A Pair of Retro 1940s Electric Floor Polishers!

A few years ago, I found a very cool-looking electric floor polisher in very sad condition, in an old junk shop down in Inglewood, California. I only paid $5 for it, brought it home, and then it sat in my garage for several years awaiting my attention which was long in coming since it was in such awful condition.

The circular base was originally natural metal in finish, and the motor hood was dark green. The brush was in wretched condition -- the machine had been used until the bristles were worn down to nubs, and then it had stood on top of those brushes for Lord only knows how many years.

Well, one day I thought the time had come to do a restoration on the machine so I started into it. I took it all apart, cleaned and greased the motor, bearings, and gears, painted it a fun blue hammertone finish -- not original but quite festive looking, I thought.

And then I set out to find brushes for it. Easier said than done. The machine was made by the Clarke company, a noted manufacturer of floor polishers. I found their phone number and called. I described what I had, and the clerk sort of laughed and said that it was from the 1940s and that no, they no longer carried parts for it. *Good-bye!*

So the next place to look was my favorite Vac Shop in Los Angeles -- Boulevard Vacuum. The owner of the store, Ron, seems to have a knack for finding just about anything. I brought the polisher in to him and he was quite amazed at the sight of this vintage appartion! He had never seen one, and expected that finding brushes for it would be tough but he would try.

A few weeks later he called and said that he had found a brush of the right size, but the hole to attach to the fitting was the wrong diameter and I would have to figure out some way of overcoming that problem. His polisher parts source had looked the planet high and low and this was all he could come up with.

I went and picked up the brush and came up with a rather clever way of adapting it. I took its circular measurements to the lumber store and got a second piece of 1" wood cut in the same dimension as the wood base. I had the guy make a smaller hole in the center so I could attach the mounting bracket from the old brush. I took the wood base home, wood-glued and screwed it to the base of the "found" brush, lacquered it with several coats of clear varnish, attached the mounting bracket from the old brush, and VIOLA! It worked!!

I have been quite happy with the machine. I really love its very retro, "Flash Gordon" look but even after the restoration it was a bit tired looking and it did not seem to run with a lot of pep. Ron, nice as he is to me, would have had to have charged me to take it apart and find out why it was running so slowly. So I just used it as it was and figured when it gave up the ghost, that would be it --- a day I did not want to see come as it really was a fun machine to use.

I most recently used the polisher for this year's "spring" cleaning (in July!) It seemed to be running even more slowly than ever so I was a bit sad about that, although it still did an excellent job of polishing. The machine is heavy and the motor runs with a lot of torque which is the key to a good floor polisher. A light-weight plastic thing with small nylon gears just isn't gonna cut it. You really need the brute force of a commercial-type polisher to do a good, thorough, and FAST job of buffing floors, and this mighty Clarke fit that bill in every regard.


– — o O o — –


Fast-forward a couple of weeks later when I found myself in a junk store on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles ... where, what to wondering eyes should appear, but ANOTHER one of these fantastic floor polishers! I could hardly believe my eyes, since everyone I had talked to who knew anything about the machine had exclaimed about how rare it was, that they had not seen one in years.

This one was in very sad cosmetic shape (I forgot to take "Before" shots to compare, and more's the pity because you would not believe the difference after I got through with it!). It looked like it had stood in some old barn for a hundred years. It was very dull, pitted, tarnished, and the handle was rusting.

The bottom was all filled with cooties and dead spider cocoons and cobwebs, and some very scary looking bugs with far too many legs to have been from THIS planet! The polishing brush was in very, very poor condition. It had been all eaten thorough with termites and the wooden base looked like a round slice of Swiss cheese; and the few bristles that were left on it fluttered to the floor when I picked the machine up and turned it over.

I fired it up in the junk store, not expecting it to run it all. Imagine my amazement when it not only ran, but purred like the masterpiece of precision that it is, and at a speed at least TWICE as fast as my other one!

So, of course I brought it home. This machine was all natural metal in color, none of it was painted as the other one was. I was going to restore it to that condition.

When I got it home, I discovered that the manufacturer identified on the name plate of each machine is a different company! However, they obviously are both the same identical machine other than slight differences here and there -- different types of switches etc. I am going to guess that both machines were made by Clarke and that the newest discovery (which I believe is the older of the two) was a "house" brand.

Today (7/13/01), I took it all apart, gave it a good cleaning. I discovered that the metal was so darkened and discolored that even buffing it out on my electric metal polisher would not totally clean it. So I got to looking at it and thought that it would look very smart with a red "helmet," so that is what I did.

I taped off the retro "fins" around the middle of it so they would remain natural metal and stand out more. Do they ever! As you will see in the photos, that was, well, if I do say so myself, a touch of artistic genius! Having those fins stand out the way they do against the candy-apple-red finish really makes this thing look like it's ready to blast off into outer space!

Here are some photos of the finished product; and again, when it turned out so beautifully I was very sorry not to have taken "before" photos. Oh well.


So there you have it. A lovely little story of floor polisher serendipity!


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