Winter Of Doom: Part I

I live far enough north that sometimes it scares me. The cold sometimes exceeds the invigorating chilliness associated with rosy cheeked kids playing pond hockey and becomes more like the eternal frozen death of outer space. There’s a difference! (Also I think I may become Canadian by default. As an American I’m pretty sure they’re better off without me but I really dig poutine and Trailer Park Boys. I may be doomed.)

Also, it’s important to separate genuine rough conditions from posing. Inexplicably, everyone likes to think their chunk of the planet is the toughest. Why? When someone from Atlanta visits Fairbanks they’ll say “well yeah, it gets cold where I live too. Once, I had to wear flannel.” Why do people do this? After all, it’s pretty cool to live where nature isn’t actively trying to murder you and besides we can’t all be Fremen.

(Here’s a hint, wind chill numbers are for sissies. If you are in my presence and repeat the “wind chill factor” because it’s an extreme number I reserve the right to hit you with a shovel.)

Here’s an example, when I was in Death Valley I was very careful. I did not say “Sure Furnace Creek is toasty warm but it’s not the heat it’s the humidity and my place back home is all kinds of humid.” That was my little gift to the global stockpile of humility. We can all learn a lesson from this. (The lesson is to visit Death Valley… it’s awesome.)

I wore this exact outfit to Furnace Creek. Sandworm or motorcycle... it's all the same.

I wore this exact outfit to Furnace Creek. Sandworm or motorcycle… it’s all the same.

At any rate I’ve been feeling like the final scene in the Shining. It’s been a bitch.

Fuck the jumper cables, I'm just gonna' sit here and wait for spring.

Fuck the jumper cables, I’m just gonna’ sit here and wait for spring.

Today I had to start four”frozen” vehicles.

  1. The first was a simple jump start. I have excellent jumper cables. The hefty conducting cables are as thick as a politician’s reasoning. Good jumper cables are a wise investment.
  2. The second was another simple jump start. Did you read #1? If you have crap ass  jumper cables do yourself a favor; saunter to the auto parts store (or hitch a ride because you’re a dumbass who can’t jump start your car) and buy the biggest baddest monsters you can find. Spare no expense. This is the first step on the road to enlightenment.
  3. The third was a delicate operation involving replacing a frozen battery. Sadly, it was on a modern car and therefore I had to do friggin’ surgery to get the damn thing out of the maze they call an engine. There’s no reason any battery on anything other than a true performance racing machine should weigh less than 40 pounds and be smaller than a bowling ball. Further, oddly shaped or uncommon sized batteries are a sign that the engineers involved are malcontents. Also, opening a doorknob at -24 is a feat so changing a battery in the dark when it’s even colder is damn near heroic.
  4. The last was the worst. It wasn’t just a cold battery; it was a truck that had given up on living. I didn’t merely start the vehicle. I performed a full blown exorcism and resurrection. It one was touch and go. Unusual tactics were involved. Some stuff may have melted. (Whoops!) Frankly I was an inch away from declaring that nothing short of immersion in lava would get it moving. This was unusual. I can make almost anything breathe life (if only because my swearing scares the ailing machine back from the dead) but this hunk of crap on wheels seemed to really relish being dead. In retribution I’d like to carpet bomb Detroit for making such crap. (Of course bombing Detroit would be slapping a masochist but that’s a topic for some other day.)

Just in case you’re going to say something snarky… my truck started and ran just fine. (It did this because it loves me, I speak fluent “truck”, and I treat it well.) My trusty steed (a diesel) spent half the night serving as a six ton rumbling flashlight and warming hut while every  gas powered apparatus in the vicinity bailed. Go figure.

Having once again saved the day, or at least four vehicles, I had a chance to turn on the radio. Big mistake!

Tune in for part two whenever I get my ass in gear and write it.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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9 Responses to Winter Of Doom: Part I

  1. rapnzl rn says:

    And on that radio you heard…..? No impending lava storm? No sandworm rescue? EGAD, AC, the suspense is killing me!

    But it’s also keepin’ me warm.

  2. Dan Sorenson says:

    I’m only a few hours from you, with the same bit of chill moving on through. I’d add one thing to your jumper cables advice, and that is park the cars so they can be coupled together the next morning. When it’s -20 rather than run one battery down not starting a car, I jumper two together and start one. By the time it’s warmed up the batteries in both are at full charge. That gets me through a frigid morning a lot faster than mucking about with a battery charger, starting fluid, and whatever else might be found to coax a frozen car to life. And what idiot decided block heaters were no longer necessary or even allowed on modern cars?

    I had my IH 560 freeze up, which is sort of funny because the Ferguson TE-20 just keeps starting and plowing snow while the 20 years newer International has made itself an expensive iron doorstop in the machine shed. Not being one to let a bit of ice in the hydraulics stop me, I liberated a 5-gallon pot and a candy thermometer from the missus, drained the hydraulic oil, and boiled the water out using a turkey fryer base. Once the oil reached 225 degrees I poured it back in the tractor and suddenly hydraulics started moving. I took the idea from the Finns, who used to drain the oil from their aircraft back in WW2 when they landed, and heated it then poured it back in prior to the next flight. Finns are sort of unknown badasses — whatever it is somebody else is bragging about there’s a Finn who has done twice that in -40 temps and does not think it worth mentioning. Proof?

    I rest my case on the Finns.

    • Oh wow, that’s awesome. I’ve never yet drained fluids, heated them, and refilled… but it’s as simple as it is brilliant. I’ve filed that one away for the future!

      Yes, the Finns kick ass.

      • Anonymous says:

        Note that if you’re stupid and walk away from boiling hydraulic oil, once it hits around 400 degrees it will burn with even greater fervor than the vegetable oil in a turkey fryer we’re all supposed to fear. Each oil mix has what’s called a “flash point,” which is where it wants to ignite, and generally it’s above 400 degrees. There is no use in approaching that temp since it won’t go above 212 degrees with (much) water still in it anyway, and above about 250 you’re burning off additives rather than water.

        But it works a treat. Takes about 20 minutes to warm 5 gallons, which is a heck of a lot faster than I can unfreeze hydraulic cylinders with a torch and did I mention setting your oil-leaking tractor on fire in your own machine shed will get you talked about? It will.

        Or so I’ve heard.

        – Max

  3. Tennessee Budd says:

    The reheaating idea is brilliant, and, like so many brilliant ideas, so damned obvious most of us never thought of it: especially those who live where humans were meant to live.
    Jumper cables? My dad died this past July, so I guess his cables are mine now. He was a mechanic for 50 years or so. His jumper cables were made from welding leads & clamps. Don’t know whence he liberated them (probably an employer; he was once a paratrooper, & they have a talent) but I dare you to find better.
    I still maintain that there are some areas not fit for human habitation. Like Odysseus & his oar, if people know the word “snow,” it’s unfit in my opinion (this includes my home). As soon as I can be, I’m in Florida & folks may kiss my ass. At present, I’m still here, because I can’t convince Ma Kettle to go to FL, so I have to stay near enough to take care of her place.

  4. abnormalist says:

    My favorite stories about winter come from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On a few occasions when the propane heat dropped off and we had to take a space heater out to the lpg tank, and cover it with a blanket (-43f and propane doesnt boil off any more, no pressure in the tank, no fuel to the furnace). Sitting through a 72″ snow storm in Sault Saint Marie (‘Da Soo!) Being passed on the road while driving by police on snowmobiles. Sometimes its almost like a different world

    Best of wishes to ya, keep warm enough to keep anything from going black!

  5. Titan Mk6B says:

    You are correct about jumper cables. Over 40 years ago I bought some that have a conductor bigger than a pencil (OO gauge I think) and I still have them. I guard them with my life.

    You might be a little late on Detroit though. Seems like some of it has been politically carpet bombed.

  6. MaxDamage says:

    Feel free to move this to a new posting, which it might warrant. While sitting around waiting for hydraulic fluid to boil I thought of boilers and how they heat houses via radiators and steam. Then I thought about you heating your house with wood, and wouldn’t it be just convenient to have the firebox outside and the warm radiator inside so there’s no smoke or ash or termites to be concerned about. Steam versus forced air.

    There are plenty of wood heaters that sit outside and blow air into the house via a 6″ hole you had to cut into the wall, or which plumb into your existing furnace. Three grand or so in price.

    What if a guy were to take a water heater tank, drill a few holes and plumb in 2″ diameter black pipe, and sort of add a door and chimney? Take an old car radiator and hang it on a wall in the basement. Run pipe from tank to radiator, add a fan, you’ve a heat source outside that can use the existing dryer vent to get that hot water to a refurb’d car radiator and heat whatever room you want. With no fire danger to the house, no soot, no ashes, and all it takes is a little tubing to move that warm-air radiator from the rec room to the bedroom or wherever you need it.

    If a guy had access to an old water heater, some black pipe, and a welder this wouldnt’ cost much and might just make this winter livable.

    – Max

    • Not only a good idea but a common approach where I live. It might encompass perhaps the majority of nearby wood heated houses. The equipment is not rednecked, it’s usually well built stuff with good electronics, acquastats, pumps, timers, etc… (Heat is a big deal!) It’s easy to purchase, super easy to install (in a new building), and widely used. Unfortunately it’s expensive. Did I mention that it’s expensive?

      Commercially manufactured external wood boilers heat fluid (mostly water with a few additives). The fluid is pumped to circulate through a house, or garage, or both. A common accessory is a heat exchanger for domestic hot water use too. (How great is that?)

      Some drawbacks happen if the system goes unused in the winter (and freezes pipes buried in the ground or in your house’s foundation!). Also there’s a bunch of hassles with startup/shutdown in the fall/spring. They tend to fall apart unless used and used often. They need electricity and can’t work without it.

      In terms of labor, you’ve got to be pretty dedicated to stoke a fire every morning before dawn when the sun ‘aint up. (I can add firewood to my inside wood stove while wearing comfy jammies and slippers and holding a book in one hand. You can’t do that outdoors! Outdoor boilers keep the mess of firewood out of the house; which is significant.

      New construction involves hydronic water lines embedded in poured concrete slab floors… very efficient. Retrofitting old houses is common but not as simple or as efficient as you’d expect.

      Insurance companies love putting the fire 50-100′ from the combustible structure and hate internal wood appliances. Rednecks like external boilers because they’ll burn cold, wet, green wood through their stubby (less than 10’ tall) chimneys. (Internal wood stoves have complex chimneys that are less forgiving of crap.) When boilers are fed burning crappy fuel they’ll smoke like mini-factories. It’s not the burner’s fault, it’s the shit being shoved in the firechamber. Even so, it gives them a bad reputation.

      Predictably the EPA is actively trying to get them regulated more or less out of existence. On the other hand the EPA has already more or less pounded inside wood stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces to death. Electric is expensive and the EPA hates that too. I guess the EPA wants to eliminate everything but propane. Surprise surprise, propane is currently experiencing a shortage. Raise your hand if you didn’t see that coming.

      So it’s not only a good idea but it’s a done deal… at least until the EPA is done taking our lightbulbs and leaving us in the dark. Then it’ll turn it’s eye of Sauron toward the external boilers and take another step toward turning us into freezing serfs sitting in the cold and dark. (If you want a boiler I highly recommend them. Buy one soon!)

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