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Microwave repairman keeps on going at 84

DUNBAR (AP) — Ray Starkey stays busy in the microwave repair business.

“I’m usually running two or three days behind getting them out,” Starkey said. “I’d say it’s a full-time job. I fix all brands.”

Starkey, 84, of Dunbar, does well repairing what some may consider a disposable appliance. He estimates how much a needed repair would cost and then leaves it up to the customer’s discretion whether it is worth the expense.

“I wouldn’t ask anybody to put more in a microwave than I would myself,” he said. “If it’s not worth it, I tell them up front to buy a new one. When it gets so old, parts may not be available. Most parts are available for 10 years.”

However, he has repaired a rectifier in a 1979 Sharp. Starkey also has repaired the 1984 model in his own home.

He got into the business in the late 1960s when he fixed a couple of microwaves.

As word spread about his ability to fix them, the microwave repair business continued to mushroom.

He periodically attends manufacturer-sponsored seminars to learn repair tactics.

“In the seminars they show us how to troubleshoot,” he said. “I just like to do it. My dad was a blacksmith. If a neighbor wanted something made, he would go to the shop and make it.

“I like taking microwaves that don’t work and making them work. I work four days and take three to rest up. I like my vacation and hunting time.”

He and his wife, Sylvia, enjoy getaways to their camp in Braxton County.

He stays healthy by balancing work and play as well as watching his weight.

Starkey has been working since he was a teenager growing up on the family farm in Braxton County.

“I’ve worked since I was 13,” he said. “I would work on the farm, go to school and deliver papers. On the farm we had cows for butter and milk.

“We had hogs for bacon. We raised potatoes and vegetables. We had sheep and sold the wool. One time I collected 300 bushels of black and white walnuts.”

He would get 25 cents for a pound of shelled nuts. He figures that was a good price considering at that time gum was a penny and gas was 19 cents a gallon.

Starkey, who was one of 11 children, has one brother who is still living at age 86.

Starkey is a 1951 graduate of Dunbar High and served a stint in the U.S. Navy as a second class gunner’s mate. He also served in the Coast Guard Reserve.

For 18 years, he sold and repaired sewing machines and vacuum cleaners.

That business dwindled when the big box stores began selling the items at cheaper prices. So Starkey decided to concentrate only on microwaves.

He doesn’t know of anyone else who specializes in microwave repair work and he has no apprentice.

“Nobody wants to repair them,” he said. “They want the money but they don’t want to do the work.”

He knows how to fix any brand, whether it’s an Amana, Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, Whirlpool or G.E.

“There are roughly 20 or more brands,” he said. “The parts are not interchangeable. It would be nice if they were all interchangeable. I order parts by phone and by computer.”

If in the market for a new one, he suggests either a Sharp or a G.E.

“The parts are easier to get.”

Asked to name the most common problem, he chuckled.

“That is a $64 question,” he said. “It depends. Most of the time I would say a lot of switches and a lot of diodes go out, especially in commercial ovens.”

The cost of a new microwave for household use runs anywhere from $49 to $750, he said. However, a commercial microwave could run $450 to $2,700.

“It’s like an automobile,” he said. “A small one doesn’t cost so much.”

When a repair is not worth the price, a customer sometimes leaves the appliance there.

Starkey takes it to the scrap pile.

There also are times when a customer has one fixed and does not return to pick it up.

“I keep it three months and give it to the church. They give it to someone who needs it.”

His only advertising is word of mouth and a telephone listing for Starkey’s Microwave Services at 304-768-8071.

“I can’t do any advertising,” he said. “If I did I’d have to get somebody to help me. I’ve really got too much the way it is.”

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