The Kirby

Vacuum Cleaner

There was an elderly lady in my church who lived in an old three-story country house (in rural Virginia). I always liked going with my dad (a minister) to visit her because it was fun to explore through her big house and look for all her vacuum cleaners.

She had a bunch of 'em, including an Electrolux Model F (early version) that she stored in the original box in her kitchen pantry. And she had TWO Electrolux XXXs - one in her garage and another one in the basement! Even at that young age I could see differences between the two XXXs - one was the later 1950 model with the new streamlined rug nozzle, and had the companion. The other was the earlier postwar model, with the flat runners and the bulkier rug nozzle with the black bumper.

Then she had a really old straight-suction G.E. hand-vac, and some other funny kind of tank cleaner - a Bee-vac I think, or maybe an Apex. I only saw it once. It was maroon with chrome ends and a maroon hose, solid color with no pattern. That one was in a closet on the second floor. And she had a Eureka upright that I was not particularly interested in. It was in her front hall closet. All I remember about it was that it was two-tone brown and tan.

One day when we were there, I was up snooping around in the third floor of her house, which was pretty much unused - her large family having all grown up and moved away so those bedrooms stood empty - a little dusty and eerily quiet, like a cemetery almost.

In one of the rooms was a huge walk-in closet with a bunch of stuff stored in it. When I peeked in there, I saw a long, tan box on the floor with black stripes and lettering --- then when I saw the word KIRBY my heart started pounding! I opened the box and saw all these beautiful and mysterious-looking tan Kirby parts -- but where was the machine??

I looked around at the stuff that was stored in there and then saw, way in the back of the closet, a familiar-shaped handle sticking up behind a stack of shoe boxes piled on a chair -- the handle was tan rather than red, but I knew what it was. (Strangely enough, I had never seen a tan Kirby before then.) I moved all the stuff aside to get to the machine and there it was -- a glistening, brand-new Dual Sanitronic 50! It literally had to be brand-new since this was in the summer of 1965 -- when that model had just come out. The only reason I remember that it was that year specifically was because we moved from that area just a few months later in December 1965.

Anyway, all excited, I lugged that thing down two flights of stairs to show Mrs. Cundiff and my dad -- I was barely nine years old so of course this was a major thrill!! When she saw it, she said, "Oh, that thing. One of my husband's lodge brothers sold it to him and I hate it. It's so big and heavy I can't even use it! And it's so NOISY!"

Well, =I= sure didn't mind using it, and I cleaned her entire living room with it, and would have done her whole house if we had stayed long enough. I LOVED the magical glowing Kirby logo on the headlight housing! I just stood there staring at it as the machine ran!

And of course I had to go back up to that third-story treasure-closet and drag down the big box of attachments to make sure all her upholstery and bare floor around the carpeting was carefully cleaned! I even went over the piano keys on her beautiful old grand piano with the dusting brush! I wanted to use the floor polisher too but didn't have time to mess with it other than to just attach it and STARE at it! She had the Rug Renovator and Handi-Butler also [her husband's "Lodge Brother" must have been quite a slick salesman!], but I did not know what all that stuff was at the time, so I really wasn't interested in it.

As we were leaving, I dropped several broad hints about how WE had a "crummy old sweeper" and sure could use a new one -- but she neatly sidestepped the hints and didn't offer to let me take that beautiful Kirby home!

The next time I saw Mrs. Cundiff was several years later when we went back to that part of Virginia for a church reunion. I was itching to ask her about that Kirby -- finally I slyly asked, "Do you still have that tan Kirby that your husband bought you?" I was heartbroken when she said, "Oh, no, I never did like it so I gave it to my son and his wife when they got a new house." Darn!

Fast-forward to the year 2003...

Well, I am happy to say that I do now have a beautiful, mint D-50 -- practically brand new in the box that I found on eBay, for a 'steal' of a winning bid! The auction listing photo was not the greatest in the world, but I could tell that all the original boxes were there and the machine looked to be in fabulous condition. So I placed a bid, and it turned out that I was the only bidder! Another one of those serendipitous eBay finds that for whatever reason no one saw but me. Guess it had my name on it!

Once I had placed the winning bid on it, I could hardly wait for it to arrive -- hardly daring believe it really was as nice as it looked in the photos on the auction listing.

Well, the big day arrived -- I came home in the afternoon and saw a huge box -- big enough to hold a hot water heater -- standing on my front porch. I lugged it inside and began to unpack it. The seller had packed it beautifully -- you never saw such a fabulous job! The components of the machine's main rug cleaning plant were disassembled and separately bubble wrapped, perched atop the original D-50 shipping carton which was practically mummified -- immersed in fresh styro peanuts, then swaddled in a half-dozen layers of bubble wrap. As I unpeeled about 50 feet of bubble wrap, all told.

I yelled with joy when the complete ensemble was unveiled and I saw its beautiful condition! It really is gorgeous! The paper sticker is still on front of the rug nozzle belt lifter, and there's still a hang-tag on the bag about "KGF-40, an exclusive Kirby deodorizer. It came with a few extras such as two sets of the long wands, and an extra cord. But the machine does appear to have been used very little. Funny thing, the part that shows the most wear is the floor polisher -- the bristles are covered with a thin film of dried wax, and the wax applicator roller is caked with wax.

Whenever I look at it, I always think of the heart-pounding excitement when I came across Mrs. Cundiff's third-floor treasure!




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I am, rather, a student and self-appointed historian in the field of study of industrial design -- with a particular interest in, and focus on, the aesthetics and design of vintage vacuum cleaners.

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