Wood Stoves…Warm You Twice

Coal was a mainstay in my homes while I was growing up. The very warm heat came from either a coal furnace or a fireplace or a wood stove. Although I think that we probably had a natural gas furnace in Chicago. Have you ever shook down clinkers? How about having the nightly chore of loading two or more buckets of coal with a little shovel to bring into your home each night in order to ensure that the fire burned, at least some, thru the wee hours? When we first moved to Eldorado, Illinois we lived in a vast, Gothic, house that was across the street from the High School. There was a decrepit coal furnace in the basement, if you had the courage to to go down the rickety stairs, and a massive fireplace in virtually every room. The first morning that I awoke I looked to see if there was a icicle hanging from my nose. Mom announced that dad was just starting a fire in the living room fireplace and that I might want to venture in front of the budding fire…first to warm my front…and then my back. She noted that he had thus far had no success with the coal furnace in the haunted basement.

When MJ and I first were married we concocted the brilliant idea of purchasing a wood stove to replace the bell shaped stand alone fireplace that was surrounded by two brick walls…that had been installed by the previous owner. It was in the 1970’s and with inflation and the high cost of gas for our forced air furnace…we knew that we were doing the most economic heating for our little family. Once the old was removed and the new installed…I proceeded to order a truck load of wood. I purchased a maul…and I learned how to use it…and enjoyed it…when all was going as planned. The secret to good use of a maul is the proper striking of the wood. Hit it in the wrong spot and all is lost…hit it in the sweet spot and it splits like hot butter. You could smell the fragrant aroma of wood smoke all over our neighborhood. ‘Wood warms you twice…once when you cut it…and again when you burn it.’ After the singular season of the maul and the adventure of the wood heat…we decided to purchase a new gas furnace. Now, we wood burners know that you must clean your chimney from time to time if you are going to enjoy the warmth of wood burning…creosote builds up on the walls of the chimney and ultimately will block the escape of toxic gas or carbon monoxide. I had been burning a product that was supposed to alleviate creosote build up…but I was not confident. Before we engaged the new furnace we had our installer look at the cleanliness of our flu…and found that it was totally stopped up. Family’s have died from just such a problem. I wished that I had the Chimney Sweep character in Mary Poppins that was portrayed by the brilliant, Dick Van Dyke.

You know I mentioned how cold the house was on Illinois Avenue in Eldorado…I did not mention that it was haunted. The noises and shadowy specters that I heard and saw…were a frigid and frightening change from the nice suburban home that we had in Sauk Village. Fireplaces and waking up cold and things that go bump in the night…were a new world. Everything about the big ghost house seemed cold. We all sat on the large rap-around porch and watched the Eldorado Eagles play football…and it was cold. I slept in a utility room…that was pitch dark. For a considerable time mom and dad and I lived with my aunt Wanda and uncle Bill and my cousins…Brenda and Billy. Brenda walked with me to Hillcrest School and back home at the end of the day. She was in the 8th grade and I was in the 1st.

When I was in Junior High we moved to the country. Our heat was a combination of Propane gas and a coal stove that sat next to the kitchen. We left the thermostat very low on the gas furnace that was fed by the propane tank in our back yard. Propane was expensive and it went quickly. The primary heat was the little vintage coal stove. The method of operation was to fire it up until it was full of red hot coals…and then place a box fan pointed toward the dining room…to aid in the circulation of the cherry hot heat. I read my Bible at the kitchen table…and the pages curled up due to a temperature that I am sure was in the 90’s or exceeding 100 degrees. Very comforting on very cold nights…

Winter will return…

2 responses

  1. Good ol fashioned warmth! Loved this post!

  2. My childhood was growing up in a coal-mining village so everyone had coal fires to heat their homes, burning on one side of your body – freezing on the other side, the more you stocked the fire the more draft came in under the doors and through the windows – not a very efficient heating system, but it was cheap at the time.

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