Sunday, April 13, 2008

Smoking Dryers and Oven Explosions

I've had this post in draft form for a couple of weeks, and just tonight have a chance to finish it up.
You'll have a sneak peak at a couple of scenes from my wonderfully exciting life.

First a bit of background... My parents have always been frugal, well maybe more than frugal. They certainly aren't stingy when it comes to giving away what they have to others. But when it's about home life, they enjoy surviving on a shoestring budget. It meant living on lentils and rice for dinner every night for a year when I was younger. It meant buying everything at thrift stores, garage sales, and just doing without if we couldn't find the needed/wanted item in used condition. "New clothes" were when a friend sent over a big black garbage bag full of her kids hand-me-downs. That was as good as Christmas, when we pulled sneakers, sweatshirts, and dresses out of the bag!

Lest you think I'm complaining, I'm not. I don't consider such experiences to have damaged me in any way, and really I'm quite grateful that I learned to appreciate the little things in life. It probably improved my life more than about any other factor that my parents could have added to the character building process. We kids all learned that life isn't about having things.

I may even do some of the same things to my kids some day!

But, back to the story.

Our oven recently quit working. I guess its not a big deal if you don't bake a lot. But in our household of twelve, it more than complicates mealtime when there isn't a working oven. We got along without it for a few months (using the stove top, a crockpot, and a little toaster oven on the counter). Needless to say, you can't bake bread in those things, so we kept bugging Dad to fix the oven, get another stove, or figure out some other solution to the problem.

Dad finally found time to work on the oven one day. He discovered the offending part, and then found the same part - in working order - in an old stove that had graced one of our sheds for several years. The day the oven got fixed was a glorious one - we baked bread and cookies and a casserole for supper.

But a couple days later our new found happiness came to an end... and the day of the oven was over once again. The problem was discussed around the breakfast table... Mom talked about getting a wood cookstove for summer canning outside. The girls said that an outdoor cookshed for canning was great, but building a fire to warm up soup for lunch was entirely impractical and would waste more time than the money that would be saved. One of the boys offered to buy another stove if that was the problem. Dad and Mom, wanting to be frugal, opted to say "no thank you" for the time being and try another option that wouldn't cost anybody money, since the boys didn't exactly have extra money.

The neighbor heard about the dilemma somehow and offered an old electric stove that had been sitting on his front porch since 2005. He said that it worked. Dad gratefully took his offer. While the ladies of the house were gone for the day, Dad and his accomplice, Sam (14), moved the beast inside. It's a good thing the girls didn't know what it looked like ahead of time.... it was originally yellow-orange, but had been spray-painted black. Over the years, about 50% of the paint had come off, leaving a splotchy yellow/orange/black stove.

There was a slight problem. Our kitchen had been set up for a gas stove, and had never been wired to supply the correct electricity for such a stove. So, Dad decided that rather than tear the house apart and re-wire at this moment (he was short on time anyway, and what we needed was a working stove, right?), he would simply install it in the schoolroom, where the breaker box is.

The kids who were at home were commissioned to carry the piles of books that needed to be moved and stack them on the floor in Mary's office. The bookcase that was holding place for the stove was moved elsewhere. Dad was making sure that he got everything hooked up correctly. Sam by this time had headed back to the living room to finish his Algebra. Abe was sorting through his mail in the living room, and Isaiah was sitting at the dining room table (directly across from the school room) finishing his cold lunch which had been waiting for him for several hours.

The house was unusually quiet, with the silence broken only by Sam's occasional mumble about his Algebra problems or the sound of Dad's tools clinking against the stove.
It was time to try the "new" stove out and see if it worked. Dad turned the oven to 350 degrees, and then pulled up a stool, watching as the heating element turned red, when...


An explosion rocked the house while the entire schoolroom lit up as though struck by lightening. The oven door flew open, and smoke billowed out, filling the schoolroom, and a few seconds later, the rest of the main floor.

Isaiah, fork halfway to his mouth, sat there dazed in the smoke. Finally, he yelled, "Dad, are you in there?"

Sam, knowing that dad WAS in there, threw his Algebra on the couch and shouted, "DAD?!? Are you okay?"

Then, Dad's voice floated out through the smoke, "Yeah, I'm here."

The boys dashed into the schoolroom, to find dad still sitting on his stool in front of the stove, looking as though he had just witnessed the collapse of the twin towers, but unharmed.
When the smoke cleared and the oven cooled down, Dad declared that the oven coil had burnt out or rather, "blown up."

Apparently, it overheated, and the only evidence of what had just occured was a pile of ashes coating the bottom of the oven.

The rest of us came home to find "the beast" installed in the schoolroom, and Dad picking up his tools. Having mixed feelings about the looks of the stove and the location, but happy that we could bake something to go with dinner, we simply asked, "So, is it hooked up and ready to use?"

Dad's face contorted. "Weeellll.... it kind of blew up and I think we'll need to find a different oven. But," he continued more cheerily, "The burners on top work, so we can use it for now."
Only later that day did we discover that the stove can do many wonders. Besides opening the oven door by itself, it can also turn a scrambled egg charred black in less then 10 seconds on the lowest setting. Now we know why the neighbor had it on his front porch for years.

From time to time, the top oven (which didn't blow up) heats correctly, so brave people like Jemima occasionally still try to use it for cooking. Sometimes it produces food, and sometimes it produces charcoal in a very rapid amount of time. So, this afternoon when the grilled cheese sandwiches turned into instant charcoal and smoke filled the house again, while opening windows frantically I was reminded of the story I was writing about the lovely item that graces our school room. Yes, we're looking for another stove. Hopefully, we'll get it right this time!

But if the stove explosion wasn't enough that week, our dryer gave up the ghost at the same time. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, except that we had been having flooding and endless weeks of rain. Hanging clothes outside wasn't an option, and there isn't a lot of unused space in our modest-sized house to hang them, either.

So, as the laundry piled higher, we girls grew concerned. Something had to be done... soon! We started watching the local paper on various online advertisements in hope of finding a cheap, used, but working dryer.

A different neighbor lady who calls us nearly every day was chatting about all of the usual. Liz remarked how much we needed some sunshine to hang some laundry outside. She asked why didn't use our dryer. Liz explained.

"Oh," she said, "I recently bought a new dryer, and I just stuck my old, perfectly good dryer in the garage. I don't have any use for it, so I'll sell it to you for $25."

Dad and Mom were pleased with the answer to their prayers for a cheap, working dryer in such perfect timing. That very morning (the laundry pile was getting pretty bad in a hurry!) Dad hooked up the trailer and headed over to get it. Once again, I missed the scene, but Liz was there to witness it. Dad and Steve managed to drag it up the back steps through the pouring rain and exchange it with our old, non-working dryer. Dad immediatly set to work installing it, which didn't take long. It was time for a test run...

After double-checking the lint screen, Liz threw a load of laundry in. Dad adjusted the dials, and pulled out the start/stop button. Dad and Liz stood back with a look of satisfaction, as the dryer started, wait, something didn't sound good. But, maybe this was just a little noiser than most dryers. Then a familiar scene replayed itself as smoke began to billow out and fill our utility room. Dad's finger darted for the "start/stop" button, and he pushed it in. The dryer kept going. Smoke kept pouring out. Dad punched the button a little harder, but it obviously wasn't stopping. He jerked the door open. The clothes kept turning, and the smoke kept pouring out. The dryer didn't stop. Liz looked on in horror as Dad gasped, "I can't stop it!"
Finally, he jumped on top of the still rattling, smoking dryer and reached behind it. Once he got the power cord jerked out from the wall, an eeire silence reigned and the smoke slowly wafted through the house for the second time that week.

Dryer number 2 was declared no good.
Dryer number 3 was pulled from a friend's barn that afternoon, and it's been working as Sam would say, "Like a charm" ever since.

We're grateful.
Now we just need to figure out the oven/stove thing, and we'll be all set to continue on with our happy homemaking!


ASourceOfJoy said...

LOL!! This post has me totally cracking up here - not only because it is so superbly written that I felt I was nearly there myself, but also because I so closely relate. Sounds *exactly* like something that would happen to my family. :-D We have our share of exploding oven stories, happened on a fairly regular basis back when we used the oven as the primary heat source in the mobile home.

Frugality is quite adventuresome at times, no? ;-)

mikestahlman said...

You know, if the dryer was hauled into the house during a big rain storm, it could just be a short in the wiring that would hopefully go away after it is dry. I'd want to rip it open and check out the wiring myself, though. (Also hook a megger up to it and get a reading.)

Joy said...

Oh my! Mary, that post wins them all! That is the most hilarious blog posting I've read in a long time! And very well written also. :)

Absolutely incredible...the things that happen at your house!

I hope ya'll can find an oven, soon. :)

roo said...

I have to say that lifted my spirits!! TOTALLY!

I printed it out so I could rad it better and I was pulling laundry out of the drier and I was laughing so hard when Mom came home and asked me who was on the phone. (I was the only one at home)I said that no one was and then I read it to her (bairly, I was laughing so hard I had a terrible time getting my words out!) and she totally cracked up. When Dad got home, I gave it to him and He was belly laughing and through his histerrical gulps he said "I...I can... I can just .... I can just see... thrir faces...right now!!!" He was laughing so hard!

Any way, thanks for making my day! :)

Love you, Mary!

Carissa <>< :)

Jessi said...

What a riot!! When things start to happen like that, you soon start to see a certain amount of hilarity to them. Back a couple of months ago my dad, older brother, and younger brother all had major cavities (two requiring extractions, one requiring a root canal) in one week. It turned into a joke at the dentist's office. :) Thanks for the funny post. I was almost laughing out loud!!


natalie said...

LOL! I think our childhoods were similar...I've always wondered if it was "normal" to get so excited about hand-me-downs!

We spent a month without an oven... it was an interesting challenge! Then we discovered why- the propane tank was low, and oddly enough, the oven stopped working, but the burners worked fine. When we had it refilled, it started working again. I believe is now sitting in our outbuilding, since the person we offered it to on FreeCycle didn't show up, and if you thought it was worth the drive you are certainly welcome to it. I should say here, in the "disclaimer category" that it is old, brown, and has only two working burners. However, the oven does work (unless, of course, you're low on propane!) ;-)