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Mortimer Snert and the Renegade Wascomat

It was an early day in the neighbourhood when Mortimer Snert came home from work, having ditched the last part of the work day due to sheer boredom and having accomplished everything he needed to do that day. That, plus the fact that he’d stayed late for weeks on end, and this was just a time to make it up. So, ascending the stairs at his house, he entered his oh so clean bedroom, only to find that one of the greys had ripped out huge chunks of hair and spread it all over his bed, particularly in the sheets and the pillowcase. Now Mort was no slob, and he didn’t particularly care for the idea of trying to sleep in the midst of a big pile of cat hair, so he whipped the sheets off the bed, and dragged them downstairs to the laundry room.

Now this might not seem like much of a big deal to most people, but within this laundry room resided Mort’s nemesis, a Wascomat WE-16 washer. He had purchased this fine device some number of years ago to replace a failing Maytag washer, and at the time, it was one of only a few front loading washers available. Mort had chosen this particular brand because of its reputation for quality and longevity. However, this particular machine had proved to be anything but. Mort and the machine had an ongoing battle of wills, and usually it involved washing sheets.

The thing about sheets was that Mort only owned one set of sheets. This was not usually a problem, unless, for instance, one of the cats wailed on the bed, and washing was required. It was at this point that the Wascomat, which had earned the name Liz, choked. Something about sheets just did a job on this stupid machine, and while it would certainly get the things clean, it steadfastly refused to extract the water from them.

Now this was an intermittent problem, and this is what drove Mort insane. Sometimes the thing would operate for months with no problem, and all of a sudden, when the sheets needed washed, it would maybe wash and extract the first load, and the second one, would refuse to extract, which left a huge sodden mass of sheets in the bottom of the thing, and nothing left to do but run the cycle again, and hope that it decided to extract this time.

The first time that it did this, Mort dredged out the voltmeter and the schematic diagramme, and went to work checking all the things that the troubleshooting guide suggested. Problem was, the thing had to be in failure mode before he could discover what was wrong, and Liz had some sort of sixth mechanical sense that made her, as soon as Mort took the lid off of her, to correct whatever problem it was, and work fine.

So for a while, Mort resorted to dragging out the voltmeter and prying the lid off to fix the problem. But as problems go, eventually this finally quit working, and he was forced to get serious about repair. Now the problem with intermittent problems is that they’re almost impossible to find, it would be better if some component failed catastrophically, and belched flames and fumes, and although this was usually pretty exciting, at least the problem could be easily discovered and repaired. But this problem defied any sort of logic. Mort discovered early on that whatever was causing it was mechanical, in that if he banged on the front of Liz, it would correct the problem.

So thus began a long process of elimination. The first thing to go was the delicate switch on the water temp knob. This came about one day when Mort discovered that if he futzed with the temp switch, that the thing would all of a sudden start to spin. And the delicate switch was in the list of things that would cause no spin. So it went. Next was the timer. Mort extracted that fine piece of a mechanical nightmare one day, and checked all of the 97 different contacts and switches involved in that, only to find them all functioning correctly. So the next thing on the list was the drive motor.

Now this particular machine had a D.C. drive motor, complete with a tachometer to tell the motor drive amp how fast it was going. And there was a set of resistance measurements within the manual that showed what the resistances of the particular windings should be. So the next time he washed sheets, he had out the voltmeter and the set of wrenches, and when Liz refused to spin, he extracted her drive motor and measured it. And found one set of windings to be way out of spec.

Forming the hasty conclusion that all of this trouble with the thing must have been caused by this defective drive motor, he ordered a new one, and choked when the bill for $150 came due. But, it would be worth it to have a newly repaired and functioning washer, so as soon as the new motor got there, he whipped open the box, dredged out the voltmeter, and measured the windings to see how much difference there was. And was flabbergasted when the resistance measurements on both motors were absolutely identical.

Not to be discouraged, he promptly inserted the new motor deep within the recesses of the Liz device, dragged out the sheets, and washed them. And to his surprise, the Liz device worked perfectly, extracting all the water from all 3 sheets. So Mort was a bit of a happy boy, figuring that he had finally cured the extraction problem with Liz. And, in her defense, she did work reliably for oh, about a month. Right up until the day that Mort’s cat spread all the joy onto his sheets.

So back to the beginning of the story. Entering the laundry room, Mort loaded the first sheet into Liz, poured in the detergent, and poked the button, and went back upstairs to work on something or another. About 30 minutes later, he came back down, pulled the sheet from the interior of the Liz device, poked it in the dryer, and loaded the next sheet in. Started the dryer and the Liz device again, and went back upstairs.

About an hour later, he returned to the dryer, which had just completed making the dryer noise, pulled his freshly dried sheet out, opened the front of Liz, and extracted a completely waterlogged sheet, which let about a gallon of water onto the floor in front of him. Now this was not good. Not at all good. Firstly, it was a work night, and was getting a bit on the late side. Secondly, Liz had just effectively shot him the mechanical finger by failing, and that, with her new drive motor and bypassed delicate switch and resurrected timer.

Now the only solution to this problem was to replace the sheet back in the Liz device, and run another cycle to see if it would extract this time. Now a bit of an explanation might be in order here, the Liz device was an industrial model, one that had only a start button and a water temp switch. One could not access the timer to advance it past all the wash cycles and make it spin by itself. This would have been marginally acceptable had that been the case, but Mort was now forced to sit through an entire cycle, which btw, lasted 30 minutes, to see if it would extract.

So he hit the start button, and sat down in front of the thing to watch the progress. It went through the wash cycle, dumped the water, went to spin, and didn’t. Went through the first rinse cycle, dumped the water, went to spin, and didn’t. Second rinse, dump, no spin. By this time Mort was livid, because in a case like this, he may well spend all night in front of this stupid machine waiting on it to decide to spin. And the particular sheet that was not being extracted was the bottom one, the fitted one, and even if he had decided to ignore the whole process, there was no resolution to fixing the bed again, He had to have this sheet sometime tonight.

So at the end of the third rinse cycle when the Liz should be extracting, and wasn’t, Mort completely lost his patience and reared back and kicked Liz as hard as he possibly could within the confines of the laundry room. Which did absolutely no good, and just made him more irritated. By the time he had finished his assault on Liz, she was rather severely damaged, but had determined that Mort was indeed serious about terminating her miserable mechanical existence, and as a final act of desperation, she decided to extract before she found herself on the back porch, or somewhere worse.

Now that that was over with, Mort retrieved the final sheet from the remains of the Liz device, poked it in the dryer, and went upstairs to calm down. Finally the last sheet was dry, and Mort hit the rack at 03:00. The next morning hit particularly brutally for Mort, who had achieved a grand total of maybe 5 hours of restless sleep. Dragging into the office, he looked up the technical support number for the Wascomat company, and discovered that it was not a toll free number. So biting the bullet, he called them on the cell phone, the one that cost $18 an hour to operate, and was promptly placed on hold. The minutes ticked by, as did the $. At least they weren’t playing country music on hold, that would have been the end of things. Finally Mort was connected to the technical support in India, speaking with a little fellow that would have been hard to understand face to face, but over a cell was almost impossible. So Mort described in detail what Liz was doing, and the steps he’d taken, and the guy tells him, no spin, replace door latch. Now what the door latch had to do with spinning or not, Mort had no clue. So he told the guy again, and the guy, just as firmly insisted that he replace the door latch. So Mort hung up the phone, and redialed the tech number. And was immediately placed on hold. After talking to a completely different person of indeterminate nationality, and getting the same results, he hung up, and decided to look the schematic one more time.

Tracing down all the wires and crap, he determined that if the door latch was defective, that none of it would work, because the door switch was the first thing in series with the hot lead in the machine. So he looked at the thing in intricate detail, and noticed (and not for the first time) a weird symbol labeled wax motor. And farther down the schematic was a switch labeled wax motor switch. Now Mort had been around a long time, but he had never heard of a wax motor before, nor did he have any idea what one did. So he Googled it. The first hit on the Google had to do with the Maytag Neptune series of washers, and a lawsuit involving machines that refused to extract, and burnt components caused by defective wax motors.

Now this sounded a bit familiar to Mort, so he continued his research, and discovered just exactly what a wax motor was, and what it did, and why they failed so miserably, and why the guy at the Wascomat was so insistent that he replace the door latch on the Liz device. It would seem that the wax motor was a poor replacement for a solenoid, used in applications where the action would necessarily have to be less solenoidish, more gentle, quieter, etc. The main point behind including the wax motor into the door latch mechanism was because of the nature of the device, it took maybe a minuite to extend it’s little shaft when energized, and maybe a minute to decide to retract when de energized. So the wax motor was connected so that when the pump motor started, it would begin slowly extending its shaft, which was connected to a piece of the door latch, to effectively keep the door shut and latched if for some reason there were a power event while the thing was in extract mode, turning the drum at 850 rpm. Because it would take it a minute or so to retract from the latch, the drum would have (theoretically) stopped it’s rotation before the anxious customer could pry the door open in the darkness and remove their clothes.

And, as an added safety feature, and probably as the result of a product liability lawsuit, there was an extra set of contacts involved in the latch, one which would not close until the wax motor had fully extended it’s shaft. A set of contacts that prevented the motor drive amp from sending the voltage needed to cause the drive motor to put the machine into the extraction mode. A set of contacts, which if the wax motor even partially failed, would cause it to not spin. And this was exactly what was happening on the Liz device.

So the next day after work, Mort wrestled the remains of the Liz device out into the kitchen where he could get at the guts of the thing, and ended up dismantling most of it to get at the door latch mechanism. It took most of the night, but finally he had the latch out in the open, and looking at it, discovered the wax motor, and all the contacts. Deciding to try things out, he dredged out a suicide cord, hooked up the wax motor, and plugged it in. Within about a minute, the shaft started to extend, and after a while, the contacts closed. Having plenty of patience, Mort tried it several times more, and eventually, it failed to extend far enough to close the contacts.

Having determined that for sure this was the problem, Mort heaved a great sigh of relief. All he had to do was locate a new wax motor, one of the new and improved ones that the Maytag sold, replace that, and be done. So the next morning he started a search for Maytag parts. He called all the appliance repair places in town. And discovered that either no one in town owned a Neptune, or that none of them had failed, or that the people he talked to had no concept of what a wax motor was, and why Maytag had recalled all their machines.

So dredging out the schematic again, he looked at the timing diagramme to determine whether the wax motor played some vital role in the delay of the spin cycle. From what he was able to discover, there was an auxiliary set of contacts in the timer that went at exactly the same time as the wax motor switch contacts, so theoretically, he could just short out the contacts on the wax switch, leave the motor in place just in case it decided to latch the door, and it should all work. So dredging out the soldering iron, he jumpered across the switch contacts inside the latch housing, and re-assembled the latch. By that time it was freaking late, so he went to bed, with the intention of putting things back together the next day after work.

Arriving home the next day, he attached the latch to the wiring harness, inserted the 2 screws that held it on the front panel, and began the task of re-assembling the housing. Now the dis-assembly had been pretty quick, Mort had just unscrewed the hardware, and let it drop to the bottom of the machine, and fished it out later. Re-assembly was not as kind, and it took forever to get the stuff back into place, and this was compounded by the fact that most of the sheet metal was severely bent. So taking a break, he decided to straighten out what he could, and spent the next several hours doing just that. Now that the metal pieces were somewhat straightened out, it was easier to get the screws back where they went, but there was still an inordinate amount of dropping screws and fishing them out of the internals of the machine.

Finally the task was done, and it was again freaking late, but curiosity got the best of him, and Mort violated the First Rule of Working on Things. He plugged it in, and hit the start button. Now he had left the top off intentionally, and discovered that by removing one of the springy things that held the lid on, he could advance the timer, so he did just that. Advanced it through the wash cycle to just where the pump motor started. He had the cycle memorized by now, pump motor started, the drum reversed three times, then went into counter clockwise rotation, picked up speed, and then was supposed to spin. Which it did. Slowed to a stop, reversed once, went into counter clockwise rotation, spun again. So far, so good. He advanced it to the first rinse. Same set of events. Spun fine. On to the second rinse. Same set, same results. On to the last rinse. This one was a bit different, because as soon as the pump started, the drum came to a complete stop and sat there for a couple of seconds, then went counterclockwise, picked up speed, and spun for a few minutes, then went into extract. Which it did fine. After the extract was done, it slowed down, reversed several times, then opened the door.

Mort was so happy he went directly to bed. The next day after work, he put the lid back on it, hossed it back into the corner where it belonged, hooked up all the stuff, and got out a sheet and loaded it in and poked the button. He sat and watched the thing go through its cycles, and it worked fine.

And so (hopefully) ends the story of Mortimer Snert and the renegade Wascomat. One way or another.