How did you end up in this place where we have frigid winters and unbearably hot summers? My excuse is that I was born here and didn’t have enough smarts to stay away when I had the chance. Vermont kept calling me back and I obeyed that siren call of the semi-wild, near third-world economic conditions of the state I love. To be completely forthcoming, I got down on the ground and kissed the cold Vermont soil when I returned, vowing never to leave again. Fast forward some 33 years and I can say that the winters are getting to be a bit much. I stopped skiing a number of years ago, so that bit of winter recreation is behind me, and for some reason our snowshoes just stay in the bin where all the other winter sports stuff resides, cold and unused. I cannot say that I totally hate winter; I tend to like the sunny days from late February until winter’s end. It’s the moving snow and heating costs and labor that get to me.
About a half dozen years ago I acquired a used Woodstock Soapstone wood burning stove from my biological father. Perfect timing, because when my fiancee moved in I was able to enlist her 14-year-old son for wood splitting and stacking chores. It was like heaven. The Soapstone stove gives off heat long after the fire has gone out, making those interminable winter nights bearable. Having a strapping young man helping to get in the wood was the best. This went on all during his high school years and for one year after graduation. Then he enlisted in the U.S. Army and is now holding down an oil-stove heated tent in the wilds of Afghanistan. I’d rather have him home for more reasons than just the help with the wood. Not wanting to do all of this wood management myself, I found a metal basket that can be inserted into the wood stove and filled with wood pellets; a much cleaner and easier way to deal with burning wood. This is the beginning of the third (or is it the fourth? I forget) heating season with the insert. While I have written about this device before, I think its time for an update.
The Florida-made welded metal woodstove pellet insert is basically melting away. It started last season, and is steadily progressing now. There is an apple-sized hole in the grated floor of it where the welded metal rods have melted away from intense heat. Last season I resorted to placing thick metal screen sections in the bottom to hold in the pellets. They have disintegrated by more then 80 percent. This year I have an abundance of cardboard boxes, which I use to start the fire. I have been lining the bottom of the basket with a couple of pieces of cardboard before filling. They hold up through a few burn cycles because ash builds up on the stove floor eventually, filling the gaping hole. This is generally good for about a week of burning in November/December weather. January might be a bit more of a challenge.
Being essentially cheap, I’m going to attempt to get one more heating season out of the basket and start over with something new next year. Maybe I’ll take it out to the barn and attempt to weld some heavier metal into the bottom of the basket just to see how much more I can get out of this $150 device. I’ve already built a basket for my Jotul stove, but that is now sitting in the barn and the basket doesn’t fit into the soapstone stove. The Jotul was replaced by a brand new computer-managed pellet stove in another part of the house two years ago. That stove has worked well, but then I had some sort of a thermal shutoff device failure. I shorted out the circuit board while attempting to diagnose the problem myself. That one is going to require a very expensive service call and some pricey replacement parts before I can get it back on line. Fortunately I have two very efficient Rinnai propane heaters that take care of the whole house just fine. The only problem is that I really hate paying the price of propane.
If this sounds like a whole bunch of winter whining, well, maybe it is. I don’t think I’d be complaining about it if I had some Plan B, like moving to Belize or something. Complaining is cheaper than living in Belize, so I’m just going to have to tough it out. Ah, the heating season.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.