“Just stick the vacuum hose in the dryer vent and hold it there. I’ll turn the shop vac on.” Aaron said. He was my appliance repair mentor. I was his apprentice.
“It’s in, go ahead and turn on the vacuum.” I tightened my grip on the hose.
The cramped space of the laundry room filled with sound as the machine came to life. I felt the chunks of lint churning through the two-inch hose into the body of the vacuum.
“Spin it around a little and push it in more.” Aaron yelled over the sound of the shop vac.
I pushed the hose a little further and a loud thumping sound resonated from the hose ending with a loud thud in the body of the vacuum. “What the heck was that?” I yelled back.
“I don’t know what that was.” The volume of Aaron’s voice descended with the sound of the vacuum dropping off. He unfastened the lid on the shop vac.
Aaron lifted the lid off the vacuum and peered inside. He dropped the top and jumped back. “Aaaaagh.” He screeched. I carefully peaked in. A tan colored full-sized hamster lifted his dazed head and looked back at us, his head corkscrewed slowly like a child who just got up after rolling down a hill on his side. The hamster’s eyes darted side to side like the world was spinning.
“Well that’s a first. I’ve been fixing appliances for over 20 years and I’ve never had a hamster come flying out of a dryer vent.” Aaron placed the lid back on the shop vac and took me outside to look at the flapper door that is supposed to keep things out of the vent. “See that? The door is missing. And the vent is right on the ground. I bet that little guy escaped from one of the condos here and thought that was a great place to make his home. He just grabbed all the lint in there and made a nest that blocked the airflow. That made the dryer quit drying which made the homeowner call us which led to his little roller coaster ride today. Poor hamster.”
We went back into the house and talked to the owner of the condo.
“Have you heard a neighbor who was missing a hamster? Or have you seen any fliers up?”
“No. Why?” The homeowner wasn’t in the room with the vacuum and did not hear the epic percussion of the bouncing rodent.
“We just found one in your dryer vent.”
“Dead?” The homeowner gasped.
“No. Very much alive. Dazed. But alive.” I said.
“You can’t leave him here. You have to take him with you. I can’t have a rodent. I can’t deal with that.”
“Well, we don’t normally deal with this kind of situation, but I have a bucket for draining washing machines. We’ll put him in there until we know what to do with him.” We took the shop vac out to the van and moved the hamster to the bucket. He seemed unhurt and was no longer dazed. The critter ran around the bucket looking for a way out.
We wrapped up with the homeowner and climbed back into the work van. Aaron tossed a Thomas Guide map book on my lap. “Find a park nearby to release the hamster. It’s too hot to leave him in the van and we don’t have time to find a hamster rescue. He found shelter once, he’ll have to do it again.”
I found a good park. It was only a few blocks away. Aaron drove there and we got out and approached the playground on the side where no kids were playing. Tipping the bucket on its side, the hamster ran out and found cover in some tall grass on the border of the swingset. He was free.
“Well, I don’t know who was more surprised by that, us or the hamster.” I smiled.
“You hear about dogs showing up at their old house hundreds of miles away from where the family moved them to. I hope hamsters don’t do that. It would really suck to find out that hamster walked a couple of miles and plugged up that dryer again.”
I got called out to the Santa Anita horse race track in Southern California when I was done with my apprenticeship with Aaron. I walked through the stables of horses that were worth more than I will likely make in my lifetime. Their stables were far nicer than my house. They were pristine. However, they were still stables, and a mouse climbed into the fan underneath the refrigerator in one of the employee rooms and did not make it out the other side. The jammed fan caused the refrigerator to quit cooling. Once again, I wondered about charging a biohazard fee to remove a dead animal. That one wasn’t as lucky as the hamster in the shop vac.
I’ve found lots of things in dryers over the years. Recently, I discovered 38 collar tabs in one dryer. Another time, I found over 100 golf tees. It was like someone at the driving range tore a box of tees open and they blew out all over the place.
I once, while in L.A. county, took a dryer apart and found a knife with a 10-inch blade in a place that was absolutely impossible to reach without taking two panels off. I wondered what crime was committed with that knife and how long it was hidden there. That is probably one of the most secure places in the house. Thieves never steal dryers. But I can imagine a spouse getting a new washer and dryer on a whim and having a hidden box with a life’s savings in it taken to the dump on accident.
Dryer vents are also notorious for attracting birds. A bird will climb in through a broken vent door and build a nest in the vent hose. Sometimes a bird gets confused and tries to escape going the wrong way, ending up in the blower wheel. Spinning wheels kill mice and birds. I found a vent full of wasp nests once. Totally chuck full. It was amazing. One was full of snails once. I still don’t know why snails would congregate together in one vent. My only explanation is some combination of chemicals being used to wash laundry put out a smell close to a pheromone that attracts snails. Mice build nests in dryers from time to time. Spiders love to reside in and around appliances too.
One home I visited had a pair of twin boys who weren’t quite old enough to attend school. They went out back and picked up red lava rocks. They found the dryer vent and filled it to the brim with red rocks. It was amazed at how many rocks were there.
I worked on a dryer once that was left in storage. They left a full 50 pound back of dog food in the storage unit too. When they came back to get the washer and dryer, the dog food bag was empty. That industrious little mouse made thousands of trips with a mouth full of kibble and deposited it all inside the dryer. That was by far the most clogged dryer I’ve ever seen. Dog food spilled out like a winning slot machine when I opened that dryer up. Then it filled my shop vac to the brim. My shop vac has vacuumed some crazy things.
Then there are the novelty items. Underwires from bras of every size make their way past the felt seals of dryers. Once they separate from the bra they are a flat u-shaped piece of metal. Many a man has brought one to my shop wondering what part of the dryer that metal piece was.
Undersized women’s thong underwear is responsible for jamming agitators and plugging pumps. I pulled over 20 pairs of thong underwear out of one dryer that had a hole in the lint screen. We told the customer not to dry anything small until we came back with the parts but they called back the next day and had jammed it with 20 more pairs of thong underwear. The apprentice who was training with me at that time posed the question, “How many pairs of thong underwear do you think they own, and why do they wait to wash all of them?”
I’ve removed diamond earings, hairpins, costume jewelry, necklaces, rings, keys, guitar picks, diabetic blood test strips, pencils, pens, erasers, legos, and money from washers and dryers. From a 100.00 bill to 50.00 in multiple currencies. Coins from America, Canada, Mexico, India, the far east, and many I could not identify piled up inside dryers. Sometimes the metal from a falling coin even shorts the dryer out and damages electronic parts.
But appliances don’t last as long any more, so there is less time for stuff to accumulate in them. I don’t find as many cool things in them these days. And I have not saved another hamster in over 20 years.