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Former CSU professor puts unique spin on retirement

October 16, 2012
by Kayla Green

When Lee Maxwell retired from his 23 years as a Colorado State University professor of electrical engineering, he had no idea he would later wind up collecting 13 washing machines during his celebratory trip to Maine.

“In ’85, we bought a motor home for a trip to Maine. We stopped for lunch in Iowa where there was an auction. I just raised my hand and had my first washer,” he laughs. “I was a little hesitant about buying it because it was a large machine, but by the time we’d got to Maine, I’d bought five and then had to purchase a trailer.”

Maxwell now has 1,430 washing machines on his 16-acre property near Eaton, Colo., a collection so rare that most people could not imagine the enormity of it all, he says.

“Each of the 1,000 plus machines in the collection has provided plenty of enjoyment throughout the restoration process.” He says it’s uncommon to see a powered machine in an antique shop or in a museum, as they are almost always considered to be junk before they’re cleaned.

Maxwell says his interest in these machines is partly due to the mechanics behind them as well as the ever-evolving history.  “Over the years, laundry has really changed,” he explained. “Up until 100 years ago, it was common in Europe to wear clothes and only wash them twice a year. Then people got to be more in tune with sanitary conditions, and suddenly people were washing more. Since that time, we’ve come to wash every day,” he said.

“At one time, there were more than 1,000 washing machine companies in North America, and indeed, there are some very curious ones that were manufactured.”

An extensive collection

Since his retirement from CSU, Maxwell spent his time creating a nursery near his home as his primary business and worked to discover the intricacies of technology in his spare time. He and his wife, Barbara, later sold the nursery to his children who continue to maintain the business today. When he’s not refurbishing old washers, he’s keeping a close eye on eBay for the latest deal and searching the Internet for information and material related to washing.

“Each day, I try to challenge myself to find 10 new ads,” he says.

Maxwell says that the advertisements and copyright information he has collected over the years helps him date the washers. Currently, he has downloaded more than 23,000 patents and thousands of old advertisements, creating - what he believes - the most extensive collection of washing machine history.

“I keep hoping this will become a fad,” he laughs.  “To be a washing machine collector, you got to have three attributes: You got to have space, you’ve got to be insane, and you got to have a saint for a wife.”

Aggie history

In addition to his unusual hobby, Maxwell is also a part of CSU’s Aggie history. It was Maxwell’s grandfather, Robert Garibaldi Maxwell, who leased the land the Aggie ‘A’ is located on to Colorado A&M back in 1923. The original lease was written for 99 years at the total cost of $1.