Appliance rehab

The following is an excerpt from a longer working piece called “Dreaming During the Pandemic”.


Dave and I met where two educational roads cross, at the juncture of vocational training and special education. He worked in the North Thurston School District and I was in the Olympia School District. We began attending conferences together and eventually got to work together when I joined his school district. We loved to play with ideas that began with the phrase, “What if…”

Perhaps our most ingenious collaboration began with the question, “What if we combined volunteer service with work experience training?” Prior to that, those were thought of as separate programs. Our effort to combine the programming became widely known in the community, and then later across the state of Washington. We received awards and offers to present at various professional gatherings. This dream is predicated on the work we did together for over 20 years.

It was not surprising when rough-hewn Carl approached Dave about his idea for Appliance Rehab (as he called it). Carl was a big man with large forearms, standing over six-feet tall, he must have tipped the scale close to 300 pounds. His hair stuck out under his hat, taking off in all directions. He rarely bothered to shave more than twice a week. His uniform was a flannel plaid shirt and bib overalls.

Carl owned an appliance repair and sales store. Over the years, he found that people might bring in a dishwasher or dryer for repair, but when they got the estimate they would turn around and enter his display room for new appliances. As such, over the years he had accumulated first one room and then filled a Quonset hut with old appliances. He could not keep up with repairing (or rehabbing them). Generally the market for repaired appliances shrank, but as the economy fell to its knees, Carl began thinking again about his old appliance friends.

“Y’all ought to get into the biz. It’s growing these days, now that the economy has gone sour.” Dave told Carl he’d bring the idea up at our Friday meeting. We thought it could be interesting for our kids but we lacked space, tools, and know-how … though we were willing to learn. When confronted by our qualms, Carl had a ready answer, “Hell, I’ll donate tools and you can use my Quonset hut. In fact, the missus says I should retire, so I could do that helping thing … help teach … starts with an M.” [He meant mentoring.]

Over lunch Dave and I discussed the possibilities. We ate and talked more slowly than usual. We knew our boss would green light the idea if it was well thought out so we began outlining what we’d need to do. This included gathering safety training and equipment materials. Dave thought he could get access to the weight room to help our students get into shape to wrestle large appliances. We’d also have to first get our hands in the grease and grime under Carl’s tutelage. Then we’d need to build storage units so kids could store their work clothes and school supplies while working on the crew. As lunch drew to a close we began outlining a course description, lesson sequence, and letters to parents.

At the end I pointed out to Dave how it all fit a larger gestalt. We would be rehabilitating appliances disabled by minor flaws, repairing broken things. And, in fact, I pointed out that is what we were doing with the students. We could ask the kids to imagine how that appliance might feel when he or she was retrieved from storage and brought back to life, prominence, and service. Then we’d end the dialogue by asking them to compare their lives to the appliances and the purpose of our work crews. Finally, casually like an afterthought we’d pass out teacher report card forms with our names on it. “Please grade your teachers, and provide helpful comments for making any changes.”



By Martin Kimeldorf