My Turn

Story published: 11-26-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Heating with wood carries a learning curve

By: Virginia R. Manuel

Freelance Writer

I have always felt that I was lucky to have grown up in the fifties. In some ways we were a lot luckier than the kids of today. We lived out on the farm about three miles from town without running water and indoor plumbing. We had no central air conditioning or heating system. Electricity was considered a luxury and was only used when necessary. Most of our food was grown on the farm. Tobacco was the big cash crop. We kids were expected to help out on the farm doing all kinds of chores gathering eggs, pulling weeds to feed the hogs, and helping to feed and milk the cow.

Since wood was our only heat source gathering enough wood to keep warm in the winter was a priority in the fall. Winter called for a constant demand for firewood and getting the long poles of wood from the mountains was hard work. In the early 1900’s the chestnut trees on the east coast of the United States had suffered from what was called the Chestnut Blight. It was a fungus that was spread through the air, raindrops and animals. It spread on the bark of the tree eventually killing the trees. The dead chestnut trees made good firewood to use in the fireplace or the “Old Buckeye” stove that sat in the front room. In the thirties and forties you could get a harvesting permit from the government to use the dead and downed chestnut trees for firewood. Using the permit you were not allowed to cut anything that was green except for maybe a small sapling to use as a spring pole. In the fall my granddad would hitch up the horses to the wagon and go into the mountains to gather enough wood to last for the winter. It would take several loads of wood to do the winter. About once a month he would take the wagon and collect smaller wood to use in the cookstove. After the wood was brought to the house and piled up he used a crosscut saw or a buck saw to saw it into smaller pieces. By the early fifties most of the dead chestnut trees had been harvested and sawmills offered truckloads of ends and pieces of slab wood. That was a much easier way of gathering wood but it still had to be split and ricked and handled more than once. A truckload of slab wood cost around $7.00 and a ton of coal cost around $10.

One of our chores was to gather in enough wood and coal to keep us warm at night and also to burn in the wood cook stove. Every afternoon after school we would change into our old clothes and head to the woodshed. We had an old wagon and we would fill the wagon full and pull it up to the kitchen door and transfer the wood and kindling to the woodbox that set by the cookstove. Again we would fill the wagon with larger pieces for the heating stove in the front room and carry in two buckets of coal. That was enough to last until the next day when we would repeat the process. Sometimes we tried to get away with bringing in only a small amount of wood. It never worked. We would be sent back to the woodshed for another armload.

The heating stove in the front room kept that room warm but the bedrooms were always cold. At night we would take the flat irons and set them on the stove to get them good and hot. We would then wrap them in an old towel and put them at the bottom of the bed to keep our feet warm. The irons would sometimes stay warm all night. It worked great but you had to make sure the iron was covered good so you didn’t burn your toes.

Thinking about those cold bedrooms on a winter’s night is just a memory - now if my feet get cold at night I just turn up the electric blanket.