Like all good practitioners, Mark Kramer is trying to diagnose my problem by asking a lot of questions.
I, unfortunately, am not the best patient. “Um,” I answer. “I think. Maybe.”
Honestly, I have no idea.
I have not been paying attention. I don’t know if the sound is closer to a rumble, a rattle or a squeal. I haven’t noticed whether it quiets down after a few seconds.
It is painfully clear that my 28-year-old Maytag clothes dryer deserves better than this, which is why I’ve called Kramer.
A half-hour after he arrives, my dryer is rotating with a quiet, happy pulse. In our blended household with multiple teens, it’s good to have the dryer working again.
And it’s great to know that even now, a real, live, Maytag repairman is still making a living fixing things — and reminding us that we don’t have to buy new things, even if the bells and whistles are mighty tempting.
For 26 years, Kramer has crossed the south metro area repairing washers and dryers, refrigerators and ranges of all brands. Toiling in blue slacks and a gray workshirt, and unbothered by my dingy, poorly lit basement, Kramer is among a shrinking number of foot soldiers in the battle against a castoff society.
“The new machines — they might have twice the features at maybe half the price,” said Kramer, 49, owner of a Burnsville-based appliance repair business.
“But you’ll get five years instead of 15. Some of the parts for the new washers are so expensive that instead of fixing them, you just throw them away.”
Kramer, of Farmington, majored in business at Iowa State University, then went to work right after college as a factory sales rep for Maytag. He learned how to sell when selling was an art form.
A customer would come in seeking “the cheapest machine you’ve got.” Kramer would walk that potential buyer right over to the Maytags and start his pitch.
Yes, this one costs $20 more (or maybe $40 more!). But it has heavier-gauge metal. A porcelain top. You’ll have far fewer service calls. “And it’ll last you 20 years instead of eight or 10.”
Back then, longevity mattered.
It still matters to Kramer, who owned his own Maytag store, doing sales and service, from 1996 to 2007. He was known as the Maytag Guy back then. He marched in community parades wearing a Maytag hat and red bow tie. He even has photographs with Gordon Jump, an actor who played one of the first lonely Maytag repairmen in TV commercials.
House calls in custom Cube
When the economy took a dive, he closed the shop and started making house calls in his Nissan Cube, decorated to look like a front-loading washing machine, with “Affordable Marktag Appliance Repair” on the side in big letters (affordablemarktag.com).
Kramer, who is single, starts his day at 7:30 a.m. and is lucky to be home by 8 p.m., traveling a good 120 miles a day.
All his neighbors know him. He barters with one for haircuts, for computer help from another. He carries dog treats in his pockets.
He knows of a handful of repair people who continue to fix appliances independently, as he does. But two recently retired. Others have taken jobs with bigger appliance companies.
Sally Kettle of Apple Valley is a loyal Kramer customer who worries about the shrinking number of people with his unique skill set.
“Nobody knows how to fix anything anymore,” Kettle said in frustration. “Trade schools and tech schools have stopped teaching repairing skills. I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Kettle has an acquaintance with a fancy washer and dryer — computerized, she said. “The washer talked to the dryer. They had to replace it after 10 years. My little old Maytag set is going on 21 years.”
Thanks to two coils of wire, which Kramer replaced for a mere $86, she’ll likely get another decade of use.
Dryer like a slot machine
My Maytag dryer entered this world in March of 1987. Kramer knows this by its make and model. The joke when we bought our funky 1950s house in south Minneapolis two years ago was that the only thing we were going to do was replace the washer and dryer because they were so old.
After we repainted, restuccoed, replanted and refurnished every inch of the house, the only things we kept are the almost 30-year-old Maytag washer and dryer. Aside from an odd rumble now and then, they work great.
Thanks to Kramer.
“There we go. Perfect,” he said as he coaxed my dryer’s drum back into place. The patient suffered from a stripped blower wheel and worn belt. Easy fixes.
Once in a while, Kramer gets a surprising case, like a squirrel’s nest in the blower area, or a lint screen chewed through by a mouse.
And money. On one call, he found 300 coins in a single dryer.
“A guy kicked it and more money came out,” Kramer said. “He kicked it again and more money came out.”
He usually gives loose change to the kids of the house, if there are any. But he asks them a question first.
“Is this yours?”
When they say yes because, of course, they say yes, he tells them, “Well, you have to pay for the service call.”
Then the Appliance Whisperer smiles.