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How My Fridge Became a Pop Star

Shy Boyz music video for Julie’s Fridge uses my 1948 Philco C-883.

Shy Boyz music video for “Julie’s Fridge” uses my 1948 Philco.

Ever since moving to Philadelphia, I have been fixated on collecting Philco electronics for the house. This was a company that carried a good chunk of Pennsylvania’s economy in the post-war era. In case you didn’t see it, the brand is shorthand for Philadelphia company. The company’s roots go back to the late nineteenth century, but they rose to be a major corporation in the 1930’s with radios, and expanded their line of home appliances for decades.

The antique refrigerator market is a thorny one, but there is always one for sale. I found this one in New Jersey for $135. I offered $120 and happily drove it home. Then I used a city recycling program to get $75 for the fridge that I was replacing.

The heavy bastard had to come up my over-pitched concrete steps and across the house to the kitchen. I never wanted to move it again. Little did I know that it would only be a year before this thing would be put out again, and immortalized in a music video.

I loved the aesthetic of the Philco. I had to run it on a timer, because without a thermostat, the system can’t cycle on its own. Finally, I bought the thermostat and a replacement gasket. But nothing worked out quite as hoped. Thermostat didn’t exactly fit. Got the wrong type of gasket. It was going to cost another $100 to get the right one. I used $5 weatherstripping in the short term. It works but it’s not food grade, so it could hold bacteria. Not recommending this hack at all.

Then the summer came around. The fridge couldn’t compete with ambient temperatures. My tenant used a hell of a lot of ice. Nobody in 1948, when this unit was built, demanded so much ice. Ice was a luxury. It was actually how a large portion of the population were still keeping their ice boxes cold. It wasn’t something that just came out of a lever on your fridge. We ice everything today. It’s bad for ya, by the way. Search it.

I believe now that I created the tiniest of freon leaks, at some point. This is old school coolant that can’t be recharged. If it never leaks, in theory, it lasts forever. The tiniest leak could be undetectable, but the fridge will stop reaching low temperatures, then it will overrun as the thermostat never triggers.

I realized that this fridge wasn’t going to be acceptable to a house squarely paid for by my tenants, even if I resolved it’s problems. I’m making my living on this rental income. I may have aesthetic preferences, but at some point it’s not about me, even if it is my house.

I bought a second mini fridge, but it wasn’t really the solution. Believe it or not, 1940’s through 1950’s refrigerators are 100% more efficient than any new fridge. It simply uses less amperage. Adding a second fridge eliminates the energy savings.

I put it up for sale for $115. I knew it had a lot of valuable parts. A pro could fix it up on the cheap. It was up for a couple of weeks with no bites, and I was afraid it would take months to sell. Then I was saved by the budget of a local filmmaker who said he needed a fridge for a shoot. He liked this one. And it was actually the best deal, when I did my own searching.

Two guys came over with a proper hand truck and we got the thing out safely. No freon explosions. They managed to squeeze it into a Subaru and take it off to shoot right away. I asked them to share their work when it was done. Much sooner than I expected, I got a text message with the screenshot that is the featured image here.

Turned out to be for this humorous, glam pop band called The Shy Boyz, for a song about Mom’s wild portal of a fridge that isn’t just gross, it actually animates the food inside it, called “Julie’s Fridge.”

I grew an attachment to this fridge in a short time, so it is gratifying to see it preserved by Philly artists in their work. Like everything, its destiny is in the dust, but for now it is forever.

For those curious about the history of Philco, the company never died. It partnered with Ford and rose to manufacture aerospace equipment by the 1970’s. The corporation was absorbed by Philips, divesting from Philadelphia, leaving thousands of workers permanently in poverty, as blue collar jobs were replaced with foreign manufacturing, and white collar positions were eliminated, as Philips’ headquarters are in Netherlands.

The Philco brand to me symbolizes the permanent removal of Philadelphia from its 20th Century throne as the “workshop of the world,” a term coined specifically for it, to the 21st Century when the mantle was given to Shenzhen, China.

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