Pride & Quality, Closely Related
When I was in my teens and twenties, I used to go "junk-picking" a lot. For those not familiar with that term, it means that I would drive around neighborhoods on the night that trash was set out for the next morning's collection. I always found something to bring home and fix. I'm still using some of that stuff 25 years later!

Several factors led to me quitting the habit. In the old days, people would put the trash out in boxes, cans, or just a big pile, making it easy to spot something worthwhile. Then came the trash bags, and more recently, the "uniform" automated collection bins, both which discourage rummaging. But the biggest reason I quit is because everything is now worthless dime-store junk, that I wouldn't even take for free when it was still sitting on a shelf in the store! I would much rather have an old, but well made widget that works good, and was built to last, than anything that's on the market now.

Believe it or not, at one time people took pride in the products they made. In case you're not familiar with pride, it means that you
believe that you are doing the right thing, and hopefully others think so too.

Today, the focus has shifted to squeezing every possible penny out of that product. No one cares if the thing actually works, or lasts more than long enough for the check to clear the bank. Most of the big companies that were well-established in the US have either gone out of business, or are cashing in on their brand-names by putting it on inferior-quality imported junk. "RCA" means Radio Corporation of America. Try to find something with the RCA brand that is made in America. I go past the Zenith plant in Chicago once in a while, it looks pretty well abandoned, everything is imported now. They used to say in their ads "The quality goes in, before the name goes on". I don't hear that anymore.

I see the same with hand tools. Years ago, names like "Lufkin" and "Crescent", were common names on good quality American-made tools. Then came an influx of dime-store quality imported tools for a fraction of the price. Everyone rushed out and bought them. In order to stay in business, the big brands put their name on lower quality stuff from China now. So people like me who want the good stuff, are having a hard time finding it. Today's generation is accustomed to cheap junk, they don't even know we had much better quality years ago.

UPDATE 12/20/10:
I use "Vise Grips" brand locking pliers quite often in my work. As long as I can remember, they were made in USA by Peterson Manufacturing Co. I've tried the cheap ones, and even the Craftsmans, but none worked as well or held up as well as the the genuine Vise Grips. The other day, a happened to see a "gift pack" with 2 different size Vise Grips at the store, and they looked different. Instead of the rugged all-metal tool I'm used to, they now sport some stupid Nike-looking rubber grips on the handles, and the finish on the metal parts is dull, rather than shiny like they used to be. I remember that the dime-store hammers from Taiwan 20 years ago also sported stupid rubber handles. I confirmed my suspicions, the Vise Grips are now made in China.

The problem is that people aren't smart enough to know the difference between a well-made product, and a piece of junk. They think that by buying the cheaper one, they'll save money and be able to buy more. That's true, but you wind up with a big pile of junk, that don't work very well, and won't last long.

In my line of work repairing commercial equipment, I almost always find it worthwhile to fix something older, rather than replace it. Not only does it save money for my customers up front, but in most cases, the repaired item will last longer and work better, than if they had purchased a new one. Even the so-called "commercial-quality" stuff like expensive stainless-steel restaurant type refrigerators fall apart in five years now. Although the cabinet still looks nice, the paper-thin copper tubing used for the cooling system gets eaten up by acids in the food. But for half the price of a new refrigerator, I can retrofit the old one with better parts and make it go for it least 10 more years.

Added 3/08 As I guessed would happen someday, the "better parts" referred to in the paragraph above, aren't much better anymore. Like everything else, the quality has dropped several notches lately, but not the price. In other words, the companies that are well-known for having better products, decided to cash in on their names. Why be better than someone else, huh?

Here's a few more examples:

Back when microwave ovens first became popular, they were expensive. I remember my parents paying $400-$500 for their first one, a GE. It had an old clunky mechanical timer on it. Being a relatively new concept at the time, it also had it's share of problems, mostly design flaws. But I repaired it myself several times over the 6 or 7 years that they used it. One day, I found a much newer  model with the digital timer and such, in the junk at an appliance store. I took it home, and all it needed was a few drops of oil on the fan motor inside, and it ran for many years. When a mishap shattered the glass in the door, I went out and bought them a new Panasonic oven, for $99.

The new one ran for about a year before it quit. But a 1/2 hour repair job replacing a 10 cent wire terminal inside got it going again. That was 5 years ago or so, and it's still going strong.

UPDATE 12/20/10
: The Panasonic finally died at 12 years of age. The $99 Made-in-China, Magic Chef all-stainless inside-and-out that replaced it lasted 3 weeks! The warranty replacement for that one made it a week so far, but the fan runs real slow, so I assume it will blow up shortly also. This one allows you to select "power level 00", and it runs that way. Brilliant! Must be for those that just enjoy watching the food go round and round without cooking it!

Nowadays, I see microwave ovens at Wal-Mart and other similar stores, for $39.

Now to get to the point. The first GE oven was expensive. Partly because it was new technology, and probably more so because it was made in the U.S.A. That means that people working right here in our own country had a job assembling these ovens.  When something is expensive, people are more likely to pay to get it fixed. A big benefit of that, is that it keeps it out of the landfill, and on your kitchen counter instead. There used to actually be several repair shops in town where people made a living repairing coffee pots, toasters and irons. Those days are sadly gone, to the point that I don't believe we even have people capable of fixing a toaster anymore. When you can buy a new toaster for $7, and a microwave oven for $39, your not going to bother trying to fix it. But don't count on that $39 microwave to last much more than 5 minutes beyond the warranty.

I always carry a pocket knife. If you don't, you don't know what your missing! Probably for a century, there was a company called Schrade Cutlery. They made the absolute best knives, of all kinds. I got hooked on them 25 years ago. I was truly amazed by the quality, from the several different kinds of metal in it, each one chosen for the job it performed, to the perfect fit and finish of the whole thing. It even came in a nice little cardboard box, with instructions (in English only), how to sharpen and lubricate it. I never wore one out, but I did lose several of them over the years. When I did, I would go to my local Fleet Farm store, and gladly dish out $20 for a new one. The fact that the store only stocked a few of these at a time and displayed them in a locked glass case, was a sign that it was worth something. A year or two ago when I lost mine, I was very disappointed to find out that the company went out of business. Luckily, I found mine, down the seat of my truck. I don't let it out of my sight now!

When I go shopping, I walk right past the plastic-bubble-packed made-in-China $1.99 knives, with blades that are made out of butter-soft metal. For one thing, there's a whole big heap of them, just thrown haphazardly into a bin. The words "dime-store" immediately cross my mind. I imagine that at the end of the week, they'll just empty whatever didn't sell into the dumpster. Then they'll fill the bin with $6.99 toasters, and on and on. But you can bet that's why Schrade went out of business. Too many people think "why would I pay $20 for a knife when I can buy this one for $1.99?" And then they wonder why the company  they work for is going out of business. Duh!

Added 3/08 I lost the knife again! eBay to the rescue! I bought a couple more. I also learned that Schrade is back in business, but as you might guess, in China. I didn't find out yet if the New Schrade, that advertises their product as being made by "skilled craftsmen with many years of experience" is really delivering the goods, or more $1.99 junk.

Even houses are getting to be disposable now. At one time I was interested in wiring new
houses, back in the days when the builder really cared (pride!) about what he was building, and even had his personal name on a sign out front. All of the real-wood framing was nailed together by hand, and covered with plywood, usually in the warmer months of the year. Cabinets and woodwork were made from real hardwood.  Elecrical outlet boxes were steel, with sturdy threaded holes for mounting the outlets, switches and light fixtures. Wires were actually firmly screwed onto the outlets, etc. The plumbing was neatly installed copper tubing, all soldered in place. When it was done, everyone who worked on it could look back at what a great job each other did, and hope that the owner (who would come and watch the work), would enjoy it for decades to come, and even then someone else could buy it and use it for more decades. If it needed a new roof, it was certainly worth doing.

But nowadays, they don't build houses, but instead build
homes. The builder is Conglomerated Homes LLC or something like that. Much of the framing material is now glued-together sawdust, which at one time was only good for horse bedding. A bunch of low-skilled workers are out in 20 below zero weather, "zapping" this junk together with air nailers, and they don't care if half the nails missed the mark, or the wall is a little crooked. Then they "zap" on the "oriented strand board" (OSB), which is really scrap wood and tree bark that is ground up and glued together. If the OSB happens to get rained on, it swells up around the edges, permanently. Then when they "zap" on the paper-thin vinyl (plastic) siding, you can see the outline of each sheet of OSB through the siding. Who cares? All the "woodwork" and even "hardwood floors" is now glued together sawdust, covered with a thin layer of sometimes real, but usually plastic "woodgrain". The plastic electrical boxes are often smashed by a mis-hit with a hammer, but no one will notice once the sheetrock is on. The first time you pull out a heavy plug from the outlet, the threads strip out, and the whole outlet pulls out of the wall, hanging by the wires. Who cares, by that time the check will have cleared the bank! The wires are simply shoved into "quick-wire" holes on the outlet, and likely to burn off. So what? The water piping is cheap plastic flexible hose, sloppily installed and connected with one-time, non-reuseable fittings. No slack is left for future repairs, gotta stretch the stuff tight, then throw away the 5 feet left on the coil when the job is done. After the whole inside is painted white, someone will think it's "great" and bury themselves in debt for the next 30 years to buy it. Then after 30 years, the roof, siding, floors and woodwork will all be shot, so a bulldozer will come and knock the whole thing down in about a half-an-hour, and haul it away to the landfill. Not worth anything!

That's why I'm not interested in wiring them anymore. If the whole thing is built sloppily out of nearly worthless materials, I see no reason to have a "nice" wiring job in it. But if someone wanted to build their own new house, and wanted everything perfect, then I'd gladly wire it for them. And I still occasionally rewire a 60 year old house. I'ts fun to look at the quality of the building, both the materials and the pride someone took to build it nice. And it's nice to think that it'll probably be be in use for another 60 years! I feel sad when I see a bulldozer smashing something like this.

Now that you might have an idea what the word "pride" means, don't waste your money on a $14.99 vinyl wagon wheel replica to glue on to the front of your house. Real wagon wheels were hand-carved from real wood, and had real iron parts that a blacksmith forged into shape by hand, a process that probably took several days to make just one. That's the reason people who understand how much work went into making them, often use them for decorations. The $14.99 hollow plastic "wheels" that drop off the mold in China every 3 seconds just don't have the same meaning!

Make sure you click on the "home" link at the top of the page. Stay up all night learning things, then call in sick to work tomorrow! They'll be moving production to China soon, and will be laying you off anyway!