Cold Winter Days and the Warmth of a Wood Heater
Warming the House
My old friend and former Pastor, Reverend General Beddingfield once told a story about a man who had gone to sleep during his morning sermon and was called upon to dismiss in prayer. The wife sitting beside him elbowed her husband to rouse him from his sleep and he awakened with a start and a comment,"Ethel, it's your time to get up and stoke the heater!"
It is January 3 and old man winter is making his first real appearance here in Western North Carolina with temperatures that are down right cold with wind chills that are sub-zero. In the western most part of our state, snow has already fallen at least on a couple of occasions. Many folks still use wood to heat their homes or have wood heat as a backup for their heat pumps. In the early morning hours smoke can be seen billowing from chimneys and the smell of hard woods like oak and hickory burning are a reminder of how it was when I was a boy.
In those days wood was the main source for providing heat for our homes. After school chores included filling the wood box and making sure there was kindling to help start a fire in the wood cook stove come morning. Kindling would often be pine knots that had been split (very hard wood) but they would burn easily. Corn cobs were also used. Mama was the first to get up and she would start a fire in her cook stove and cook our breakfast Hot water to wash our face and hands was heated on the living room heater. There was always a pot of water on the living room heater to keep humidity in the air.
We learned how to use an ax for chopping wood and the wood my daddy bought was delivered in blocks about sixteen inches long to fit our wood heater.Most always a whole tree would be delivered at once and dumped in our back yard near the wood pile.It all had to be split and stacked. Splitting the wood, usually red oak or hickory was not an easy job and sometimes required the use of an iron wedge and sledgehammer. The hammer weight of sixteen pounds took some muscles and stamina to use and the biceps on our arms grew hard swinging that hammer and stacking wood. We did body building and didn't even know it!
Our labor was rewarded by the heat from the wood we had split. With the wood box full and the heater stoked, the cold winter nights would be cozy and comfortable. Wood stoves and heaters have transitioned much in recent years but the basic fire box is virtually the same. Fire brick have been added inside to many wood heaters and with variable speed electric blower attachments heat can be distributed over more floor space allowing maximum use of the firewood to be realized. If the home has ceiling fans,even more heat efficiency from the wood heat is advantageous and multiple rooms throughout the home is made possible. This was not so during the 1950s when only one room could be heated. As a boy I remember snuggling up close to the living room heater and getting good and warm before dashing off to our cold bedroom and diving under all those quilts and blankets mama put on our bed during the winter and the dread of jumping out of bed on a frosty morn and hurrying to the living room to get warmed up before breakfast.
For the enterprising who have access to plenty of wood, wood furnaces in a basement can be a huge asset to reduce home heating costs. Water can be heated and heat directed through the duct work of other home heating systems. I have a friend who built a wood furnace on the outside of his home, a rustic two story cabin and the furnace held a huge amount of wood which he loaded only once or twice a week depending on the outside temperatures.
I still like wood heat and there is nothing like a fire in the fireplace to give a home a touch of nostalgia and romance. We never gave it much thought when we were kids, it was just a way of life and we had contributed to the comfort of our home getting in the wood. Modern day wood splitting machines powered by gasoline motors and hydraulic cylinders have taken much of the back breaking work out of getting in winter supply of wood but still not an easy job. A good supply of wood can be split in a short period of time. A wood heater sure comes in handy during an ice storm when electricity has been interrupted for several days.