“THE STOVE” ON “THE FARM” OF BREAD AND MILK STREET
I bought a 1906 Home Crawford about 40 years ago. It was designed for coal burning with grates in the firebox, although we burned wood exclusively. It has a cast iron filigree Lazy Susan in the oven for rotating items as they baked for even cooking. I installed it in the room we call “the winter kitchen” on the stone floor that once was the foundation for the fireplace in this 1760’s Cape Cod post and beam farm house. Along with an Ashley stove in the parlor and another wood stove upstairs in the boy’s bedroom it was the sole source of heat during our cold New England winters.
When “the stove” was first brought into our home, there were seven children here, the survivors of divorces. There were five boys and two girls from about fifteen to seven for the boys and thirteen to infant for the girls. We also took in various and sundry kids who wanted to live here for reasons at times known only to them. Many times we went to the woods after a logging operation that left treetops. We chain sawed them into handling size, loaded them up on our 1948 Chevy flatbed dump truck and brought them home. This was before all the rules of safety so the kids and dogs rode on top of the pile and had a grand old time waving at all the passing cars and once in a while giving the passengers a scare by pretending to fall off. The wood was cut to stove size on a cord wood saw that was built and lent to me by my best friend. It had a 30” blade with a sliding wood carriage, was built on a trailer and driven with a 5 inch wide 15 foot long flat belt by a 4 cylinder Buda engine. The engine water pump had a worn out bearing so I had to mount a kid on the frame at the front of the engine with a bucket full of water, his job was to constantly pour water into the radiator. There was quite an impressive spray of water caused by the fan that would form a halo of ice from the ground to the cloths line to the woodshed if it was cold enough.
My wife used to make homemade donuts cooked in lard in a cast iron “donut pot” on “the stove” and delivered them to the outside workers using a little one by putting the donuts, using the holes, on his or her outstretched fingers. One day she realized she had made a dozen dozen donuts and did not have one to serve at the end of the day with cups of her homemade hot chocolate. She went on strike and swore she would never make another donut again, and stuck to her word for quite a while.
There were many cold feet and runny noses warmed up around that stove those many years ago. The wet gloves and mittens were hung on the towel bar and the drying rack mounted on the wall, the shoes were piled up on the back shelves, wet cloths hung on various wall hooks and draped over the backs of chairs. Assorted sized bodies in damp underwear did a very slow Indian dance around “the stove” trying to get to the warmer spots or vacating them due to overheating. Once a supper of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered banana squash, homemade baked bread and churned butter and pumpkin or lemon meringue pie was devoured, served with pitchers of milk from our old Jersey cow named Daisy, the wood box and kindling basket were filled. I never had to say “Time for bed, kids.” A day of hard work in the woods or cutting and stacking cord wood, (“Honest Dad, I didn’t try to hit him with the chunk. Tell him to watch out where he puts his foot”) putting the barn animals up for the night and a full belly inevitably caused heads to start nodding and tired bodies drifted off upstairs to bed.
“The stove” was the center of the family. I would get it going in the morning before leaving for work. Kids in various state of undress came downstairs and gathered around “the stove” to warm up before getting dressed, eating breakfast and going to the edge of the road waiting for the school bus and off to school. My wife would cook the meals and keep the fire going during the day with a big meal ready to be devoured each night by the family. Inevitably there were friends in attendance also. Luckily my oldest son, when he was a little boy, helped me build an eight foot long, three foot wide and two inch thick pumpkin pine dining table with matching benches. By the way, this table had many a pig, beefer, chicken, deer, rabbit and pheasant from hunting cut up on it and wrapped for the freezer.
My wife learned to love and hate “that damn stove”, but they respected each other and she remembers “the stove” never got even with her by once burning her over the many years of their very close relationship. She knew the species of every wood we brought in from the woods, it’s burning qualities, weather it was a “hot” wood for baking or a slow burner for the long day. She cursed the damp, heavy days because “the stove” would not draft well, but most of all she would be close to tears if she got some wet wood she had to boil dry before it would burn. She “strongly reminded me” if it appeared I was avoiding climbing up on the roof to drop the burlap grain bag tied to a long rope and full of hay with a stone in the bottom and drag it up and down the chimney to clean it out. At the same time, she says, she was worried I might slip on the snow covered steep pitched roof and fall to the ground below. “The stove” taught her where the Griswold griddle, frying pans or pots worked the best on it’s top, which shelf to put the bread dough on to rise on a given day, where the milk should go to make farm cheese. She and “the stove” shared many other lessons together that took years of experimenting and sometimes, grudgingly learned.
One day we had a fierce lightning and thunder storm. An ear splitting bolt of lightning struck the chimney and came down to hit the stove. The entire stove and chimney pipe turned an iridescent glow lighting up the entire kitchen and sending the witnesses falling over themselves running for their lives. Once the shock was over I ran around and sent everyone scrambling to check for fire upstairs, in the cellar, around the chimney and on the roof. To my great relief there was no damage done to the chimney or house and after a thorough inspection of “the stove”, much to my wife’s relief, it didn’t even feel the effect of being struck by lightning. If she could have she would have picked it up, held it on her lap and sat in the rocking chair for a while.
Oh what an unpleasant day for me when I had to let the fire go out, allow “the stove” to cool off and then clean it out. The lids had to come off, the oven shelves and bottom plate in the oven come out, the ash pit cleaned out and the access door removed. Then it was scraping, wire brushing and vacuuming before reassembly. The smoke pipe was unscrewed, disassembled and taken outside and leaned against the big rock that had the groove in it that balanced the pipe on end. A small fire was built in the bottom end and then the pipe was watched while the creosote burned out giving off volumes of acrid smoke.
It was well worth it, though, to hear her say “Someone peel the potatoes” (ten pounds) while she fried up three and sometimes four chickens with the girls. Remember we had evolved into a family with five hard working teen age boys, two girls, plus friends, and occasionally, other family members. We had a self-professed half breed Indian who told the best stories and biggest lies. His son was a frequent visitor and lived with us for a long spell as part of the family. Sometimes a very tall one who would show up, sit down and after eating his share of the supper or leftovers would confess he had supper at home before he came. The potatoes would be mashed, sometimes with our home churned butter, and the potato pot would be slid to the back right corner of “the stove” to keep warm until served with her world famous gravy. There would be corn or string beans she canned from our garden and if we were lucky her famous apple pie with the best homemade lard crust in the world. Learning the mood of the oven took a lot of time but she conquered it and was able to turn out bread, biscuits, pies, corn bread and muffins, etc. that were always eaten even if an edge or two was a little crispy because, with all that was going on, she forgot to turn the Lazy Susan. This was done in spite of the fact the oven thermometer never worked even after my many attempts to fix it.
Looking back on it now I wonder how I was able to provide for the volumes of food that was devoured not counting the clothes, shoes, etc. that goes along with raising kids. I have to admit there were many a night I buried my face in my pillow and shed a tear with worry how I was going to do it even with the supplement given periodically by my mother and sister. Yes, we did raise our beef, pork, chickens, rabbits, pigeons, ducks, goats, sheep and always had a family milk cow but I had to provide for the hay and grain. In addition there was an old horse kept out of mercy for his health and age. He was occasionally used for entertainment by gangs of kids playing cowboys and Indians and trying to all ride him at the same time. They would get knocked off his back and be hanging on upside down under his belly fighting to get back up again, hang on to his neck and pull on his tail trying to get up onto him. What a patient animal. He was not profitable but was an effective field ornament. Various and sundry dogs and some cats were loved and then departed but cats were forbidden in the house, although they lived in the barn and got their shot of milk straight from the cow. That is until Fido the calico cat was allowed in the house. She was a little kitten abandoned by her mother in a blizzard and worked her way into my heart.
Well, the children are all grown up and gone now. Most of them say their life here is the envy of their friends who ask for stories of their life on “The Farm.” They say the lessons of life learned here have made them better people and they have raised their children with the same ideals. Among them is a computer scientist, attorney, educator, mother of five, painting contractor, municipal project coordinator, and a heavy equipment operator. There are 21 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren at the moment and some of them still visit and love “the stove”. They hang their mittens on the bar, put their wet snow cloths around to dry and eat the food that comes off of and out of “the stove”. Frozen pizza is a favorite that comes out of the oven now. I still make baked beans occasionally on Saturday night with an onion pierced with cloves put in the bottom of my grandmothers brown clay bean pot, white navy beans, a bay leaf, brown sugar and molasses and a piece of “now hard to get” salt pork on the top. Often I have a pot of soup or succotash staying warm on that famous warming back right corner.
After the many years of hard service “the stove” was in very bad condition the fall of 2015-2016. The front frame over the top of the oven door and the right side panel were rusted out past the point where boiler cement would fix it up. There were cracks in the top that I had repaired and a major crack in the back and in the plate between the firebox and the oven that I had patched up years ago using steel plates on both sides and bolted in place. I “fixed it up” one more time but it had become a fire hazard. Friends told me they would help me break it into pieces and take it to John the Scrap Iron Man. I think they were secretly laughing at me for my attachment to the old stove. Scraping “the stove” was the same as shooting the best dog of my life just because it was old and arthritic.
I went with a friend to look for a replacement but that was a waste of gasoline since none we saw were anywhere near as elegant yet would be a work horse like “the stove”. I started to investigate stove repair ads but did not have a good feeling for any of them. Some of the businesses were taken over by the younger generation and they didn’t seem to want to get their hands dirty repairing a “real working stove”. One of my granddaughters was on the lookout and gave me the phone number of a person in New Hampshire who she said repaired stoves. I hesitantly called Jim Evans, The Handyman, of Orford, NH but his voice told me he was a man worthy of investigating. We discussed the repairs needed and he assured me he could get the parts and was confident he could “fix her up”. He said he would take it completely apart, sand blast everything, replace or repair every broken part, paint and re-assemble it and have it ready in about a month. He would convert it from coal to wood burning and line the firebox with cement. I thought it was too good to be true but still had some doubts. We agreed on a price that I thought was fare but just to be sure I drew up a contract that he did not hesitate to sign.
My daughter, two little grandchildren and I drove up to his place in New Hampshire from Coventry CT, where I live, with “the stove” in my trailer. Driving down his very long dirt road to his shop was a little unsettling to my daughter but once meeting him and seeing the sheds with the piles of stove parts, partially assembled ones and the totally finished stoves told me he was the man. We made arrangements for him to deliver the stove to my house. He arrived on the day and on time, brought “the stove” in and assembled it on the base carefully lining it up with the chimney thimble for me. (He had replaced the broken oven thermometer) He inadvertently forgot the “mitten bar” but sent it through the mail. It’s installed with a token mitten on it.
It is beautiful. It is more than I ever expected. I am writing this in September of 2016 and the weather is still in the 80’s so “the stove” has not been burnt in yet but the kindling basket and the wood box are full and waiting. The day he delivered “the stove” one of my sons told Jim he made my life whole again and had turned our house into the home it once was. Both true.
I strongly recommend Jim Evans to anyone who has a stove in need of repair. He is honest, dependable and a man of his word, hard to find now a days. Jim, thank you for the fine job you did on “the stove”. I am 81 years old now and do not expect to outlive “the stove” but I hope it goes to someone who will appreciate the joy it can bring a family and appreciate the work you did to bring it back to life.
September 16, 2016