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  1. #1

    1942 GE fridge: I have some questions.

    Hello all,
    I am new to the forum. To start with, I am not a HVAC professional nor am I super experienced with it. ( so be easy on me!) My background is in restoring antique 1930's-50's radios, old equipment, and cars. I have a few old fridges I use daily from the 50's.

    I recently picked up a 1942 era GE fridge for $20. It works fine but I will need to re-wire it. My concern however is that this- like many units of this era- uses Sulfur dioxide as the refrigerant. From what I've researched its a toxic substance that causes severe respiratory irritation and in higher concentrations- potentially worse. I've read accounts where people decided to take ice picks to the ice boxes and punctured the coolant line with nasty results. I of course have no intention of doing that. But I am still a tad leery of it.

    So I'm seeking some opinions of what I might consider:

    A: Let it be. Its not leaking, so leave well enough alone? The 50's fridge and freezer I have are all original and use R12. They work as good as new so I didn't do a thing to them other than re-wire them. But R12 is inert, so not as much a concern as sulfur dioxide. If the thing springs a leak... that's not the best thing in the world.

    B: See if there is any other refrigerant that is compatible, which I
    doubt since other coolants will have totally different characteristics and I'd probably ruin the original compressor.

    C: Have a professional Evac and flush the system of the old refrigerant and then find a suitable modern compressor unit and refill with modern refrigerant. I can weld and fabricate a new frame or cross member if needed for this.

    Just seeking some opinions.
    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Lehigh Valley, PA
    Why would you need to replace the refrigerant if it is working? How would you determine if the refrigeration unit could accept a modern refrigerant? Fix the wiring and let her cool!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Western New York
    The S02 is not a problem. Any leak in the future would probably be small, so the effect in the building would be minimal.

    As I remember, R-12 could be a direct replacement, so I would guess MP_39 or 409A could do the same job.

    Replace all the wiring and enjoy this fine old piece.

    How about pictures?
    Experience is what you have an hour after you need it.

  4. #4
    Thanks for the responses. I guess my concern was about how bad is S02? I've had a few old fridges for years and I'm not dumb enough to defrost them with sharp objects. This one will live in the garage. So I guess I was just seeing worst case scenario- how bad would a leak be? I looked the plumbing over on this one and it seems to be in good shape. No corrosion, kinks, nada.

    From what I've read the compressor on this is one of the best compressors GE ever made. Hence why this one still runs 70+ years later. ALl my other ones from the 50's run great too. In fact, these suckers use less power than the "new" one that came in the house.

    Anyway, here's some pics. This is before I did anything. I removed the bottom panel on the GE to get a look at the compressor.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Keokuk, IA
    So2 isnt that bad. Im around it daily since I work at a wet corn mill. Initially its a irritant, then you get some nice snot going amd you really clear your sinuses, higher concentrations is like getting a good whiff of ammonia, pretty powerful and youll be coughing for a little bit. I doubt that unit has enough in it to worry about, unless you were chemically sensitive.

    Those old fridges are cool. There is a 1950s unit in a janitors office/closet at my work. Matches the 60 plus year old process equipment not far away in the 120 year old building,

    Sent from my SGPT12 using Tapatalk 2

  6. #6
    I just did a test run of the fridge for a few hours. Once it gets going, I swear its actually more quiet than any of the other fridges I have. Seems to run like a watch. Anyway, thanks for your all's responses. I think I'm going to clean this one up and use it as my beer fridge in the shop. I'll post some pics when I get er' cleaned up.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    North Richland Hills, Texas
    I think the REALLY nasty refrigerants had pretty much been done away with in consumer products by 1942.
    If more government is the answer, then it's a really stupid question.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2000
    Guayaquil EC
    I wouldn't be concerned about the fact the fridge has SO2 in it. After all, it's stayed in there for 70 years.

    When I was a kid back in the 1950's, we had a home-made ice cream operation in the cellar which included a 2-door Frigidaire commercial reach-in cooler made in the late 1930's which had SO2 in it.

    My father had been doing lots of conversions of old SO2 and Methyl Chloride systems to R12 back in those days. I recall the day he decided to convert the old reach-in. He opened all the windows of the house and told everyone to get out for a while...including the dog and my brother's parakeet...and that he was to dump the SO2.

    A couple of hours later, all was well again and the old Frigidaire was running on R12.

    The interesting part of the story is we had been having trouble with bees in the attic. After the SO2 to R12 retrofit, we had no more bee trouble.

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