it harder to reuse bags. They’re definitely hoping that you will use their device daily (for things like leftovers!) and throw away the bags after each use. The new version wastes more material when you make bags as well. So frustrating. Still, frozen foods retain quality much better when vacuum sealed, so I continue to use the product.

  4. Farmerbob1 says:

    I hadn’t seen this post before today, I don’t think, and I’d like to add a comment.

    My mother owned a 1960 RCA Imperial washing machine until 2002. It was originally her grandmother’s. The machine did three loads or more of laundry every single day for 42 years. When the tub finally rusted through, amazingly, we were able to find a replacement tub, in original packaging, for less than the cost of a new washer.

    Unfortunately, after 42 years of exposure to water and detergents, the tub retaining nut at the top of the tub was not budging without taking a torch to it, and I wasn’t willing to do that in the house.

    How many modern washing machines would a family have to buy to match the life of that washer? 8. A modern washing machine, heavily used, normally lasts less than 5 years before replacement is cheaper than repair.

    Yes, the old washer was a power hog, I’m sure, but I have my doubts that the eight replacement washers that would have to be bought to equal it’s lifespan have a total cost of purchase, minor repairs, and power use that the RCA Whirlpool Imperial did.

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