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Once upon a time, grasshoppers threatened to devour all of Finland's grapes in a land far away. Legend has it; Urho chased the hordes of insects away, saving the vineyards in ancient Finland. His noble deeds resulted in canonization and earned Saint Urho a day on the calendar: March 16th - the day before Saint Patrick's. Coincidence, or not?
At my first such celebration, I met an "honest Finlander" who'd consumed his portion of pints and then some. He told me Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland after seeing Urho chase away the grasshoppers. "That's why Saint Urho's day comes first."
His friend, an Irishman, shook his head, "For starters, there is no such thing as an honest Finlander, okay, because they're called Finns – not Finlanders. They made that up too." The Irishman wasn't too steady on his feet but raised his glass and went on to state, "Now Saint Patrick, he was a real hero."
Whether the account of Saint Urho is accurate or not, I do not know. We raised our glasses to toast both saints.
I do know, lots of people gather every year to celebrate Saint Urho in a small town just up the road from me – Finland, Minnesota, population 179. On the Saturday following Saint Urho's Day, Finland will have a parade followed by festivities for all ages. This year, that Saturday was also the first day of spring.
It was a beautiful sun-shiny day; people were anxious to get out of their houses. A parade was just what we all needed. We were part of the masses that migrated in, causing the town's population to swell at least ten-fold for the day, maybe more.
The Lake County Sheriff lead the way, followed by the Finland Fire Department. The diesel motor rumbled smoothly; I could feel the power of the massive shiny red truck as it made its way slowly up Highway 1, right through the middle of the town. The lights flashed, and the siren blared; fire-fighters tossed showers of candy to people lining both sides of the road. Kids were gathering the treats as efficiently as a combine harvesting corn in the field. Autumn seemed so very long ago.
Seeing the firetrucks reminded me of a story I read last fall about the fire hazard created when lint builds up inside a clothes dryer. I had been meaning to check my dryer but hadn't got around to it yet. Being the vernal equinox, perhaps some spring cleaning would be in order – tomorrow. Nobody works on Saint Urho's Day.
After church and a good breakfast, I was ready to tackle the dryer. I almost forgot my wife telling me the washing machine took over two and a half hours to do a load. The water was running really slowly into the tub; it was probably the water inlet valve. I would look into it another time; the dryer was my project for today.
I questioned my thinking: what good is a dryer without wet clothes from the washer? "Maybe, I should look into that first - how difficult could it be?" I headed to the basement with a couple of hand-tools and a head full of knowledge.
Without a service manual, I used simple common sense and pulled the machine away from the wall. I disconnect the power cord, hot and cold-water lines, and the drain tube. On my knees, I examined the back panel on the unit. "Simple. Take these four screws out, and the back comes off." I removed the screws, but the back didn't come off. I found a fifth screw and took it out; still, the back remained in place. I didn't see any more screws.
A variety of plastic connectors were poking out through the panel. Using a pair of pliers, I squeezed each of them together and pushed the little white nubs back through. A couple of larger plastic connectors were giving me trouble; I finally got them back in as well – but still, the back panel didn't come off. After each pair of connectors was pushed through, I would hear something drop inside the cabinet. I was a little concerned.
There were two metal tabs toward the top that could have been holding it on. I tried without success to manipulate or bend them out. Frustrated, I stood up, scratching my head, "What the heck!" I took a ceremonial look around the room to make sure I was alone – to be sure there were no other men present to witness what I was about to do.
I took the walk of shame up the stairs to the living room. My wife was sitting in her chair. "Is everything going okay down there?" I assured her it was. "It seemed like there was a lot of banging and some cussing."
"Everything is fine. I thought I'd take a break and see what everyone is doing on Facebook." It's a genetic thing. Men were not designed to ask for directions or seek help with simple things we can figure out on our own. Who am I to break tradition?
I opened my iPad and started to type "Facebook" in the search bar. Instead, I accidentally typed, "How to remove the back panel on a Maytag washing machine model #8318015." I'm sure everyone has experienced the way Google tends to answer a question you did not ask.
My search results popped up: How to replace the water inlet valve on a Maytag washing machine. "Hmm. Smart-aleck computer!" I opened an instructional video. An appliance repair expert named Steve said I would need a putty knife, a ¼" nut driver, a pair of slip-joint pliers, and a flat-head screwdriver. He said, "The first thing you needed to do is disconnect the power cord and remove the water lines."
"Seriously? I came upstairs for this?" I said sarcastically, "At this point, I could be an expert making millions of dollars producing 'how-to' washer repair videos!"
Steve showed me how to use a putty knife to release two catch springs under the control panel's front. By release two more brass catch springs located under the board, I could remove the top of the washer and access the water inlet valve. "What? I don't go through the back panel?" Steve replaced his valve in a four-minute video. I was already ninety-minutes into my repair.
I returned to the basement with a headful of new knowledge. I would first have to support the back panel to keep the whole machine from falling apart by replacing some of the screws I'd removed. "Ha! Something I know that even Steve the expert didn't know."
Using Steve's method, I had the top of the machine off in less than two minutes. I always thought automatic washing machines were self-cleaning. I mean, every time you do a load of laundry, you wash the inside of the machine – right? When you open the lid, they always smell like clean clothes. I turned the top over to set it on the dry while I worked; I saw the underside for the first time. "Ick! I'll clean that before I put it back on."
Remember all those connectors I pushed into the machine? Well, parts and components were hanging everywhere. It was going to be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a box top to look at. I seriously questioned whether this machine would ever run again. I would remove the front cabinet from the device to reach them, which was easy because the top is basically what holds all the sheet metal on the front. "These things are built so cheaply – it's no wonder the new units only last five years."
With the cabinet removed, I began reattaching dangling things to the back wall. Once the puzzle was completed, I removed the only thing I didn't disconnect from the rear panel – the water inlet valve. I took it to the sink to examine it. The filter screens were plugged up with sediment. I pulled them out and cleaned them with a brush. After reinstalling the valve, connecting the water lines, and plugging in the electrical cord, I started a wash cycle.
"Wow!" Water was rushing into the washtub like water crossing a concrete spillway at the pond after a torrential summer's rain. I was pretty darn smitten with myself. I pushed the knob in to stop the water, then shook my head. "I could have cleaned those screens without taking the whole darn washing machine apart."
I stood looking at the exposed inside of the machine, mainly the washtub, "That's disgusting." I said, then committed to giving her a good spring cleaning as long as it was already disassembled. There was gunk in there one would never suspect!
When you lift the lid and look into your washer, what you're seeing, the thing with all the perforated holes, is the wash basket – not the tub. (Remember, I'm an expert now - I watched some videos.) The basket, which sits in the washtub, was clean and shiny - on the inside; the tub was not, nor was the back of the basket- the area we never see. I would scrub them while I had it apart.
I don't want to gross anyone out, but what I found beyond the clean parts we see through the lid would send a person with OCD screaming and running to their therapist! The washer always smells clean because of layers of built-up "fresh scent" laundry detergent that sticks to areas we cannot reach for regular cleaning.
Our machine has the fabric softener cup at the top of the agitator. I removed and cleaned the agitator assembly inside and out. I don't care how cute that little bear is; I will never put liquid fabric softener in my laundry machine again. What a sticky, gooey mess!
Deep cleaning our automatic washing machine caused me to consider alternate options. I could go down to Lake Superior to beat my laundry on a rock or take a bar of lye soap and a washboard – but the DNR would probably frown on that. I could always get an old Maytag wringer washer and use a clothesline in the yard. These seemed like good ideas, but the reality is, we'll keep using the automatic washing machine and dryer.
Oh yeah, the dryer. That was the project I was supposed to be on.
I managed to get the washer put back together with no spare parts, and everything worked, so I felt pretty confident. I put a load of sheets in the freshly cleaned machine. While they were in the washer, I would have time to take a look at the dyer.
I pulled the dryer away from the wall. I've done this before, so I felt like a seasoned pro; I needed no tutorial videos. With nine screws removed, the back panel came right off. Inside wasn't too bad at all. I vacuumed up any dust and lint. I also cleaned the heat and exhaust ducts inside and the vent tube outside the dryer. I wanted to open the cabinet to check around the drum.
Since I bought the washer and dryer together, I tried the same technique to remove the dryer's control panel and cabinet. It all worked as it should, "Ha! I am a pro." I boasted. When I was done cleaning, I put everything back together. I installed eight of the screws in the back panel before dropping the final screw. I looked around the floor but couldn't find it; it was lost forever. "It's just going to be missing a screw." I conceded, then replaced the vent tube, plugged in the big 220 cord, and slid the dryer back into place.
The wash cycle had just finished; I checked the time. "Thirty-eight minutes. BAM! I am the Northwoods master appliance repairman!"
I pulled the clean sheets from the washer, bending over to toss them through the front door of the dryer; something caught my eye. There was a single screw on top of my shoe, resting on the laces. I laughed and looked at the trash can. I considered pitching the loose screw, but I was on such a good roll.
After I pulled the appliance back out from the wall to insert the final screw, I then started the dryer and went upstairs. "Man, I am killin' it on this spring cleaning." I removed a towel laid over some clean dishes at the kitchen counter – pots, pans, utensils; the stuff we don't put in the dishwasher. I started putting items away.
I bobbled the plastic sleeve that protects the candy thermometer. It bounced off the counter, up onto the back of the range, then fell back down the wall and behind the range. I cursed. After seeing what I had just seen inside the washing machine, there was no way I wanted to pull the stove out right now. If I did that, I would start having ideas about pulling put the refrigerator too. "That sleeve can just stay there until I get around to it."
I'd had my share of spring cleaning. I cracked open an ice-cold Castle Danger IPA and prepared to do nothing for the rest of the day. I wondered if Saint Urho's chasing the grasshoppers out of Finland was part of a simple spring-cleaning project he started? I raised my glass, "Here's to you, Saint Urho, for a job well done. May there be lint in your belly-button, but never in your clothes dryer!"