Saturday, April 5, 2014

Restoring Our Vintage GE Refrigerator

If I remember correctly, we bought this lovely little vintage GE refrigerator in either 2008 or 2009.  I saw it on Craig's List and I knew instantly that I had to have it ... you know how that goes, don't you.



The ad read something like "Vintage GE Refrigerator, good working condition, $75."  It included this photo.

I think the thing on the side of it was a magnet decal.  It wasn't there when we picked up the fridge.


It was being sold by an older couple in a nice neighborhood in a town about an hour from here.  Turns out, this refrigerator was in continuous use since it was new.  It was the main fridge in their kitchen for many, many years.  When they needed more space, they bought a new refrigerator for the kitchen and this one was put to into the basement as a spare fridge.  They listed it for sale because they bought a new fridge to replace their kitchen one, and the old kitchen one was going down to the basement, so it was time to pass this old one on to a new home ... ours.

As we visited with the gentleman and cleared a path through his stuff to get the refrigerator out of the basement, he said, "I like you and I know that this old fridge will have a good home with you.  Just give me $50 for it."  (Mind you, we hadn't talked price at all, because I was going to give him the $75 and giggle all the way home at the deal we got.)

The fridge has lived in our detached garage since then, sometimes with bottled water in it, sometimes empty.  It has run perfectly and its only real problem was that the door gasket was hard and cracked and didn't seal well.  I tried for a while to find a replacement gasket, but was unsuccessful.

Last week, on a whim, I searched online again for a replacement gasket.  This time, I came up a big winner.  Antique Appliances in Georgia restores and sells vintage refrigerators and stoves AND they sell parts INCLUDING DOOR GASKET MATERIAL!!!  They even have a video on their site to help you decide which gasket to choose for your particular refrigerator, since the ones they sell may not be an exact match to the original.  I watched the video, weighed my choices, and placed an order for 12 feet of gasket ... a foot and a half more than I needed, but ordered the extra just to be safe.  (Running talley ... $50 for the fridge, $75 for new door gasket = still a great deal on a seriously cool refrigerator.)

As with most of my projects, I did not take nearly enough photos of this little refrigerator's sad Before condition.  It was almost all cosmetic, thank goodness ... lots of basement grime from the previous owners, and garage grime from us.





While I was waiting for the new gasket to arrive, I set the fridge outside in the sunshine so it could defrost.  I honestly don't remember when I last defrosted it, and you can tell that it had been a long, long time.  I propped the door open, put a dishpan under the icy mass to catch the water.





The next job was to figure out how to get the old gasket off of the door.  The vague instructions I found online told me to look for screws and/or clips.  Turns out, this gasket is held in place beneath the door liner panel by long L-shaped brackets and screws.  (The gasket itself came off in pieces during this process.)





I kept the pieces of old gasket ... just in case.


The best way I found to deal with the grime was to use Soft Scrub with Bleach and 0000 superfine steel wool.  I gently scrubbed and polished each part and side of the fridge until it was clean.  The bleach in the cleanser even helped lighten some of the little rust stains on the front and side of the fridge!

Lower inside door corner, Before.


Same corner, After.


Front of the fridge, Before and After.  The screw holes are for the bracket that holds the top of the door.


See the difference between the part of the door that I had cleaned and the part that I hadn't?


The worst of the mold and rust stains were on the bottom corner of the door, as shown in the photo below.  I am super excited about the way that so much of this came out!



After I finished scrubbing the outside of the fridge, I gave it a good coat of car wax to help protect the finish.

With the outside of the fridge all clean and polished, it was time to attempt that door gasket.  It took me a couple of hours to do it, because it was tricky to keep the gasket under the bracket AND cut accurate miters at each of the corners.  I kept at it, and finally was able to stand back and admire the brand new gasket.

This is the material as it arrived in the mail.  I put my baggie of screws into the box so I wouldn't lose them.


It took a while for me to figure out how to cut an accurate miter at each corner.  I used a short piece of gasket material to help me mark each side of the 90 degree cut.  The piece of newspaper is there to help keep my hands out of the fiberglass insulation.


Gasket's all installed!!


With the new gasket in place, I reinstalled the door's liner panel.



... and here it is, with the door screwed back in place.

I will do a better cleaning job on the inside part of the fridge later.


What a difference, all clean and polished and working beautifully!



I have tried to find the age of this fridge, but have been unable to so far.  Everything I find about determining the age of GE appliances references a system where the serial number begins with two letters (which represent the month and year of manufacture)  The earliest date for the two letter system appears to be 1944.  The serial number on this fridge is H3019-890 (model number AC-62-CA16).  I wonder if this may mean H=August and 3=1943?  1933?  It's just a guess.  Yesterday I used the contact form on the GE appliances web site to send them the question.  I hope I hear back from them.

Photo taken before I vacuumed the mess out from under the fridge.


It feels great to have our sweet little refrigerator looking good and in proper working order!  As of now, it will stay in the garage ... but it will not have things piled onto and beside it like it was.  Once construction gets rolling on the renovation of our Shack, whenever that will be, I plan to make a place for this little vintage beauty in there.

Once again ... the Before and the After.



Is it weird to be totally in love with a refrigerator?

42 comments:

  1. Beautiful job!!! My parents have one almost identical in their garage as well...the original that came with the house. And there is one similar in my grandparent's old garage as well. Love the look of them!

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  2. Connie this is so adorable! And shocking to me that it still works, especially considering the limited lifespan of so many new appliances. You did a beautiful job! Truly the woman of 1000 projects.

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  3. Gorgeous results... you really take on some projects that most people would never even consider doing. Love that about you.

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  4. I think it is circa 1953. My folks had an identical one (painted turquoise) that had been their extra fridge for years, and they took it to the dump, not knowing I would have LOVED IT. They bought it the year I was born. Apparently, as long as they are in continuous use, they are good to go, but leaving it off for a while is detrimental. Hope you get yours up and running soon. What a great project!

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  5. You did a great job restoring it. I hope you don't run it though. Wow talk about and power suck. The refrigerators of today are much more energy efficient and it just doesn't make sense to run this old refrigerator does it?

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    1. Actually, these old fridges use less electricity...new fridges have heat strip around the doors, defrost timers, ice makers, fan motors...etc.

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  6. Oh.my.gosh! It's amazing what TLC, elbow grease and gumption are able to accomplish! Makes me sad that we got rid of my little vintage fridge a few years ago, that I can remember from my earliest days of even having memories. I miss that box!!!

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  7. I spent an extra-ordinary amount of time on this post. It just fascinated me. There are some things that just trigger memories of childhood and this is one one of them. What a GREAT old piece. Funny that the seal cost you more than the fridge did!;>) xo Diana

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  8. I love this fridge too, and it's because as I said on FB, it is like the one we had in our first apartment in Oshkosh Wisconsin. They certainly don't make them like this any more, and because it's still running, is probably why -- GE would have gone out of the new-appliance business long ago! But you've done a great job restoring it -- Is there any end to your talents and what you'll take on? I don't think so!

    PS: Hope your pie was good-- Your husband didn't pay $100 for it, did he? :-) Enjoy the rest of your weekend!!

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  9. This is why I love your blog....because you are totally in love with a Refrigerator! :)

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  10. You're right...seriously cool! When Dave's Mom moved in w/us, she left an old refrigerator that I wanted. Everyone said, No, we're not moving that old thing and they didn't.
    boo hoo
    What we did move was the 1800's squat bank safe that I still use.
    As to electricity to run the fridge, we all make choices and I think yours is a wise choice.

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  11. Great job! Kudos to you. The difference is incredible. I remember a similar refrigerator at my grandmother's home.

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  12. Weren't YOU ambitious--WoW!
    Thanks for the info--I've already written to see if they have some replacements for mom's 1956 GE stove!
    Catherine

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  13. Oh I love it!! I am keeping my eye out for somethings like it for my house :)

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  14. Excellent job! Loved your write up. I too am working on a old fridge that looks exactly as yours but is the HotPoint version of the GE. Ordered gasket from ColdSupply in CA, custom fit with sealed corners. Perfect fit but as you say a little bit technical to install, needed five more working hands and arms! I have been trying to get technical information for mine as well but that seems difficult to find. The model and serial numbers you referenced, AC62CA16, are for the compressing unit only, not the cabinet. From my research yours looks to be late '40s or early '50s. Mine belonged to my wife's great grandmother and I now have 3 generations of family expecting the same miracle you executed so well. Thanks for your time and if you have any other identifying info you can share please do. Respectfully william.c.berry.jr@gmail.com

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  15. I just had a friend drop off this very fridge today. I'm glad to know it's age now. It still works and will be used...

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  16. I've got a similar, possibly identical model. Still runs great. I hooked up a kill-a-watt meter to see how much energy it was using. Guess what?! Just about the same as a modern fridge - I think the difference is that our modern appliances are so much bigger.

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  17. My parents passed away in 2013 and my husband and I are in the process of renovating their house. For the past 50 years this fridge and a matching giant standing freezer (bigger than some of today's refrigerators) have sat in the basement. They were both well used for decades. The inside of both is nearly pristine but the outside looks worse than yours did. I was just down there today trying to clean the mold/rust from the fridge using Clorox clean up (w/bleach) and superfine steel wool. The steel wool was removing a lot of the pitted rust but also left gray marks all over the fridge. Will be stopping to get some Soft Scrub before I head down tomorrow. Also read that Naval Jelly removes rust, and am going to give borax mixed with lemon juice a try to try and get it whitened back up again. The fridge and freezer have worked without issue, the best estimate on when my parents bought them is early 1950's. They were married in '52 and moved into this house (our house!) in '64 and both appliances came with them when they moved. We're making both of these part of the finished basement, showing them off and using them! The freezer is huge, shelves galore, the inside of both look like a car from the 50's. So cool. Thanks so much for sharing your pics and info!

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    1. Don't go too crazy trying to get the finish on your fridge and freezer to be perfectly white, because that may not happen. For me, I was trying to get rid of the rust and mildew and make the finish as shiny as I could. The enamel on mine is pitted from the rust, and the paint is a little bit discolored ... but it sure is a huge improvement over where it was when I started.

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    2. Thanks, I was thinking it may not come up as white as I"d like it to. The front is pretty white but the sides ... not so much. I did give the entire thing a good washing w/dawn dish soap, using a toothbrush in the hard-to-reach places, then made a paste of borax/some lemon juice/peroxide. Using just a paper towel I wiped/lightly scrubbed the mixture over the grayed part on the top, let it sit just a bit then wiped it off. A lot of the gray disappeared and it did whiten it considerably. Ran out of time but will apply the same (or perhaps a variation using bake soda/peroxide/vinegar) to the sides to see if I can remove the gray left by the fine steel wool. Lots of different things to try (bon-ami, barkeepers friend), each a bit more abrasive. Just want to bring it back as best I can without damaging the paint, not interested in repainting ... we like the 'history' of it! Just sharing for anyone who might be looking to do the same thing.

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  18. Great job! Thanks for sharing. I just ordered my gaskets. I have the exact same model as you. My husband got it FREE 16 years ago. His mother has used it the entire time as a extra fridge. Just finished the new paint job today. Love it!

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  19. I concur with the comment believing it to be a 1953. I have a 1953 park trailer that came furnished when new with the same model of GE refrigerator, and it still works great. I use it everyday. Talk about built to last! I'll probably wear out before it does.

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    1. I was thinking the same thing as I was showing it to friends last weekend. He sells appliances and was seriously impressed with a 60+ year old refrigerator that still runs so well. Keeps a steady forty degrees inside!

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  20. After doing all the clean and waxing, our fridge is rust-pitted again. It is in a basement and humidity played a factor in the temp this summer, as the house is under renovation and no a/c was on. Perhaps I didn't use enough wax to prevent the rust from coming through?

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  21. It was surely the dampness in the basement and the lack of air conditioning that caused the rust to return. In our basement, I run a dehumidifier 24/7 all year round, set to 40%. It runs all summer, and intermittently in the winter.

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  22. Hello there. Nice work. I stumbled across your page because I just bought the identical fridge off craigslist today. It's really clean inside and out and runs like a top. Anyways I was trying to figure out how old mine is, letter wise mine is an "AC" too which should mean Jan 46' according to GE's site and the next number starts H1 instead of your H3. Nice work, someone's already repainted mine before and did a half-ass job and did a half-ass job replacing the weather stripping as well. I plan to fix this.

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  23. I have the same exact refrigerator. As pictured above. I cannot find a gasket for it. The person I bought it from, removed the model number. The gasket is probably discontinued. Could you tell me where you ordered yours? And what type you ordered? It would be greatly appreciated. My son redid this whole project himself and it is in working condition. Only need this gasket. Can you help me? Thank you

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    1. Antique Appliance Parts is your source for the gasket. Here is the URL to that page on their site: http://store.antiqueappliances.com/Door-Gaskets_c_8.html

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  24. I think I just acquired the same model as you. Here are some picture links. I hope it turns out as well as yours.
    http://i21.photobucket.com/albums/b267/cnweis01/2016-03-21%2017.09.55_zpscrziip32.jpg
    http://i21.photobucket.com/albums/b267/cnweis01/2016-03-22%2007.55.53_zpstlhgqysy.jpg

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  25. Hello I am working on the same exact fridge as yours! I cannot find any instructions on how to get the interior door panel out. Did it just pull out or was there some stealthy screws somewhere? ( I want to know exactly what I am doing before I do it) Also I have been looking at the site you got your door gasket from. Do you recall which gasket model specifically you got? Does it make a good seal? How has it held up?

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    1. I wish that I had taken photos of the process of removing the door liner, to show what I did and to help jog my memory. From what I remember, I bumbled along hunting for screws and clips and eventually stumbled onto the solution. I think that's what you're gonna have to do, too. Since you have to replace the gasket anyway, it doesn't hurt if it gets damaged in the process.

      I think I ordered the P10338 gasket. It seemed to be the best, but not identical, match to what I removed from our fridge. It has held up nicely, and seals pretty well. I'm not satisfied with my work on the corners, though. Getting a good miter with that curved material was tough. It's good enough, and the seal is adequate.

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  26. remove the 4 screws at the middle of the panel.There are 4 clips that lock the panel in place you will have to push or bend the clips open. This will allow the door panel to be removed. Take pictures of the clip location so you can put them back later. As for the gasket you will have to make them yourself. Go to your local HVAC store and purchase it by the foot. Hot seal the corners AFTER you install the gasket.

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  27. I got it off! For the next person there is a screw under a chrome cap in the center of the door. Then on the top right and left about two inches in from either side of the door there are metal clips that need to be bent. Finally there are four screws. One above and below the door clasping mechanism and two on the opposite side from the clasping mechanism. Going to check the local HVAC store for gasket now!

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  28. What a great job you did! I just recently bought a GE fridge from I believe 1953, but it has tons of rust and other surface scratches on the sides. Did everything come off just using softscrub and bleach? Did you not need to paint the fridge at all? If no paint, did you wax directly after scrubbing all the rust/ other stuff on the outside off? Thank you and I look forward to hearing back from you!

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    1. My fridge was dirty with just a tiny bit of surface rust. The softscrub took off the grime, and polished out most of the minor rust. We didn't need to paint, just wax. It still looks good. Sounds like the finish on yours is in rougher shape than ours.

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  29. Any chance you have pics of the pieces that hold the door gasket to the door ? I have a 1954 GE fridge, it was my parent's, and has been in continuous operation since they bought it new, the same year I was born ! I love it and the only missing bit is the door gasket and whatever the gasket attached to. The old gasket had perished completely, and was removed, not by me, as I'd have kept the original pieces. The gasket ws replaced with self stick car door weather stripping. The weather stripping does provide a good air tight seal, but is not attractive. Sadly, I have no idea what the hardware pieces that held the old gasket on even looked like.

    Since they are long gone, do you think such pieces could be fabricated in some way from modern hardware, so that a new proper gasket could be fitted to the door ?

    Any information you might have on the hardware would be so appreciated, so far this fridge has run non stop for 62 years and counting. Even the 'it is time to defrost' warning mechanism still works, along with the door mounted butter conditioner. Hope you can tell me something that will help me restore the door properly. Meantime, looks like you did an amazing job on yours !

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    Replies
    1. Let me dig through my photos and see what I can come up with. I can send them to you via email. PM me your email address at connie@hartwoodroses.com.

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  30. My husband and I just bought a refrigerator that looks like yours on the outside, but different on the inside. We really appreciate the tips about the door gasket as ours needs replacing. We hope ours turns out as well as yours did. You did an excellent job!!

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  31. If anyone is looking for one like this, I have one and can send pictures. I'm in Maryland.

    tbrad@tbradhudson.com

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  32. So are you using this refrigerator in your kitchen? If so is the temperature of the refrigerator adequate, too cold, etc. And does it leak water on the floor? I'm looking at one and a little nervous about my wood floors. And what about freon? Does it use freon?

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    1. Kat, this fridge is still in use in our garage. It keeps a steady 40 degrees, no leaks, no excessive power usage. From what I know, it's been running steadily since it was new in the 1950s ... only not running during moves from room to room in its original home, and for brief periods for restoration and defrosting here at our place. I love it!

      Since you're thinking of getting a vintage fridge, my best advice is to get one that's been kept running. Sitting idle is the worst thing for a fridge like this. Look underneath the one you're considering and see what's there. If it's only dust bunnies, I'd say that you're good to go.

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  33. I use mine in my finished basement and it keeps a rock solid 36F. Yes it uses R12 refrigerant (freon).

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