Rewiring a 185K – and the Bottling of the Rhubarb


Yes indeed, the rhubarb season is upon us once again, but before we get to that, I’ve been asked to do a thing on rewiring a 185K which has the permanently-connected mains leads, as opposed to the plug-in ones used on pretty much every other vintage Singer domestic.  So here we go …

Now, you’ll have to pretend a bit here, because that’s the only 185 motor I can find right now and when it came to us it had already been rewired.  Badly.  If it was still original, those two cut-off black cables on the left wouldn’t be cut off, and they’d be brown, and they’d have a brown plastic thingy round them where they come out of the terminal box under the motor, like the cable on the right does.  I cut off those replacement leads to the mains plug and the foot controller when we bought this one in, but you can still see what a lash-up it was.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, that is a bunch of threads wrapped round the motor pulley, and no, I’ve never worked out how that happens either.)

That single cable going off to the right goes to the Singerlight, and it has its brown bush/sleeve thingy present and correct.  The reason why the corresponding one’s missing from the left hand side is doubtless because whoever did the wiring found that it was, to use a technical term, stuffed.  Those brown bushes harden with age, the lugs on them which keep them secure in the hole tend to come off, and when that happens, they are as much use as a chocolate teapot.

So he put it back together without one on that side, as we see more clearly below …

There’s your plastic bush on the right with the Singerlight lead going through it, and you can see what I mean about those lugs.  It won’t matter greatly if those particular ones come off because the lead to the Singerlight doesn’t generally get waggled about a lot, but the ones to the foot pedal and mains plug certainly do.  That’s why they need one of those bushes round them, and also some proper strain relief.

That light-coloured thing round the Singerlight lead just inside the bush is the original strain relief – a cunning little two-part affair made of fibreboard and a spring clip, which works well on the original flat twin cable but doesn’t work at all on anything else.  It’s also a pig to remove and replace, unless you’re privy to a secret technique handed down across the generations by horny-handed sewing machine repair men.

But what, you ask, are those off-white queerthings?  They, dear reader, are Scruits, unless you’re in the States, in which case I think they’re wirenuts.  But I’m not really sure.  Whatever, they used to be a very common way of joining two or three stranded conductors together, and they work a lot better than you’d think.  Basically all you do is strip half an inch or so of insulation off each conductor that you wish to join, align them alongside each other, and twist the ends together clockwise.  You then screw the Scruit on, remembering to twist it clockwise, and bingo – the metal inner of the Scruit tightens itself onto your wire ends and you have a secure connection.

The Scruits in the picture are the later nylon-bodied type, and these particular ones have been crimped after they were screwed them on, presumably because whoever fitted them had no faith in the Scruit doing its job and no intention of ever undoing the connection.  Earlier Scruits came in a truncated conical form made of hard black plastic, and earlier still they were porcelain.  I like Scruits, I do, but then I was brought up when they were still widely used.

And that picture illustrates why re-wiring a 185K is seldom a straightforward business.  It’s not the Scruits that’s the problem, but the lack of strain relief and of a suitable bush when you can’t re-use the original  one.  Frankly I have no suggestions as to how you might go about making a proper job of it in the absence of a re-usable bush.  All I know for sure is that if we couldn’t rustle up a bush in good condition and also come up with an effective way of providing suitable strain relief for the new cables, we wouldn’t offer the machine for sale.

So there you go.

Moving on now to rhubarb, ours is at least a fortnight late this year because of the horrible cold weather.  We picked a bit last week because we really fancied stewed rhubarb and icecream for pud and while we were at it we made half a dozen jars of jam, but today was the start of the season proper with 21lb picked this morning.  That’s filled thirteen Kilner jars with enough left over to make a gallon of rhubarb wine …

This year we’re trying out the water-bath method of bottling because Elsie’s sure it uses less energy than doing them in the oven, and rhubarb’s a good subject to test the method with because we’ll have an abundance of it for the next few weeks.  If we get any jars which don’t seal properly, we can always put them in the fridge for eating soon then just pick more rhubarb and try again.

Readers who are into this sort of thing may care to note that our rhubarb is a mix of Hammonds Early and Brandy Carr Scarlet, the lifter-outer in the foreground is from Lakeland Plastics and is essential for this method of preserving, those Kilner jars are the 1978-1990’s type which are known as Red Tops irrespective of whether the rings are red, orange or white, and if you’re after spares for your Kilner jars, it’s worth checking out this site

We’ll probably do another dozen or so jars of bottled rhubarb this coming week (each jar makes 2 crumbles), but we’ll also be making a lot of scrummy rhubarb and elderflower jam because judging by the look of the blossom, we’re not going to be making much damson this year.

Finally though, a question for our American and Canadian readers about home preserving terminology.  Where you are, do you guys call this procedure bottling, or is it canning ?


23 responses

  1. Thank you to Tamar, Scott and Rob for the suggestions. I ended up converting my 185K to a handcrank – I bought a new/old balance wheel that was used on later 185K models than mine and has recesses to accommodate a crank handle – and borrowed a handcrank unit from a 99K. The handcrank is black and the rest of the machine is 2-tone brown but apart from that detail it works fine, cost very little and was easy to do. Much better, from my point of view, than messing around with electrics I know nothing whatsoever about! But your comments may well help someone else. And thanks very much again, Sid, for this blog post.

  2. I think it would look a mess, but hey – whatever works for you works for you 🙂

  3. Maplin does a range of strain relief grommets. I’d just wrap the cables tightly with PVC tape, then wrap a cable tie tightly around several times, on each side of the casing, to hold it in place.

  4. Several things would actually work, Scott – but the question is which if any of them are sensible to recommend to somebody who is not in any way used to working on portable electric appliances of any age, never mind ones which are 50+ years old …

  5. Would an Underwriter’s Knot not work in this situation? It would not provide relief for the cord being twisted and turned, but it would prevent the cord/wiring from being pulled or yanked away from the connection. I have a 99k that I recently acquired that needs a complete power re-wire; the light cable is nicely in tact. I’m going to chronicle it and post as I progress.

  6. Oh I’m sure somebody somewhere makes something which could be persuaded to fit with two cables passed through it, but how long it would take you to find one and what the machine would look like with a black (as these things invariably are) one fitted, I have no idea …

  7. I’ve seen bushings of various shapes offered for computer installations and for TV cable installations. Not having looked, I theorize that it might be possible to find one that would fit the 185.

  8. I’m in Australia and just started preserving. I’ve been making jams, sauces etc for over 20 years though. So far I have bottled 2 batches of pears and one of quinces.
    The two books I have for preserving state that the water is to come half way up the jars.
    And we call it preserving too 🙂

  9. Thank you – I might just tape up the cable with self-amalgamating tape (is that what it’s called?) and use it as is. Or, I might see if I can convert it to a hand-crank. Thanks very much for your help.

  10. Yes if you want to make a proper job of it, not necessarily if you have a good RCD on your consumer unit and you’re happy to take your chances. There are ways and means, but you’re very much on your own with them …

  11. Thank you very much for posting about the 185K. I’m happy you did this – but depressed by what you say…. Am I right in concluding that if (as I do) I have a 185K that is in generally good condition, with a working motor but the cable is in a ratty condition and the brown plastic bushes are separated from their lugs – then I am, basically, stuffed?

  12. Thanks Judy. OK, it looks like everybody over your side of the pond calls it “canning”, which I guess is because historically you guys were far more into home canning (with cans) than we Brits ever were. As far as we know, it’s been almost exclusively glass jars over here since the mid-19th Century. Why we don’t call it “jarring” I have no idea …

  13. Thank you Diana. Interesting! Actually that water is an inch above the top – it just doesn’t look like it is.

    Bottling/canning isn’t a big thing over here nowadays – Elsie’s UK Government handbook for it is dated 1984. That recommends citric acid (or lemon juice) be added to pears and to tomatoes, which we do and which works a treat, but doing in the oven is still considered OK.

    Sid ‘n’ Elsie

  14. Canning for me, upstate New York. In water bath canning aren’t you supposed to have the water one inch ABOVE the tops of the jars? BTW oven canning is no longer recommended in the U.S. (by the whoever who puts out the recommendations hehe) and they also tell us non-acid vegetables should be pressure canned not water bath. I don’t do anything but tomatoes these days, getting old and weary.

  15. We thought you did, Jeannie but we’ve never been sure if that’s one of those East/West or North/South things over there.


  16. Hello Pam

    Earth, ground, whatever … 😉 Love the King and Queen! I wonder … is there a Prince or a Princes to be had?

  17. Your question tickles me! We call it “canning” in the U.S., as far as I know.

  18. Hello Sid! You have a fascinating website and I love trying to decipher what exactly you are saying 😉 Took me a bit to figure out that ‘earth’ is the same as ‘ground’ in electrical wiring…..We do a lot of canning, though I think ‘bottling’ makes more sense since we’re using glass jars, too. Your season is ahead of ours….my rhubarb isn’t quite big enough to harvest yet, but soon! I usually make rhubarb/strawberry jam – yum! I’ll keep an eye on your blog as I have rather a decent collection of treadle and handcrank machines. My newest, which I will pick up in a week or so is a King treadle. I already have a Queen! Pam

  19. G’day VenOra 🙂

    Sorry, but I have no experience of the 306 and the only bloke I know in Melbourne is a photographer! (We’re in England)

  20. Ah, I knew I’d forgotten to make something. Rhubarb jam! I’ve got an allotment too and my rhubarb is positively feral atm. I don’t bottle mine though, I either freeze it or swap it against future favours like home baking. I used to have an elderly neighbour who made rhubarb “champagne” from my rhubarb and that was excellent but the secret recipe died with him unfortunately.

  21. Hi Sid. Could you give tips to check out safety with my 306 in cabinet with electric treddle. Do you know somebody in Melbourne to help?