DIY Tech: My 1940s Crosley Shelvador Freezer Is Now Good To Go For Another 25 Years

After we moved to Oregon in 1993, Stephanie started taking advantage of all the wonderful local farms in the summer. All sorts of berries by the flat, nuts, dried fruit, and local meat too. So we needed a big freezer. Someone sold us a 1970s upright, but it crapped out after just two years. Then I found this big old Crosley at a garage sale nearby for $25. I figured it was built for the long haul, and so I decided to improve its efficiency before putting it into service.

But its fan motor died last week, and I was afraid I might have to junk it. No worries on that account.

Powel Crosley is best known in automotive circles for his diminutive Crosley car, which was built from 1939 to 1951. (We have a superb article on the Crosley here). But Crosley was very active in a wide range of other businesses, including radio manufacture and broadcasting, sports team ownership, aircraft manufacturer, and appliances, along with a few others.

His first refrigeration appliance was this “Icyball”, which used the evaporative cycle (gas absorption) with no moving parts to create cold. Heat was applied at on end from a kerosene burner, and the liquid ammonia evaporated to create cold. A complete description of how it worked is here.  Crosley sold several hundred thousand, mainly to rural Americans who mostly had no electricity yet.

In 1931 Crosley was the first to think of putting shelves in refrigerators, and called them “Shelvador”.  I don’t know the exact vintage of our freezer, but I suspect it’s from the early post war era. Someone painted it that lovely shade of green along the way.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m something of an efficiency nut. I knew these old units were durable, but their insulation was weak. So I took it on myself to superinsulate it. I wrapped the sides and top with 2″ rigid foil-faced insulation, and sprayed some Good Stuff foam where it met the front. I also used it in the floor. I put the insulation on the inside of the door.

I put a KillAWatt portable meter on it for a few weeks a few years back to check its consumption and then compared it with new freezers. I was pleasantly surprised to see it used about the same amount of electricity as new units. Mission accomplished.

Unlike newer units, its condenser coils are in a compact unit, and therefore need a fan to force enough air through them. the fan sits directly behind the coils.

I noticed an odd sound the other day down in the garage. It was the the freezer running, but just the compressor, no fan. It was keeping the food frozen, undoubtedly due to it being cool in the garage this time of year. But I needed to either fix it or replace it.

I took the fan with me to my favorite appliance parts guy, thinking he might help me jury rig something up. Jury rig? He had a replacement motor in stock. I guess these are pretty common items for store-type refrigerators and such. $40 later, I was on my way home to replace it.

When I pulled out the cord that connects the fan to the compressor, I noticed it had been spliced before. When I pulled it out a bit more, there was another set of splices! This was going to be  the fourth new motor, or one about every 25 years or so. Looks like I probably won’t have to do this job again.