When I told my wife, Amy, that our dryer wasn't heating up, she immediately suggested that we get a new one. She quickly grabbed her Smartphone and started scouring the internet for dryers. The least expensive one was $397.80.
A few years back, I became fascinated with how things work. Instead of calling a repairman or replacing our busted household gadgets, I decided I'd at least attempt to fix them myself. So, with limited tools, and even more limited knowledge, I became a bona-fide do-it-yourselfer.
"Y'know," I said, "I can probably fix the dryer for about 10 bucks."
Amy sighed deeply and rolled her eyes.
"You don't think I can do it, do you?" I said.
Amy sighed again. I reminded her of how I fixed the garbage disposal, the beater bar on the vacuum, the agitator on the washer, the snapped belt on the dryer and the light fixture above the garage.
Amy reminded me of dirty dishes piled along the kitchen counter and eating on paper plates with plastic utensils. She brought to mind an embarrassingly dirty carpet in the living room. She recalled a series of exhausting trips to the laundry mat — and, after plunging the dagger, she twisted it by reminding me that my son-in-law came over and finished installing the light fixture.
"I know you can fix it," Amy said, “but everything always takes you so long."
"I'll get right to work on it on my next day off," I said.
"First thing in the morning?"
Amy reluctantly agreed.
I didn't get a day off until the following week. As Amy and my daughters, Evien and Maggie, headed out for work and school, they playfully hinted that they would soon be running out of socks, underwear and bras if I didn't get the dryer fixed soon.
That morning, I had a cup of coffee and fried myself up some eggs and bacon. Then I had another cup of coffee, read the newspaper and gathered up the tools I expected to use on the job. Next, I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to fix a dryer. "This will be a breeze," I thought.
Next, I watched a YouTube video of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a monologue of Abbott and Costello, and an interview of Rodney Dangerfield. After that, I watched some footage of Joe Namath and Super Bowl III. Then it was time for lunch.
While munching on a ham sandwich, Amy called to check my progress.
"Almost done," I said.
Amy was pleasantly surprised, but she didn't realize I was referring to lunch and not the dryer. Around 2 in the afternoon, I finally took the back off the dryer.
The tutorial showed a metal housing enclosing the heating coils. I identified the housing and removed it, only to discover that it was completely empty. "Wow!" I thought. "This is one miraculous dryer. It's been running without heating coils this whole time."
Suddenly, I realized I watched a tutorial for an electric dryer and mine is gas. I removed the front panel, laid on my belly and discovered a shaft where a flame shoots out to heat the dryer. There was a small box on the side of the shaft about the length of a Band-Aid. I figured it was some kind of igniter switch, so I loosened the bolts, wedged it out, unhooked the wires and triumphantly headed to the appliance store.
Once I arrived at the appliance store, I handed the part to the clerk. He looked it over, clamped on a test probe, handed it back and said, "That ain't your problem."
I looked at the part in my palm like it was a dead frog. The clerk said, "Bla bla bla doohickey. Bla bla bla thingamabob. Be careful when you take off the doohickey, it's very brittle. The thingamabob is behind the drum."
The next day after work, I removed the doohickey. When I detached the wires, it slipped from my grip and shattered into a zillion tiny shards on the concrete floor. The clerk knew what he was talking about.
I brought what was left of my doohickey to the appliance store. The clerk handed me a new one and said, "That'll be $30."
I brought my new doohickey home and hooked it up gingerly. I pressed the switch on the dryer. Nothing. No spark, no flame, no nothing.
By then, our family's hampers were piled high and sagging dangerously like huge mounds of mashed potatoes — one drop of gravy could send them tumbling down like an avalanche of soiled shirts, pants, sleepwear and undergarments.
I dejectedly emerged from the laundry room. My daughter asked, "Is the dryer fixed yet?" I just shook my head. "Dad, I don't have any more socks or underwear."
Amy said, "It's not fixed yet? We're out of clean clothes. By the way, what are you doing for underwear?"
I lowered my head and stared at the floor. "You're not going commando are you?" she asked.
"No," I said. "I turn them inside out to get an extra day out of them."
"You can't be serious."
"I wish I weren't."
The next evening, I wrestled the drum from the dryer's frame, removed the thingamabob and drove to the appliance store. "That'll be $15," The clerk said.
When I got home, I tightened down the thingamabob, pressed the switch and, within seconds — poof! — I had a flame.
About that time, my family came home and the girls shouted, "Look at all the cool stuff we got, Dad. Socks, underwear, bras, pajamas. I got this cool shirt and Evien got some new pants."
Amy walked up to me and handed me brand-new packs of socks, underwear and T-shirts. "Thanks," I said.
I did the math. After three trips to the appliance store from Spring Lake to Muskegon, buying parts for the dryer, my labor and the cost of all those new clothes, I figure I saved our family around $10 by doing it myself.
I'm considering switching careers and going into the repair business. If you want me to fix something, I can guarantee I'll get it done. However, you'll be put on a very long waiting list.
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist