The Cobbler’s Children



I’m sure you all know the story of the cobbler’s children having no shoes.  We do have cloth-covered wire in our house, but often things go years before they are rewired.  Case in point is a little fan that I have planned to mount on the wall in the bathroom to try to alleviate that just-out-of-the-shower way-way-too-hot feeling.  Since the temperatures have been going up into the 90s recently, and working from home has been keeping the things I’ve been meaning to do in my face all day, every day, the little Perfex fan is finally getting a fix-up.

Clearly, the obvious first step was to replace the wiring.  Both of the old wires, the head wire going from the motor to the base and the power cord, were black cotton-covered, the head wire being twisted pair and the power cord parallel cord.  Both were quite brittle and had worrisome gaps in the cloth and possibly the rubber or plastic beneath.  The base opens up when the grommets are removed, and there were grommets at all the entry points for the wires. As they too were completely brittle, I replaced all of those.

Sundial Wire parts used:

I’m not an expert on antiques repair, but I know that removing finishes is a no-no, although it will probably be quite some time before this fan is considered an antique.  But I think it’s charming and like to keep the old feel of a thing, even if it does need a lot of fixing up.  We live in a 1924 Sears Kit House, the Oak Park model with the sunroom.  We know it’s a Sears house because I talked to the daughter of the man who built it.  And every single thing, inside and out, matches this catalog page.  (Sears Kit Houses are a fascinating part of our history.  There’s lots of information on the Web if you’d like to know more.)  Oh, and we did pay a bit more than $3,265.00, although that included all the wood and hardware, right down to the doorbell.)



So blemishes in the paint are staying, but I felt the rust and lack of shine on the fan blades was definitely in need of spiffing up and wouldn’t take away from the fan’s fitting in with our old house.

You can go to our How-To-Wire-A-Plug page for instructions on instructions and what tools you will need for prepping the ends of the wires and putting on the plug.  The other connections just required twisting wire ends together with wire nuts, but if you do something like this, always be very careful to connect the right polarity.  In the case of this old fan, the neutral wire, instead of having a stripe on the insulation under the braid, like our wire does, had a fine thread to differentiate it from the hot wire.  This was a normal thing in the early to mid-1900s.

Other than replacing the wires and giving the paint a swipe with a wet rag, the only thing I did was clean the blades.  Quite a bit of the grime and rust came off with just a wet paper towel, but I quickly realized that I would get much better and faster results with some very fine steel wool and naval jelly (a tried-and-true rust remover).

New wires installed, old perished head wire with half of an old perished grommet.
The backs of the blades before cleaning.
Half way through cleaning the fronts of the blades.

I did not spend a lot of time on this little guy – there’s way too much Sundial work that I’m behind on and a thousand more demanding house and garden chores – but I am pleased with how it turned out.  Actually the hardest part was getting the grommets in around the base.  Lots of grabbing with small pliers and pushing with a small screwdriver, and swearing when they wouldn’t go through properly or came flying out, the top having gone through the hole along with the bottom.  But I mustered my patience and got all four in eventually.

Here’s how it turned out.  (Note the original hardware on the original built-in in our Sears House dining room in the background.)  You can see that the silver color is a bit mottled where the rust was, but the little fan is still a pretty little thing, even with its blemishes.




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