Mammoth Vac and Sew’s Gene and Judy Marten have been in the business 56 years
They met at a roller rink in Groton, Connecticut.
He was in the Navy, having joined up out of high school. He was in the midst of a three-year hitch, working on nuclear subs. She was 16.
When you grow up in a Naval town, says Paradise resident Judy Marten, the last person you’re interested in is a sailor, and by 16, she’d certainly heard enough comments and catcalls to bear that out.
But this guy was different.
“He talked about his family,” she said.
“And it took me four dates to kiss her,” chimed in Gene, her husband of now 56 years.
Fifty-six is also the number of years the Martens have been in the vacuum business.
Twenty-six of those years have been spent in the Eastern Sierra. Prior to moving to Mammoth in 1987, the Martens opened All Makes Vacuum and Sewing in Torrance, Calif. in 1966.
That store is still in the family, now run by a daughter and son-in-law.
Prior to that, the Martens spent nearly ten years in Indianapolis.
And what’s amazing about Gene after all these years … he still loves what he does and has no interest in retiring. He currently works three days a week out of his house in Paradise (760.934.9200).
“I plan to work for quite awhile yet,” he says. “If you look in the mirror and you see an old person, then you’re gonna be old. But if you stay healthy and keep in good shape, you’ll just keep on going.”
So says the man whose grandson’s friends call “The Lumberjack” – apparently for Gene’s affinity for plaid shirts. Or perhaps it’s a sign of respect stemming from Gene’s star turn at his grandson’s 21st birthday party. “I’m a good beer pong player,” he says.
Judy’s no slouch either. Her first year as a full-time resident in Mammoth, she won the stein-holding contest at Oktoberfest. *It was actually a first place tie with Marge Purdy.
While the Martens initially lived in the Knolls, they’ve spent the past ten years or so in Paradise. But while the company remains Mammoth Vac and Sew, the Martens still serve the entire area, offering door-to-door service and free delivery.
Sheet: After 56 years, how long does it take you to diagnose a broken machine?
Gene: Two minutes.
And like the guys on NPR who hosted Car Talk for many years, Gene can do most diagnoses right over the phone. “No X-Rays needed,” he laughs.
Not only does Gene fix vacuums, but he sells them as well. His brand of choice? Fuller Brush.
“At any one time, I’ve got about 25 new machines for sale in the garage, and I’d say 90% of ‘em are Fuller Brush (he also seeks Sanitairs and Eurekas).”
If you’re going to talk about vacuum cleaners with Gene, I might warn you that “bag-less” is, literally, a dirty word.
“You just don’t have the same air-flow in a bag-less machine … they don’t compete with bag machines. And the bag-less machines need more service,” he said.
Sheet: Any bizarre repair stories?
Gene: Well, the most common problems are always about air-flow, but … pets and animals are the most bizarre. I’ve seen mice, even a canary. And then, there are the people who vacuum up their fireplaces before the ashes are cold and they start fires in their vacuum cleaners.”
Judy (deadpan): It keeps us in business.
While it wouldn’t immediately occur to you that a vacuum salesman is an environmentalist, Gene is proud of that fact that the machines he seeks typically last 15 to 20 years, as opposed to the “throwaways” (machines that typically cost less than $200 in Gene’s book) bought by 90% of the public.
And he scoffs at Oreck’s claim of an 8 lb. vacuum cleaner. “That’s without the cord, and the cord’s two pounds. How you can have a vacuum cleaner without a cord?” *Well, you can, but a battery’s a helluva lot heavier than a cord.
So an Oreck’s really 10 lbs., and you can get a Fuller Brush at 14.5 lbs. that is a far superior machine.
Gene sells top of the line Fuller Brush models for $350.
The Martens, during their time in the Eastern Sierra, have been active volunteers in a slew of organizations ranging from the Lions Club to the Snowmobile Assn. to Mammoth Jazz and Oktoberfest.
Gene’s other great passion is motorcycles.
They are also especially proud of their grandson, David Harms, who graduated last year as valedictorian of Mammoth High School’s Class of 2013. The next day, when I took the photograph of Gene and Judy, I noticed that Judy had specifically worn her “St. Mary’s College Grandparent” sweatshirt – St. Mary’s is where grandson David is at college this year.
While daughter Linda lives in Torrance, daughter Laura lives locally in Crowley and you may see her when you shop at Vons, her primary place of employment.