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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The downside of building a better mouse trap

Suppose you built a machine that would last forever. What would you get? A recall notice from Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Servel gas refrigerator was built in Evansville, Indiana from 1933 to 1957 and many are still in use as the above contemporary ad on Ebay confirms. The gas refrigerator has no moving parts meaning they last almost forever. They use a process called absorption refrigeration where a mixture of ammonia, water and hydrogen is heated by a gas flame. If you are really that interested in the details Wikipedia explains them here. The unremarkable feature of absorption refrigeration is that it does not cool enough to freeze water so Servel Inc. folded with the advent of electric refrigerators. The venerable Servel was the first step up from the icebox which needed home delivery of block ice. The beauty of the design was that the orifice could be modified to burn propane and even kerosene and today many Servel's function in remote hunting cabins and other off the grid locations.

While millions of Servel refrigerators were in wide use there were no complaints about safety but after 40 years in service the gas orifices needed cleaning. A dirty gas burner, because incomplete combustion produces carbon monoxide is a safety hazard but the remedy is to simply clean the orifices. By 1990 the CPSC was in a snit because some 22 people had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning so it issued a recall and much more. It created the  Servel Corrective Action Committee. Now there is the job for you! Dream of being a board member of the Servel Correction Action Committee in the next administration.

Forcing a company that had gone out of business 33 years prior presented a problem but not a problem that could not be solved by regulatory bullying. The CPSC ran down the company that bought up the Servel brand rights, Dometic, and forced it to compensate Servel owners for "reasonable disposal" costs plus a $100 rebate. Dometic manufactures RV refrigerators and as the CPSC says is completely blameless." The Servel refrigerators in question are no longer being produced and are in no way associated with the Dometic Corp., the current manufacturer of Servel brand name products." The only safety feature Dometic added was a vent pipe.

In any event by 1998 CPSC reported that " Since this recall program was launched in 1990, more than 22,000 refrigerators have been destroyed. On average, 100 new requests for rebates are mailed to SCAC monthly, demonstrating that there are still many more in use."
As evident by the Ebay ad 18 years after the recall and 59 years after the last production date there is still some demand for these remarkable machines. This says a lot about the quality of manufacturing the country once had and more than big government advocates would want us to know about bureaucratic efficiency.


1 comment:

  1. America has become an ongoing series of Monty Python skits. CPSC is less benign but every bit as ridiculous as Minister of Silly Walks.