Childhood Memories of the Family Farm: Wood-burning Stoves

An Oregonian recalls her childhood memories of heating systems on her family farm, including wood-burning stoves

| Good Old Days

My childhood memories of our family farm include the wood-burning stoves with their nurturing warmth. Our old house had a baseburner. On cold mornings we would bring our clothes and dress around its comforting potbelly with the isinglass reflecting vigorous flames. As a 5-year-old I remember the midwife holding our new baby sister there on a November evening.

In the new house a basement furnace circulated heat to the upper floors, though I don't remember the upstairs bedrooms being heated. I read a poem once in which the poet gave tribute to her father's early rising to start the fire so there was warmth when the family arose. This unsung task Dad did before he went out to milk and do chores.

Adjacent to the furnace was a coal bin or room with an outside metal opening in which coal deliverers would hoist the coal. Wood was also burned. We had three huge cottonwood trees at the edge of the grove, so huge that it took several of us holding hands to reach around them. One year Dad felt he had to sacrifice one of them for wood. It was a jolt I can still remember.

In the center of the kitchen was the cookstove, with its commodious top accommodating high heat on the front or warming toward the back. There was the reservoir, which warmed rain water for washing dishes. Above were warming ovens, where among other things Mom dried eggshells, which she then crushed and gave to the hens as a calcium supplement. As a child I remember loving to go and stand in the cubby space behind the stove, a place of warmth and privacy for a little girl.

In time we added an oil stove, a white enamel contraption on spindly legs that had three burners and an oven on the left. In the summer this was a welcome option to heating up the cookstove.

My aunt had a small cylindrical oil heater that added area heat. In later days it was an antique object on which she placed a plant.

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