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Monday, August 15, 2016

Old School Oven Repair

                After 65 odd years, the thermostat in our Norge oven gave way a few weeks ago. Bread was burning, cookies, cakes, and granola were impossible, and the only thing I could safely cook was roasted veggies, and then only when I opened the oven several times during the process to cool it off. Our local repair shop basically refused to come out and look at the problem because the stove was too old, so we were left  on our own—or, as the repair people suggested,  we could buy a new stove. I refused. An old stove is not that complicated and a new stove, I knew, would last ten years and need to be replaced.  We were determined—and followed a few simple guidelines to success.

Find the experts.  After being rejected by the local repair guys, someone suggested that I contact Spencer Appliances in Portland which specializes in old appliances and repairs. Mark took the thermostat out of the stove (no easy task), taking photographs and labeling wires as he went. He handed it off to me and I hopped on the bus to the big city to visit a friend and the parts store.  I felt like I was stepping back in time, visiting a Portland that was rapidly disappearing twenty years ago, when I lived there, and almost gone now. It lurks in outer South and North East, on old commercial streets. The places are doomed—there are cafes  moving in next door to both—but they are still there, with stoves and washing machines spilling outside. I walked in to Spencer’s, carrying my part. The owners looked at it, sighed, and sent someone off to the storage area. “I dunno,” they said, “It’s an old one.”   The searcher came back empty handed. I waited. The guys looked at the part again.  “I really like my stove,” I said. “Is it one of those forty inchers?” one asked. I nodded. They looked thoughtful. “Well,” the owner sighed, “There are replacement parts, if that’s ok.” I nodded eagerly. He reached for an old and battered book, rattling off numbers to himself. “This one will work,” he said, pointing to the illustration and writing down the numbers on a slip of paper. “Go to Nor-Mon on Stark. They’ll have it.” Nor-Mon  on Stark did have it, along with some advice on installation. “We used to work with nine shops between Corvallis and Albany,” the owner told me. “But there’s only two left—and one’s really changed in the last two years. They don’t work on stuff anymore. It’s a shame. Those old stoves were great. “ “I know,” I agreed.

Trace the energy flows. When I came home, proudly bearing the new—and old—part, Mark went to work.  His big task was to figure out how the electricity moved so that he could attach the wires to the right places. Despite assurances that it was quite clear and the instructions were great, this was a challenge.   He spent hours tracing wires back, labeling them, testing out theories, and moving back to his notes.  What is the voltage—is it changing? Where are the grounds?  Where does the electricity flow? Although the stove is pretty simple and he had rewired a burner last year, it was a challenge. He had made one big assumption that was WRONG.

Question your assumptions. Early on, we decided that we did not need the wire that led from the thermostat to the timer. After all, when was I ever going to put a raw dinner in the oven and leave it, setting a timer to turn on the oven hours later? I’d heard about such things, back in the day, but this was clearly against the Food Handler’s Card rules. It is just complicating matters, Mark thought.  Then he spent hours trying to see how electricity flowed into the thermostat… and realized that it flowed THROUGH THE TIMER. Once re re-attached that wire, everything fell into place.

Plan ahead.  If I had been thinking, I would have baked some bread before we turned off the oven. We would have put the nasty, dirty oven back into the yard on the first day. Mark would have changed out of his good pants before kneeling in oven grease (left by the part which should be in the back yard). Mark would have labeled everything better before he began. 

But the oven is working once more and the thermostat is good for another sixty years.  Maybe we should rewire the burners soon, before the old shops and ways are gone forever.


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