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Turning the damper on Mr. Franklin's stove.

My dear wife is one of those sentimental women who has to acknowledge every special occasion with a gift--and takes time that might be better spent in the kitchen trying instead to suit the gift to the occasion.

Thanks to Fire Prevention Week I am now the proud owner of 11 fire extinguishers. After installing the last two in the bathroom, I made the bold suggestion that we were pretty well set for fire extinguishers. My wife then switched to smoke alarms. At present I can't burn the pine incense she gives me every Arbor Day without one of the blasted things going off. To show you how clever my dear bride of yesteryear has become, last Ground-hog Day she presented me with five pounds of gift-wrapped sausage.

I bare these family secrets only that you might better understand my surprise upon dragging home one night from a day hard enough as it was, only to find a Franklin stove wearing a big, red bow and leering at me.

"It's lovely," I said, dry-eyed. "But what's the occasion?"

"This just happens to be January 17," she said, sniveling, as she usually does at moments of high emotion. "Benjamin Franklin's birthday."

Of course. How stupid of me.

It took both of us to install the stove. While she held the big, heavy, red bow, I wrestled the gift into proper position beneath the ancient chimney hole.

"My dad always said the longer the pipe the more heat you get," she confided, looking down where I lay on the living-room carpet. (I hadn't quite made it to the couch.) So I rose and wrestled the beast (I'm referring to the stove) to the opposite side of the kitchen. Now the pipe wouldn't reach.

By a stroke of bad luck, I remembered seeing behind our kind-hearted neighbor Gail Abrell's barn three lengths of pipe from a stove he had once used to cook beans for his hogs. Fitting his three lengths together and then mating them with our two new ones engrossed me the next day until afternoon, with time out for a hearty lunch of what I took to be leftover raisin pudding. Turned out to be a concoction of rice and soot. Then I called upon the perpetrator of my potential heart attack to support the middle of the pipe with a broom while I perched on the stepladder with a screwdriver, eye hooks, pliers and stovepipe wire to suspend the five-piece structure from the ceiling.

At a quarter past two, her arms gave out.

When the pipe broke in two (in five, to be exact) over my dear wife's head, the resulting shower of cinders, ash and carbon deposits from Gail's three lengths carried clear to the bedroom, where dear wife's former white cat had been sleeping. The cat should have been out catching mice at that time of day anyway.

Wife now retired to the bathtub for the afternoon, I tried supporting the pipe on the back of my neck while winding the wire around it and then threading it through the eye hooks. There may be a more professional way of removing the last of the crud from a pipe, but this way certainly is effective--especially after the pipe bounces off the floor for the third time.

With kind-hearted Gail's help, the pipe finally hung securely from the ceiling, and the end piece had been wedged into the chimney hole. And that was that? Not quite. While Gail was outside dumping soot out of his shirt (anyone wearing an open-neck shirt on a job like that is asking for it), he said: "I'll bet that old chimney hasn't been cleaned in a coon's age."

Had I known that dear wife had by this time removed enough strata of soot from her ears to overhear him, I'd have left home. Sure enough, the next day I was gushing insincere thanks over the no-surprise gift of a chimney-cleaning outfit. "You should have waited till Clean Chimney Week," I said. "Or longer," I muttered.

How professionals clean a chimney with one of these rigs, I'm not sure. There were no directions. Undaunted, I climbed the ladder to the roof. From there it went like this:

First, I clamped an auxiliary pipe between my legs. Next, I raised a pipe with a brush on the end and tried to remain on the roof while the wind was deciding what to do with it. After the top row of bricks was loosened and sent slithering to the ground (the auxiliary pipe had already preceded it), I was allowed to insert the brush into the opening. Now it was simply a matter of pushing the brush down until I ran out of pipe, then pulling it up again. Our chimney, however, must have been made for small smoke. When I pulled the pipe up, lo and behold--there was no brush to behold. A flashlight revealed that it was stuck a full ten feet down. The chimney was plugged beyond all redemption.

Before calling someone to dismantle the chimney, however, I would go down and retrieve the auxiliary pipe, screw the two pipes together and push the brush down where I could run my arm up the flue and pull it out. This didn't work. The I would go back down, sneak the clothesline wire off the posts, bend one end into a hook and try to hook the brush out. The brush was stuck so tight I couldn't get the hook past. Then I would crawl down again, drive into Spencer for a hank of sash cord and two new flashlight batteries. If I could lasso the short handle on the brush and tighten the noose before it slipped off. . .

At 6:15 p.m., wife yelled something up the chimney to the brush. She then came outside and yelled to me, "Are you coming down to eat, or shall I serve it up there?" I should have yelled back, "Soot yourself!" But I wasn't in the mood, and she wouldn't have gotten it anyway.

One advantage of working with your head stuck down a chimney--you can work as well at night as you can in daylight. All night, if your flashlight batteries hold out. Just short of the batteries' demise, and in a half-hearted, last-minute effort, the noose slipped over the handle, and I pulled it on the pipe until it tightened; then ever so gently I gave a tug, the brush loosened and I pulled it up. . . up. . .up. . . and out! From the place I lay on my back in the valley where the two house sections meet, the moon had never looked more beautiful.

A woman wouldn't think of it, of course, but to get the maximum benefit from a wood stove, you must burn wood in it. And before you can burn wood in a stove you must have wood to burn.

One good thing about the 13 "achers" of our hilltop estate--one can always find a tree the wind has pulled out of the ground by its roots. My luck still batting zero, I found a honey locust, one of those ornery suckers that make you want to stop sawing and relax by whittling on a concrete block. No price in blood, sweat, blisters and Ben-Gay is too high to pay, however, for the satisfaction of seeing a wood supply for the rest of the season stacked high and dry inside the shed.

It lasted exactly three days. The day I fed the last stick into the stove's insatiable maw happened to coincide with my announcement to one and all (mostly to one) that from here on the oil furnace could carry the full responsibility of being the hearth of our little home. One could use the franklin stove for a planter, as far as this one was concerned.

That, of course, was before I sprang out of bed one morning to turn up the thermostat, only to spring back into bed even more quickly when the furnace failed to come on. This reaction had to do with the outside thermometer's registering a record 24 below and the oil in the fuel line having gelled, causing the furnace to shirk its responsibility. Except for an electric blanket, the oven and a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce, our little home was without heat.

Fortunately, the furnace man and I were on a first-name basis. (At one time I even considered putting him on salary.) All I had to do was to defrost the telephone receiver and give him a call.

Busy. Busy. . .busy. . .busy. At 9:15 I finally got through to an answering device dispensing the information that Bates Heating and Cooling wouldn't be heating or cooling any more customers for at least the next five days.

"Buy some wood, for Pete's sake!" exclaimed wife. "There are several ads in the Spencer Evening World."

So, letting my blue fingers do the walking through the classified section, I called the numbers of the ads promise, all using the same excuse of too much snow. The ball was now in my court.

Luckily, we had a pretty good supply of hard, dry wooden clothes hangers--enough, at least, to give me time to saw up the clothesline posts. The arguments that followed each of these brainstorms kept us warm for an added two hours.

The question now arose: Would Gail's sheep, conditioned to a rail fence five rails high, notice if the fence were only four rails high? My conclusion was that even if they did, they'd be using all their energy raising wool instead of jumping over.

The rails lasted a day and a half. The shed went next. I'd planned to have a bigger one built in the spring anyway. The weather was now mellowed to only 15 below, so the shed was good for three full days.

"What about those old railroad ties?" came wife's voice from under the electric blanket at the breakfast table the morning Mr. Franklin's invention had taken the final board. "You'll never get around to damming the creek, anyway. And if Brutus wants to go swimming, Abrell's pond is plenty good enough for a dog."

The ties didn't burn. In fact, it took a week's editions of the Spencer Evening World and all six yardsticks we'd accumulated from the Owen County Fair just to start one smoldering. One was enough to get everything in the house, including us,

permeated with the odor or creosote for a lifetime. If not longer. And eight smoke alarms going off all at once brought neighbors pouring in from every direction.

Thanks to the resourcefulness with which the Creator endowed the male of our species, I had a wood fire blazing merrily the next morning when wife finally dragged out of bed to begin burning the toast.

"This is wonderful!" she exulted, shedding two guilts and the electric blanket. "The Creator has certainly endowed you with resourcefulness!" Or words to that effect. And when I told her that our name finally had worked its way to the top of Mr. Bates' list and he would be coming to fix the furnace that afternoon, she got carried away to the point of scraping my toast as well as her own.

These moods, as every married man knows, don't last. No more than an hour later she was rampaging around--something about her quilting frames she couldn't find.

"What frames are those?" I queried.

"Those long, wooden frames I quilt on," came her plaintive response from behind the sofa. "The onbes mother left me."

Naturally, I dropped everything to help her took for the silly things, though I'll admit I have undertaken projects with a little more enthusiasm. The truth is, I didn't know she still used them. She hadn't turned out a quilt for--oh, it must have been a couple of weeks.

At least that's going to be my defense.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Benjamin Franklin
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1985
Previous Article:What is America?
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