Farm house

How to stay warm at night in an old farmhouse

Of all the daily chores my dad performed on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, the most vital to me each winter morning was rekindling the blazing fire in the large log-burning stove that dominated the kitchen. of my mother 60 years ago.

The stove was, no joke, a Warm Morning model. He was then as tall as me and rounder than my great-uncle Honey. Somehow Dad, despite his city upbringing, knew how to handle this iron maiden for maximum effect in minimum time. In fact, the stove usually emitted heat before the water for his first morning cup of coffee had boiled.

But rekindling the fire was just the latest heat-promising chore in a whole series of high-heat chores leading up to it. There was the sawing of the wood, the splitting, the transport, the stacking, the transport in the house, the lighting and, finally, the transport of the ashes, in our case, to the garden.


Mom and Dad also couldn’t wait for the town’s “furnace man” to install an entire thermostatically controlled “furnace” that burned what they called fuel oil fed through a copper line from a tank of smelly fuel in our side yard.

This upgrade brought the two unheated and, until then, unused upstairs bedrooms of our farmhouse into the lives of my three siblings. The four of us boys were assigned to the colder north room while my sister smiled warmly from the sunnier south room.

The only problem with the new arrangement was that, despite clear evidence that the ducts from the new furnace did indeed reach the rooms, there was no evidence that the heat from the furnace ever did. Winter, for my brothers and me, was the season of flannel sheets and layers and layers of wool quilts.

Stove Beneficiaries

The two main men on the farm, Shepherd Howard and his brother Jackie, didn’t have this problem because they didn’t have such an oven. Their parlor stove, our former kitchen stove, glowed with inviting warmth in their farm-furnished home until they moved to another location in the late 1970s.

Howard was the chief attendant, and his preferred fuel was southern Illinois coal. At the beginning of each winter a local trucker, having delivered a load of cull cattle from our farm to the stockyards, would haul about five tons of coal and dump it near Howard and Jackie’s back door. Every winter day, Howard would fill a five-gallon bucket with chunks the size of a softball to burn in the brick-lined Warm Morning.

Sometimes the ever-impatient Jackie covered the glowing coal with what he called “a chug” of split pecan wood. Wood, nearly as dense and BTU-carrying as bituminous coal, could make the stove glow pink at night.

However, after my father installed a furnace in the dairy barn in the late 1960s, none of my brothers were in a rush to return to their piles of split pecans and lumpy coal. All the warmth they ever wanted was, literally, at their fingertips in the dairy barn.

Electric heating

My siblings and I had a similar revelation when we learned about electric blankets. Our comfort, what am I saying, our very survival, depended on electricity and our parents, downstairs and warm, had given us fuel oil? Oh, the rising screams!

Soon three electric blankets – one for Richard and David’s bed, one for Perry and my bed, and one for Miss Sunshine Across the Hall’s bed – appeared. From then on, our biggest concern each night was who of us would brave the arctic upstairs to light up the three vital blankets.

However, it was of no concern at any time to be slain in a roaring fire started by extension cords plugged into extension cords that ran from our warm blankets under several rugs to the only electrical outlet in each room in a closet of fortune.

Should we have worried? Of course, but I don’t remember worrying about anything once nestled in our pre-warmed nests of flannel, wool and innocence.


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