Washing machine collector takes a whirl back in time

EATON, Colo. -- In the shadow of the Colorado Rockies, we found a man with a mountainous dilemma: what to do with all the antique washing machines he collected over the years. Lee Maxwell, 87, had to build a warehouse to store all the objects of his obsession. 

And there's more -- way more. Behind the warehouse, there's a second warehouse, again filled with nothing but washing machines.

It is one of the largest personal collections -- of anything -- in America.   

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Lee Maxwell

CBS News

Lee said it all began, innocently enough, with one Maytag. He had just retired as an electrical engineering professor, and to celebrate he took his wife Barbara on a cross-country motor home trip. They saw the machine at a farm auction in Iowa.

"By the time we got to Maine we had four, and that's where the fur started to fly," Lee said. "She was thinking bad things about me," he said about his wife.

By the time they got home, Lee had a dozen more and a trailer to haul them. Today, there are nearly 1,500 different machines in his collection. He's even got a model of one that was never massed produced, that ran on child labor.

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A look at Lee Maxwell's washing machine collection

CBS News

But what I found most amazing is that he restored all of the machines. He finds them in poor condition and then spends a couple weeks fixing up each one, working up to 10 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We asked Lee what his dilemma is now. "Trying to find a home for them, so the thing can be preserved," he said.

He'd like to find a benefactor, someone who could build a proper museum dedicated to the human ingenuity behind the washing machines we have today. Indeed, you can't leave here without being struck by just how much washing machines have changed over the years.

Men, not so much. We pointed to one machine and asked Lee if he knew how to turn it on. "Absolutely not," he replied.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.