Monday, October 3, 2011

Vintage Central Vacuum Systems, Pt. 02

My friend Tom at the Vacuum Museum surprised me again.  Another individual contacted him, with another antique central vacuum system which they wished to donate.  Well, not having room for yet another huge, heavy monstrosity in the museum (already very full with 400+ vacuum cleaners), he contacted me to see if I was interested.
Of course, I wanted to know more.  It was a “TUEC”, Tom said.  Though I had never seen one in person, I had heard of this brand before.  Operating on the opposite principle from the Arco Wand systems, these created massive CFM but very low waterlift.  To make an effective cleaner, this type of system had to employ large hoses and pipe lines, and unrestrictive filtration systems.  Tom forwarded this photo of the machine:

How excited I was to see this!  Not only was this TUEC in its original location and in excellent shape, but were those hoses and tools I saw?  Yes!  Original, nearly 100 years old, and in excellent shape.  This was the “Mona Lisa”.  I made arrangements to drive to Des Moines and pick up the unit.
After making the 5-hour drive, I sized up the situation.  Wow, this was going to be much tougher than I thought.  Not only is the unit bigger (and HEAVIER) than it looks, its exhaust was connected to the chimney flue by 4” cast iron pipes, which would need to be cut out, removed, and the hole cemented over.   I definitely should have brought a helper.  Too late now!  I had to make a trip to the nearby hardware store for some more Sawzall blades (I learned how much harder iron pipe is to cut than PVC) and hydraulic cement to patch the hole in the chimney.  Even after disconnecting the piping and getting the unit out onto the driveway, the hour-long battle to try to get it into my truck with nothing but some 2x6s and a fridge mover caused me to contemplate leaving it there and saying, “Thanks anyway!” 
Finally I was able to tilt and roll it into the truck, and started on the drive home, figuring I’d deal with the sore muscles later.  I already knew the pain would be worth it – before I removed it, I couldn’t resist turning it on.  Without hesitation, it wound up to full speed, sounding quite a bit like a jet engine.  Here’s a video:

The TUEC is now enjoying its retirement in my care (you’d need a rest too if you had been cleaning up dirt for nearly a century), though I fire it up every once in a while to keep the motor bearings lubricated, and do some 1910s-style cleaning. 
I’m including the scanned pages of a TUEC booklet from the same time period, which I acquired (also from Tom) a few years ago.  The contents reveal how much design and engineering went into these early systems, and how popular they once were:


  1. In principle, industrial vacuum pumps are merely compressors run with the inlet attached to the vacuum system and the outlet open to exhaust. In smaller sizes, compressors and vacuum pumps are often identical machines. However, in the large sizes that might power a plant-wide Vacuum Systems, the machines differ in minor ways that are intended to enhance efficiency for one application or the other. Manufacturers strongly advise that the same machine not be used for both vacuum and compression at the same time. The heavy loads will damage it.