The Hoover Bag Cleaner

Back in the good old days before disposable paper bags, vacuum cleaners (both upright and canister) utilized cloth bags for dirt collection. Every so often the cloth sweeper bag would be emptied by the user, usually too infrequently and not effectively. The pores of the cloth would eventually become clogged, reducing cleaning efficiency.

Many times when a hapless customer brought a sweeper into a vac shop for repair because it was "no longer picking up," the main problem would be the clogged bag -- along with loose or broken agitator belt, brush rolls matted with animal hair and crud, etc. So, as part of servicing these machines, the friendly old coot who ran the vac shop would remove the cloth bag from the vacuum and give it a thorough cleaning.

Smart vac shop owners invested in a special tool for this use, the Hoover Bag Cleaner. Mounted on a corner of the work bench or on a special cast-iron pedestal, the electric Hoover Bag Cleaner made quick work of putting cloth bags right again by gently but vigorously agitating the cloth bags, loosening and sweeping away the pore-clogging dirt.

Once upon a time, the Hoover Bag Cleaner was an ubiquitous part of any good vac shop. However, with the advent of disposable bags, and, indeed, today, with disposable vacuum cleaners that would cost more to repair than they're worth, Hoover Bag Cleaners began disappearing along with the cloth bags they were used to clean.

The Hoover Bag Cleaner is a pretty rare bird. I have only seen a few of them in my life; most of them were counter-mounted. There was also a more deluxe free-standing pedestal version. I've only seen one of those.

Well, here are two specimens of the Hoover Bag Cleaner that have survived!




The first one I have was given to me by the owners of a vac shop here in L.A. when they moved back in 1998. I had recalled not only seeing it but even using it when I worked for them for a brief period a few years ago. (I found out the hard way that I am NOT cut out for vac shop repair work. Disgustingly filthy business!)

Anyway, the owner, Ron, called me one day to inform me the shop was moving. He said to come over and see if there was anything in the "shit pile" - as he put it - that I might want before it all went into the dumpster. I did go over, and took one or two things but not much. Shit really did describe it!

I did not give a thought to the bag cleaner until about a week later when suddenly I went "OH MY GOD! They had a Hoover Bag Cleaner in there!" I called Ron and asked if he still had it. He was not sure -- he said he did not take it when they moved to the new store since they hardly ever used it any more -- cloth bags pretty much being a thing of the past by now. He did not know if it was still in the old store or not but he kinda suspected it was not.

Heart sinking, I asked if we could go over there and see. He said yes, so I drove over and we went over to the old store together. There was no electricity - it had been shut off already - so it was hard to see in that dark, windowless repair section of the shop.

But after letting my eyes get used to the darkness, I yelled "YESSS!" Because I could see it was still there. Ron rummaged around and found a screwdriver and pulled the bag cleaner off of the counter, handed it to me and said, "Here! Enjoy!!"

As soon as I got it home, I fired it up. To my disappointment, the brush roll would not turn. I thought maybe the belt was broken so I peeked inside. Nope, the belt was good. The brush roll was all matted and tangled with crud they had cleaned out of bags ever since the day their shop opened in 1947! I could see there was no way it was going to work without taking it apart and cleaning it.

So take it apart I did. Down to the very last screw. Getting the brush roll housing apart from the fan casing was a rage-inducing, profanity-laced procedure let me tell you! It was not going to budge. But I did finally get it off. When I got the brush roll out I could not believe my eyes. It was just horrible! So with a pair of scissors, an exacto knife and a screwdriver I laboriously cleaned all the gunk out. there was a pile the size of a basketball on the table when I was finished!

Then I started looking at putting it back together.

Uhhh.....ohhhhhhhh..... I could not get that damn thing back together to save my life. It's an amazingly kludgy device, not particularly cleverly designed but really a complicated "Rube Goldberg" contraption with all sorts of odd little bits and pieces.

When it became clear that I was not going to get it back together, I called the one person whom I thought could do this for me -- my friend Bob Kautzman, a collector and restorer on the East Coast who has an amazing workshop with all sorts of high-end machinery, and has the know-how to fix something like this. He said he'd be glad to take a look at it so I boxed it up and sent it off.

Weeks passed, then months, then years -- with no report back from him about it. I began to worry a little bit about this; until I found out he had been going through incredibly difficult times and my bag cleaner was the last thing on his mind. I figured he'd get around to it sooner or later.

Finally he had a look at it and told me it was so completely dismantled that he was not sure he would be able to get it back together.

Ohhh, boy.

If Bob couldn't fix it, no one could. Of that, I was quite sure. So I pretty much decided to forget about ever getting it back into working order.




Then, I recently flew to the East Coast to play concerts in Maryland and Pennsylvania. While I was there, I took the time to go visit my friend Bob for a couple of days. We had a great time together and of course the bag cleaner was in the back of my mind but I didn't want to say anything about it.

He had kept his large and beautiful Christmas tree set up, just for fun. The tree was right in the central area of his house and I must have walked back and forth by it several dozen times. The first evening I was there, we had a wonderful home-made dinner and lots more "sweeper chat," and then had lots of fun playing the piano and cello together. Later on, I went to bed.

The next morning, Bob said something along the line of, "Well, I have a Christmas present for you. I guess you saw it already." Puzzled, I said I had not. Well, he turned and pointed under the tree. There, sitting right in plain view, where I had passed by I don't know how many times, was my Bag Cleaner!


We took a look at it together and he showed me all the things he did. First off, he had to weld a new brush roller to the long shaft that connects it (via belt) to the motor. This was no simple chore as it had to be attached centered and perfectly balanced or it would not run smoothly. Then he rewired the motor and installed a new switch box. The best part? I may well have the only two-speed Hoover Bag Cleaner in captivity! Since it had come with a two-speed motor, Bob was able to wire a three-way switch to it so I have low and high speeds!

I was truly struck speechless. He had done an incredible job on this machine and it runs smoothly and like clockwork.


On the following pages are before-and-after photos.




Meanwhile, the amazing -- unexpected -- unbelievable -- happened: I found another one! It came from a vac shop in the Midwest that recently closed. Relatives of the vac shop owner, who had died, contacted me via my web site with a number of old vacuums they wanted to sell, none of which I really wanted, until I saw a photo of a Bag Cleaner. Bingo!!

An interesting point -- the first one I found had an 800 motor, painted flat silver. The socket for the two-speed switch was still there but no switch of course. But it was funny that they just stuck the motor onto the bag cleaner assembly "as-is." Then the second one I found has a 750 motor on it! The headlight housing is still on it but with none of the wiring for the bulb socket. It would appear that when they made these bag cleaners, they just stuck whatever motor was available on them!

Well, bla bla bla, following are photos of the two bag cleaners -- the most recent find first, then the one I got back in 1998 from Boulevard Vacuum.



(Bag Cleaner - Page One)
Bag Cleaner - Page Two
Bag Cleaner - Page Three
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