Fixing the Dryer

A few weeks back I went to put a load of laundry in the dryer, and the machine refused to cooperate. The motor started up, but as soon as I released the start button, it cut off.

I did what I do most of the time there’s an appliance failure in the house: I went to YouTube.

One video suggested I try turning the dryer on with the door open to see if the drum moved. If it didn’t spin, it likely meant that the only problem was a broken belt (aka, something the video said anyone could fix). After confirming the broken belt, I felt pretty comfortable with the next steps. I don’t consider myself handy, but it seemed like an easy enough thing to fix.

Keep both of those things in mind:

  1. I don’t consider myself handy.
  2. This seemed like an easy problem to fix.

I ordered the replacement belt from a local appliance store and picked it up the next day. The video demonstrating how to replace the belt was ten minutes long, so I estimated that I could accomplish the same task in 30 minutes (adding time based on what was trimmed out in editing the video, and adding some padding due to my lack of experience with dryer repair).

An hour later I was covered in lint, sweat, and desperation.

There’s one part of the whole operation that’s a particular challenge.

To get the belt in place, you need to thread it around a spindle on the motor, and then around a pulley that keeps the belt tight against the drum. The pulley is connected to a switch. If the belt snaps, the pulley pops out of alignment and turns off the motor.

In order to get the belt in position, you have to reach your arm inside the bottom of the dryer, underneath the drum, and stick it behind the motor in a part of the dryer that you can’t see. So you’re lying down on the floor, your whole arm where you can’t see clearly, lining up a thin rubber belt over a pulley that you have to pull into place at the same time. One-handed.

Somehow, I’d managed to do this. Probably. I called Dena down to check on the results. I plugged the dryer back in and pressed power.

The Good News – The dryer started and stayed on! The drum turned!

The Bad News – The dryer was making a truly awful metallic scraping sound and smelled like maybe something was burning.

I decided it was time to scream into the void and start over again, but we agreed that I’d be better off just cutting my losses for now, taking a shower, and calling my dad over to help me take a look the next day. It’s a universally agreed upon notion that my dad is handy.

And this is where it got more complicated.

The next day, he and I struggled with the dryer for another hour, assembling and disassembling it over and over. We watched dueling YouTube instructional videos to figure out what we were doing wrong. We drew diagrams. We tried alternate methods of threading the belt.

At one point we yanked the pulley clean out of the dryer and tried to get it back in place.

And all of this was done with the time limit of tickets to go see Ralph Wrecks The Internet that afternoon. Another day, another attempt at fixing the dryer failed.

We agreed to come back to it the next day when there weren’t any appointments interfering with the work.

And something happened overnight. Maybe I just looked at the diagram of how the belt was supposed to thread just the right way. Maybe the moral of Ralph Wrecks the Internet and how insecurity is the mind killer had time to sink in. Whatever it was, I had to revisit those two key premises from earlier:

  1. I don’t consider myself handy.

Alright, I’m not somebody who’s ever going to advertise their services as an independent contractor, but I can follow instructions. I can think through a problem. I’ve fixed other appliances and I have solved problems in the past.

So why don’t I consider myself handy?

Is it just that I don’t have a variety of experiences that would allow me to talk shop with hardware store employees? That I sometimes need to ask for help or instructions? Is it because one time a shop teacher yelled at me for showing another student the wrong way to use a band saw and it convinced me to take more drama electives?

None of those seem like very good reasons. Which leads us to…

  1. This seemed like an easy problem to fix.

Why did I think that?

Is it because the person with more experience who narrated the video said it was easy for them? Is it because there were so few steps to the process?

Was thinking that this was supposed to be easy causing me to make mistakes, or get overly frustrated?

And in that moment of the third attempt to install this belt, I had a moment of clarity. It’s not the dryer that’s the problem: I’m the problem.

By not believing I could solve the problem, I was holding myself back from finding a way to solve the problem.

I looked at each individual component of the dryer and how they were supposed to line up. And that’s when I noticed something I had missed before: The metal ring connecting the exhaust hose to the back of the dryer. It was loose.

That was the scraping sound I had heard after the first time, and probably the source of the burning smell. Making sure the exhaust pipe was secure wasn’t part of the process of replacing the belt, so I hadn’t checked it.

Everything came together quickly after that, especially since I’d taken it apart and put it back together several times already. I’ve been enjoying machine-dried clothes ever since.

More importantly, the experience kicked my ass and reminded me that unless you believe you might be able to solve a problem, you have no hope of making it happen.