There’s a blizzard coming! These are words that can send shivers of fear through the hearts of some, and embers of hope through others. DJ, the neighbor girl stopped by last night. An approaching blizzard meant the possibility of a snow day. Even as a kid, you learn about weighing the risks. Do you really have to do your homework? Can I stay up late like a Friday night when I can sleep in? I think schools hold off announcing school closings just to help kids develop those risk assessment skills. They come in handy later in life.
When I was a kid I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I imagined myself caught in those horrific blizzards, struggling to get from the house to the barn and back clinging to a rope. Of being caught while trying to get home from town with a wagon load of feed and having to sacrifice the poor oxen in order to make it through the night. Of hearing the wind and the wolves howling just outside the cabin door waiting for Pa to get home.
Like a lot of things that happened when you were a kid, winters seemed much worse than they are today. Our farm was on a dirt road. The nearest blacktop road was a mile away. My brother Leo remembered when my brother William was born. It was late February. It had been a winter of deep snow. Sometimes it took days for the township plow to get the roads open. The road to the west was open to the north and wooded to the south. Drifts twice as high as a car were expected on “the second hill”. The only chance to get out was to go east. The time came for William to be born. Mom got ready. Dad went to harness the horses. They had a crank phone and called someone to meet them on the highway. Leo recalled the snow being so deep the planks on the sled kept slipping off. The horses busted through the drifts, the car was waiting and mom made it to the hospital in time. Maybe that is why I was born in June.
Winters were tougher back when we moved to the Iron Range. By year two we were putting down roots, giving up a rental house and purchasing a used 14 by 70 trailer house. Home ownership is a big step. With achievement comes new responsibility. With new responsibility comes new challenges. Owning a trailer house in a northern climate can test one’s mettle. I figured out how to put up skirting to enclose the crawl space under the house. I read about applying heat tape to water pipes. I even heard about leaving the water running a little when it is really cold to keep them from freezing up.
As par for the course, I had to learn a few of these things the hard way. When it says in fine print, “Be careful you don’t overlap the heat tape”, they really mean it. Of course I waited to tape and insulate the water lines until it got cold. Maybe I thought winter would spare us, maybe I just liked crawling around under a trailer in the dirt and spider webs while the cold seeped into my bones. NOT!
I bought my heat tape at L&M Supply. They had a couple of brands. Cheap and expensive. Why buy expensive when you can buy cheap? There’s a lesson there too. I bought rolls of fiberglass insulation. You know the kind that suggests you wear gloves, cover exposed skin and don’t breath in the fibers. It was cold so no problem there.
Another lesson, it is dark under a trailer, especially if you start a project late in the afternoon. Wrapping and taping under the faint glow of a weak flashlight increases the intensity of the experience. Lesson: be sure to keep plenty of fresh batteries on hand. The directions said “Don’t overlap the tape” Making sure the heat tape doesn’t overlap using the Braille method is a learning experience in itself. Tape on, insulation applied and wrapped with ample amounts of duct tape, I finally slithered out the crawl space trap door pulling the extension cord behind me. After fumbling with the cord with my semi-functioning half frozen hands, I plugged her in.
I went inside. Mrs Ed, God bless her, had run me a hot bath and brewed me some hot tea. All appeared to be well as I slipped into the bubbles. “Do you smell something”? She asked. “No, but I think my nose is still full of spider webs” . “I think it smells like smoke”. “No way. ” “Really, it smells like something’s burning”. I got out of the heavenly bath. Hum…maybe a little bit. Reluctantly I got dressed, pulled on my dirty coveralls from which I had just escaped. I grabbed the flashlight, gave it a couple of wacks. The bulb, having warmed a bit, came on. I headed out. No smell out here. I was hoping the neighbors were burning garbage in their wood stove. I tapped the latch on the trap door and pulled it aside. The sickening sweet smell of melted plastic seared my nostrils. Back peddling I raced to the hot water heater door, opening it, I yanked the extension cord from the outlet.
About that time Mrs. Ed poked her head out the door. “Is everything OK”. Trying to remain calm. I said “I think so. Do you know where the fire extinguisher is and maybe you should find the number for the fire department”. To make a long story shorter, I was able to extinguish the smoldering insulation before the fire trucks got there. “First time putting on heat tape?” “Yup”. “Bought the cheap stuff?” “Yup”. “Make sure you don’t overlap it”. “Got it, thanks”.
Lesson whatever, never start a project if you can’t finish and test it before L & M Supply closes. That night the temperature plummeted. OK, let the water drip. It will keep the water lines from freezing. Next lesson. Sewer lines can freeze too! Boy, I don’t miss those days!