True Color Part 17- Steam Driven IEDs

What Melvin King gave me in a converted water heater was a cheap and inexpensive way to heat our 800 square feet of living space; cook


What Melvin King gave me in a converted water heater was a cheap and inexpensive way to heat our 800 square feet of living space; cook (on a flat surface welded onto the tank); and hot water (if water was coming off the roof).

But any wood stove built from a water tank will burn through in a couple of years, whether welded by Melvin King, Bob Stark or Andrew Carnegie. My wife, by her own admission, did not like to be cold.

I may have told her she should get a job stoking the fires in hell. You would think with the last name of Stokes, I would be able to keep up with my wife in a competition of burning up firewood. But, in any case, in a couple of seasons, holes were burning through the Melvin King and, even I, realized it was time for an upgrade.

My wife returned to the subject of needing a new wood stove repeatedly. She sprinkled stories of ultimate wood stove systems built by a local welder.

She had personally seen these stoves and freely confessed her covet. They incorporate a stainless steel tank to replace brick in the firebox. It could heat water pronto. And my wife knew my weak side.

“They’re built like tanks,” she taunted. “Even you couldn’t break one … But we will never be able to afford one.” Of course, I saw through her reverse psychology, but the contrarian in me made me go out and look for one of those stoves.

It turned out that anybody that had one, didn’t want to sell it. They were expensive. But it was a lifetime investment. The stove was called a Roger Whidden.

It became a race between waiting for someone to die (to put a Whidden up for sale) and the holes that were burning through the King. I blinked and bought a Countr* (* character withheld to protect identity of brand name).

It was a huge box with massive cooking area on its flat top. Into the thing’s firebox was plumbed one Hollyhydr* (*character withheld) water heater to provide us hot water.

When asked to contain the fires of hell for just one year, the 3-foot cooking top of the Countr* buckled.

Further, the Hollyhydr* water jacket had gone from its original rectangular shape to that of a sausage. Clearly, my wife did not like to be cold … and the Hollyhydr* getting ready to explode was my fault because I had introduced a gravity feed water system off the creek with 86 psi.

Whomever was responsible, it fell on me to fix it. I arranged to have Roger Whidden work on it. I asked him to replace the buckled cooking top and the about-to-explode Hollyhydr* with something substantial.

Roger may have salvaged material for the project from the Bismarck. I came to pick it up in an old fire truck we bought at government auction. It was a 1963 F-500 with 16,000 on the odometer.

I had driven the truck many times in my work with ONP. It was sprung for 5 tons. Those springs sighed and sat down as Roger loaded my rebuilt Countr* onto my truck bed with a forklift.

As I settled up with him, he turned to the subject of safety and explained to me that replacing firebrick with a water jacket could result in steam-driven explosion. The system must have a pressure relief valve at the system’s highest point, and another, along its hottest point.

Standard relief valves are pressure and temperature triggered. Temperatures around wood fireboxes exceed that pre-set point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so you need one that will protect an adjustable range of pressure.

Under pressure, water can be heated to well over its boiling point at sea level. The problem of setting a temperature of over 212 degrees is that steam occupies a huge volume, compared to water.

When superheated water is introduced to lower air pressure, it super inflates. It explodes. “And you have someone to help you when you get home unload that stove?” asked Roger, concluding our tailgate safety session. “Sure do,” I replied. “It weighs considerably more than when you delivered it,” professed Roger.

It sure did! When I asserted that I had someone to help me unload the stove, my wife’s frame came to mind. When we married back east, rather than a wedding ring I had purchased a well used but classic cookstove to attest my commitment to her.

She had fallen through a partially rotten footbridge carrying her end of the stove. She held on, even falling through the bridge! This stove was more formidable, but I was sure she was up for the task. I knew she was motivated.

She engineered the construction of a stout ramp. Two 4 by 6 stringers led from the truck bed to a wooden ramp that led to our front door. From whence, had come the stove a few days before its retrofit.

But, after muscling the stove onto the ramp, gravity manifest in 400 pounds of steel began to hold sway over friction and the resistance of 300 pounds of human flesh. I was over powered both by the momentum and a huge fear that my legs might be crushed by falling steel.

I withdrew. My wife held on and rode the stove down one ramp, across another and into and through the bathroom wall.  No, my wife didn’t go through the wall. Just the tiniest part of the stove made it all the way.

“It’s a house that cost $850,” I pointed out. That is considerable insurance against financial catastrophe. My wife was unhurt.

She complained about my cowardice, dusted herself off and, together, we trudged in and installed our Countr*/Whidde*.

Having displayed its power by charging into and partially through our bathroom wall, this thermo siphon stove system sat quiet for two decades, providing years of hot water and warmth.

Eventually a change in plumbing engineering would result in steam-driven explosion. Given the savage cruelty of wild steam, I would take my chances with gravity anytime.

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