Having just filled the propane tank at my home, at a cost of $1.99 per gallon, I realized that I just paid quite a bit more for that than I earned my first month of teaching high school right after I graduated from college. As I stare at the standing timber south of my house, I can’t help but ask myself if I have become stupid, or just lazy in my later years?
As a young lad, our only source of winter-time heat was the wood stove that was situated in the middle of our tiny, two room home. The uninsulated house would be too hot for a six-foot radius around the pot-bellied iron stove, while a glass of water left on the nightstand near an exterior wall would freeze solid before the fire was re-stoked in the early hours of a cold morning. Nevertheless, no one complained because that heat source was all we knew. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know anyone in our community that heated with anything else.
I can also remember that my immediate chore when I got home from school was to carry armload after armload of split oak wood from the woodpile to stack neatly on the screened-in back porch. It would have to be enough to last until the next afternoon and it seemed to me that I must have carried an entire rick every afternoon from a woodpile that felt like it was a quarter of a mile away. As an adult, I can now admit that it was most likely about 10 sticks of wood and the woodpile was only about 50 feet from the porch. But it was uphill, so it seemed like both more and farther for a 6-year old boy!
It also jogs my memory that I spent most of my fall and winter Saturday afternoons with my dad, cutting down trees and splitting firewood for the coming week. This duty, in addition to the regular chores of feeding hogs, milking cows, gathering eggs and chopping ice, seemed like a burden one could do without, but if I complained, Dad would be quick to ask, “Do you want to stay warm next week, or freeze?” The answer was easy – even for a dim-witted kid such as myself. So, while my father would cut and split the weeks supply, I would load it all on the two-wheeled trailer attached to the tractor. We’d usually get home about dark, unload the trailer at the woodpile, and I would still have to carry that night’s supply to the back porch.
When my wife and I first married and purchased our first home, it had a propane furnace and an old fireplace that hadn’t been used in years. I immediately installed an insert into the fireplace, so I could heat with wood and save all that money on propane. Judy, having never used wood heat before, would complain often about the mess created by my money-saving scheme, but I would just as quickly summon the spirit of my father by asking, “Do you want to pay for the propane or do you want me to continue to cut wood?” The answer was easy – even for a city-raised girl.
When we built our present house out on the farm 21 years ago, we both decided that maybe we had reached the point in our lives where we could afford to heat with propane instead of wood, and did not include any chimney or wood-burning component into the house. I regret that decision every time the propane truck comes, and then leaves with the equivalent of two good feeder calves.
On the other hand, I’m probably too old and out of shape to cut and split all the wood we would need to get us through the winter, anyway. Or, worse yet, I’d end up hurting myself with the chainsaw and spend more on the emergency room visit than I would have saved on the heating bill. Plus, I doubt that Judy would enjoy carrying the wood onto the back porch every night. I guess $1.99 per gallon isn’t so bad after all.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry about his books, or to arrange speaking engagements, you may contact him by calling 1-866-532-1960 or visiting ozarksfn.com and clicking on ‘Contact Us.’


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