Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Fall of Civilisation - Lamenting my Craftsman Lawnmower

This is a house. A house we tried to buy whilst living in Corinth Mississippi. It is a four square. Beautiful with a quaint stone walled garden in the back just a couple of blocks from Borroum's Drug Store. We used to walk there to eat at their old fashioned Soda Shop - the premier place to buy a local delicacy - the Slug Burger. The house was also haunted. It came complete with a blood stained pair of ice tongs, creaking radiator heating system, and spooky basement. We always felt that this basement was where the previous owner hid all the bodies. We had some good times there. And then we had to leave due to a lien placed on the house that was not discovered until the day of closing. Whew! That really started our journey to where we are now. But, I digress.

This four square home was trimmed in spruce and had three stories and the spooky basement. The kitchen was small but large enough for Patt to throw dinner parties for friends who lived all along Franklin Street or within a block or two. We researched the origins of the house and found that it was built in 1902 and trimmed out with spruce from a local wood mill. The plans and the house itself was ordered out of a catalog, packaged, and shipped to the site, where it was assembled, board by board. It's slate roof, by the time we came along had grown a thin veneer of moss which gave it no little amount of character. It was a sturdy house. And, it was ordered from a catalog! Sears and Roebuck to be exact. It is still standing and is up for sale for $100,000. It was but in 1902, for get this, $1890.00!

It was quality engineering, quality products, long lasting high dollar items that made America and companies in America great.

I now move back to my childhood. Its one of many Christmases where Mom spent to much money on presents. Dad opens a ratchet set and exclaims "And its a Craftsman. They have a life time guarantee!"

That was the thing and I grew up believing Sears and Roebuck and their Craftsman line of tools, though expensive, would last forever because, and this is important, they were American made.

When I got married and moved into a rental house, it was in Bayou Liberty Louisiana, we had to borrow my boss' lawnmower to keep the yard mowed. I think this was too much for Dad to handle so when we moved to Corinth, in a surprise visit, he brought us a brand new Craftsman Lawnmower. This was back in the mid to late 90s. I can't say for sure, but I suspect he told me then, "It's a Craftsman. They have a life time guarantee."

Well 15 years later, we still have that lawnmower and in spite of my diligently storing it the correct way every winter, it fails to start. I attempt to fix it myself, but end up taking it to the shop for repair. It'll run off and on all mowing season but then die. I have pulled the rope of that lawnmower so many times I have hurt myself on occasion and then I finally give up.

Last time I took it to the shop I decided to take it to a Sears service center. Mostly because I blamed its frequent failures on the local shops I had been taking it to. I won't go into the details, but in the end, I loaded the mower into the back of the pickup, made a scene in the Sears showroom, and stormed out never to return. In short, Sears, like most all American companies, making "American made" products, sucks!

While researching the best way to get my mower fixed, I ran across a complaint filed on the internet from a guy who went to Sears to ask a technical question because, he too, was trying to fix his mower himself. He claims he was told by the front desk attendant that she could ask a technician to come out from the back but it would be a $110 appraisal fee to do so.

I have been very hard on Craftsman's fall from glory in this article, but it is not just Craftsman, its a sign of the fall of our society - this general apathy. Another sign? An aging manufacturing work force. Young adults, if they are looking for careers, are increasingly flocking to the virtual worlds of information technology. I say virtual because the real hardware is being manufactured, cheaply, by some one else. The average age of Biomedical Equipment service engineers is 49 years old. Many of this age have found that "technology" has passed them by and they are too tired to learn IT. The days of the mechanical things of physics are passing us by - vacuum, pressure, hydraulics, pneumatics are becoming a thing of the past. But the opportunities to learn and practice these very real, physical skills, are being shunned by the young would be careerist. These physical positions are being held onto tenuously by the over 45 crowd who are finding the virtual world of bits and bytes has taken over.

This is why the local Sears service center no longer has on site technicians in their stores. The technicians have died or retired, no one is wanting to take their place and my lawn mower must be sent to Memphis for repair. Furthermore, in the name of increasing profits, Sears no longer sells parts at their stores. One must work their way through websites matching obscure model and part numbers to find what one needs. Shipping for internet orders now is never less than $7.00 for the slow way and shipping via Fed Ex or UPS no longer means the drivers of the company's respective vans deliver the part to your door. Fed Ex and UPS now send these types of shipments, you guessed, through the post office. So my choices come down to waiting weeks while my mower is being shipped to Memphis for repair, paying for the repair itself, and shipping or waiting weeks while the parts I ordered on the internet finally reach my postoffice and paying, sometimes, twice the cost of the parts to get it here. The entire system is designed to make me wait and to cost me money. Meanwhile, the Craftsman mower that my father believes is still the best made, American made, mower in the world, sits in my barn, because, yet again, it will not start...

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