When we moved to our house last Fall, I discovered some sort of contraption in the basement, hidden in a dark corner. It looked like some sort of generator or something. It evoked mental images of Thomas A. Edison. What was it? I found my flashlight and brushed a little dust off of the thing. The picture here is what I saw. "Arco Wand Vacuum Cleaner".
What the heck? A central vacuum system in a 1915 house? "No, surely it can't be original to the house," I thought.
I looked a little closer at the gizmo. On the motor, there was a data plate. What?!? The patent listed on the motor (made by the Wagner Electric Manufacturing Co., St. Louis, U.S.A.) had several dates, starting back as far as Sept. 11, '88. We're talking EIGHTEEN eighty-eight!
I looked around a little more and found a separate data plate for the vacuum itself. Check out that patent date: March 9, 1907. So this vacuum was as old as the house itself. I was amazed.
As I studied the system, it finally dawned on me what those odd disks were on the baseboard of the main and second story hallways. They were the connection points where a vacuum hose could be attached. The hose attachment was nowhere to be found (tossed into the garbage many years ago, I would imagine), although there is a tiny little "closet" in the dining room that must have been built especially to store the hose. An old wire rack was hanging in the closet, which is probably what the hose would have been coiled around when it was put away.
I got online to see what I could find out about the Arco Wand, plus I looked around the house and figured out a few things:
- The American Radiator Company (“ARCO”) manufactured the radiators and Arco Wand central vacuum system that were installed in this home when it was built in 1915. American Radiator also manufactured Ideal boilers, which likely was the brand of the boiler that was originally installed in the house. By the time we purchased the house in 2009, the original coal-fired boiler had long since been replace by a H.B. Smith natural gas boiler (probably some time in the early 1980’s). If boilers are "your thing", be sure to read the previous post entitled Bye-bye, Boiler.
- The American Radiator Company eventually merged with Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company in 1929 to become what is now known as American Standard -- the company that makes sinks, toilets, bath tubs, and all sorts of plumbing fixtures.
- Although there is actually still an Arco Wand company in existence today, it is mainly a commercial high-capacity vacuum company. It was likely sold off sometime after the American Standard company was formed.
So what do you do with a 95 year old vacuum?
In order to get things out of the way in the basement so we could have the central HVAC installed, I disconnected the vacuum and moved it to the garage. Perhaps I should say I fought the thing all the way to the garage. I'm guessing it weighs about 300 lbs. With the help of my petite-but-mighty wife, we wriggled it up onto a four-wheel furniture dolly and rolled it out to the garage. There it sat for a number of weeks while we tried to figure out what to do with the thing. If we couldn't come up with another home for it, we knew we'd have to take it to the scrap yard. It was just too big to keep around as a conversation piece.
Knowing that I am a Lover Of All Things Old, my wife started doing some online searches and making some phone calls to see if we could find a museum that would take it. After all, we're talking about a piece of history here. There weren't that many houses in 1915 that had a central vacuum (or perhaps even indoor plumbing, for that matter), and even fewer that still have such a thing in original condition. After a few dead-end contacts, she finally got ahold of a guy at the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri, which is a little over two hours from where we live. The phone conversation went something like this:
She: I have a central vacuum machine that I'd like to donate to your museum.
He: What can you tell me about it?
She: Well I don't really know much about it, but my husband does.
He: Do you know what brand it is? Do you know if it is a such-and-such brand or maybe an Arco Wand?
She: Yes! That's it -- it is an Arco Wand.
He: (quite excited) You have an Arco Wand?!? Oh my goodness! I've been looking for one of those for fifteen years!
She: That's great. We'd like to donate it, but we would need you to send someone to pick it up. It's very heavy.
He: Hmm, we don't get up to that way very often.
She: Well, if you really want it, you need to come pick it up within the next three weeks. Otherwise, we're going to have to take it to the scrap yard. It is out in our garage, and we need to get it out of the way.
He: (a little panicked) Wait! No! Don't scrap it! We'll come get it! You can't take it to the scrap yard -- you've got the Mona Lisa! No, please don't scrap it! We'll figure out some way to get a truck over to pick it up!
So a couple of weeks ago, they sent a truck to pick up the vacuum. The driver even called once she made it back to the museum to let me know the vacuum had arrived safely, and to thank us again for donating it. They tell us that they will restore it back to "like new" condition, so once they are finished, my wife and I plan to make a trip to St. James to check it out. It will be fun to see the vacuum looking all new and shiny again.