With our major projects done for the season, this past weekend we got the chance to go to the farm and start putting things back together. Erin actually spent several days and nights there, by herself, putting rooms back together and making things livable again. I’m going to let her write about that.
I’m going to tell you about my endeavor to get the heat working on the second floor of the house.
I’d explained earlier about the fuel oil furnace that heats the first floor of the house. That furnace also heats the south room upstairs. So, there are three rooms upstairs without any heat except what’s provided by this guy:
Sitting in the hallway, for as long as I can remember, is this fuel-burning, “Super-Flame” stove.
I’d vaguely remembered that stove from my childhood. We spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases in this house, so this stove has a place in my memory. My uncles remember it better, having grown up with it and relied on it for years. Nobody could really tell me, though, when the last time was that it was used.
That it had seen a period of disuse was evident earlier this summer when I’d done a little cleaning in this stove. I’d vacuumed some soot out of the bottom and removed a desiccated bird that had made a fateful trip down the chimney, but I hadn’t actually tried to fire the thing up.
On Saturday, knowing we were on our way, my uncle had turned on the furnace for us. So, when we arrived, the main floor was toasty warm. The upstairs, however, had to have been in the 50-degree range. A bit chilly! So, knowing Erin was going to spend the night, and knowing that we all planned to spend some nights there this winter, I decided it was time to see if this old stove would light again.
Heating doesn’t get much simpler than this. There’s a fuel tank with an oil control valve. You put fuel in, turn on the valve, fuel starts flowing into the stove, you drop a match in, and voila! heat! It’s a three-step process!
So? Step 1, put fuel in!
This step is accomplished by heading down to the basement, grabbing a nearby jar, and filling it up directly off the fuel line to the furnace, diverted from the outside tank. Like so:
See the red knob in the upper right? Place handy jar under the tubing above the coffee can with plate on it (demonstrated below by my lovely wife), open the valve, and fill up your jar!
Then it’s up the stairs and you dump that jar into the tank. Easy!
Then, on to Step 2! You turn the dial from “off” to “low” and wait for fuel to start trickling into the stove. Easy!
And you wait for fuel to come out. And wait for fuel to come out. And maybe adjust the dial from “low” to “high” and wait for fuel to come out.
And then you sigh, turn the dial from “high” to “off” and get down on your hands and knees, to investigate. Once there, you see there’s some words on top of the oil control, but they’re mostly covered up by years of dust and dirt, so you dip your finger in the nearly empty fuel jar and use the fuel to “clean off” the top so you can see what you’ve missed and find this
Ah! A handy arrow instructing you to press the “lever” for operation. So, you press the lever, hear the click, again turn the control knob from “off” to “low” and look for, hey! Fuel!
On to Step 3! Grandpa had matches all over the house. We found numerous matchboxes and matchbooks. But some of them, MOST of them, were really old. Ever used really old matches? They don’t work well. Sometimes they light. Sometimes they don’t. So, you open your first matchbook and strike, strike, strike, nothing. Drop the match in the bottom of the stove. So you grab another match and strike, strike, strike, hey! It lit! Drop the match in and…watch it go out as it hits the bottom. So you grab another match, the last one in this book, and you strike, strike, strike…toss the unlit match into the stove, grab the next matchbook, wonder why you didn’t think to buy new matches, strike, strike, hey! drop that match in and hey! the soot at the bottom is kind of acting as a wick for the fuel feeding in…that’s not exactly what I was expect…oh, it’s out. Another match! Strike, strike, strike, ok! lit again! burning a little, oh it’s out.
Of course. So you sigh again, turn the oil off again, and step back to ponder.
Pondering becomes the unplanned Step 4
So we ponder. We have fuel, we have fire, but it won’t stay lit. That’s gotta be an air problem.
So, how do you check airflow?
Checking airflow becomes Step 5, so you look down into the stove. And, that’s what it looks like. It looks open…like there should be air, you know, flowing…so, get down on the floor again and looking for some sort of air intake somewhere. Anywhere? Nothing? Some plugged filter somewhere?
Huh. Nope. Nothing apparent.
Finally, you decide to move to Step 6 which turns out to be reaching down there inside to feel around
and find that it’s sooty and dirty down there. So, Step 7 is underway when you grab a putty knife and scrape some more soot off the insides and start cleaning it out with your hand. Step 8 is explaining to your child that it’s dangerous, possibly stupid, to be Step 9 grabbing handfuls of still-warm and fuel-soaked soot from the bottom of the stove and dropping them in the plastic wastebasket next to the stove (which you do not leave there, btw), before it’s back to Step 2 which is really starting to feel like Step 10 where you turn the fuel back on, and now on your fourth book of matches manage to get another match lit, drop it in and hey! bigger flame! Hey! You might be in luc…oh, it’s out.
So, you step back again, clean up your hands and chastise yourself for being an idiot before moving to Step 11 which should’ve been Step 5 in which you lower your phone into the bottom of the stove and shoot this picture:
As you can see, Step 11 (or if you were smarter Step 5) has revealed the problem. So, a bit more scraping, some brushing of dust and such from the largely clogged air holes and:
With Step 12, I mean Step 3, you drop in a match from a box you managed to find in the basement after you’d already used every single other match that you knew existed in the whole house.
And you have success!!
All joking aside, when we finally did get it working, it burned itself out of fuel in about five hours. Erin put more fuel in later and had no trouble getting it to go again. I think that, with this working now, and possibly a space heater or two, we should be pretty comfortable for our winter nights on the farm.