Hell’s Furnace

I shivered even though the room was warm. Thinking about the furnace had me anxiously rocking back and forth. My daughter Niki, sitting on the sofa next to me, put her hand comfortingly on my shoulder while her husband Mike nodded in compassion. Arnie and I had had an old fashioned marriage. I took care of cooking, cleaning and laundry. He took care of mowing the lawn, keeping the furnace running and fixing anything that broke down. Four days ago my husband of 37 years had unexpectedly died.

If I had died, a few weeks after the funeral when family and friends went back to their lives, Arnie would have merely starved to death in soiled clothing. This was a fate that I considered far less horrible than the one I was facing at the moment. With Arnie gone, I was sentenced to learning the care and maintenance of the wood-pellet-eating beast in the basement. Knowing that it was-right below where I was sitting-made me shiver again!

Most people have furnaces that are turned on and off with the twist of a thermostat dial and only need a heating specialist’s visit once a year to service the equipment. That would have been too simple and easy for my husband. He bought an unusual furnace that few others have in Central Wisconsin. He installed a furnace that required as much hands-on care as a newborn baby. The dirty thing needed to be burped, diapered and potty trained. All I knew about it at that moment was how to pour in the wood pellets.

Mike said, “Where is your owner’s manual for the furnace? I’d be able to show you what to do once I have a look at it.”

I didn’t know where Arnie had bought the furnace. There were neither stores in the area that carried them nor any local repairmen who were familiar with how they worked. We couldn’t find an owner’s manual anywhere.

Reference librarians can find any information in this world if it exists. My librarian daughter Tammie put her skills to the test. She found and printed an owner’s manual from the Internet. The furnace had been manufactured by a company in Canada.

The problems and mistakes that I’ve made since taking over the care of the furnace are mind-boggling. I started out by feeding it fuel that was laced with nails. Not on purpose, of course. Lesson learned, if the pellet fuel spills on the floor in the shed, don’t be a cheap-skate and sweep it up to use. Just throw it out!

When nails get jammed in an auger, it damages the motor. There are two auger motors below the fuel bin, one to slowly remove the needed fuel from the bin and the other to move the fuel into the fire pot. The fuse that allowed the furnace to work blew once, sometimes twice a day. I replaced one of the motors. It was the wrong one, because the problem with the fuses continued. I called Canada again…and ordered a second motor. It was March when the problem was finally solved that year.

Not letting the furnace cool down properly to clean it resulted in another disaster. The heat and large amounts of oxygen caused the creosote in the pipes between the furnace and chimney to spontaneously combust. Scared, I called 911 for the fire department. By the time they arrived, I had put the fire out.

This spring it will be nine years since my husband died. Going into this winter I thought that I had made every mistake a person could make in running a wood pellet furnace. Wrong! I started out by forgetting to properly tighten the bolts on the faceplates covering the heat exchanger pipes. Smoke leaked out at certain times in the cycle of fires until the house smelled like a sausage. The bolt holes now look corroded. Can smoke do that? I’m still researching that answer.

Because of an unusual build-up of creosote from the loose bolt fiasco, the heat sensor didn’t work right. I came home on a warm winter day and found that the fire had gone out and 60 pounds of wood pellets were inside the fire pot area. Clean-up was hell. After that happened a second time, I made another call to Canada.

Feeling very sorry for myself, I sat on an overturned bucket next to the furnace so I could reach head and shoulders into it with a scoop. Every unburned pellet needed to be removed from its sooty, black interior.

I thought with a sniff of sulfurous ash, “I own hell’s furnace.”

My imagination pictured a huge, fire and smoke-belching black furnace. I wondered if the hopeless souls are required to maintain the great, dirty beast. If it doesn’t properly heat hell, Satan would be furious.

I chuckled, “The fuel has nails in it, a popping corn sound are the fuses blowing, hard-to-find motors constantly need to be replaced, while loud clanging sounds fill the air.” Pulling my head and shoulders out of the furnace to pour another scoop of misplaced pellets into a bag, I sighed, “I guess I don’t have it so bad after all.”








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