Old furnace blues

Farm Forum

Like all good plans, it was dead simple.

The idea was to procure a wood burning furnace to serve as a supplemental source of heat. All I would have to do once the furnace was ensconced in the basement was hook it up to the ductwork, connect it to the chimney, purchase a chainsaw, cut a bunch of firewood and haul it to the house, find a way to get the firewood down into the basement, buy a chimney cleaning kit and a ladder and check my health insurance to make sure it covered “fell off the roof while holding a chimney brush.”

Yep, dead simple.

I located a wood furnace in the want ads. It was so cheap, I swiftly made a deal before its owner came to his senses. He loaded it into my pickup with a forklift, which should have set off alarm bells. I should have wondered why he “happened” to own a forklift.

I rented an appliance cart and called a buddy and “volunteered” him into helping me schlep the furnace into the basement. We eyeballed the hulking mass of firebrick and steel carefully, estimating that it weighed perhaps 200 pounds. Should be a snap for a couple of fit young guys like us.

And it was a snap – except for most of the snapping took place as my spine compressed while I struggled to control the furnace’s thumping descent down the stairs.

“You helping at all up there?” I grunted to my buddy.

“I was just gonna ask you the same thing!” he grunted back.

We got the furnace situated without incident. We agreed that we had underestimated its weight, calculating that it tipped the scales at 300 pounds.

Flash forward 30 years. The furnace had become badly rusted, mainly because it had sat mere feet from the floor drain for three decades. A floor drain that backed up so regularly, I had the plumber on speed dial.

The furnace had become a hopeless old wreck. And unlike Joan Rivers, it couldn’t be resurrected with plastic surgery and Botox injections. It was time for it to go.

Instead of again taking advantage of my buddy, I called my HVAC guy who said they routinely performed furnace removal operations. He said that extracting my furnace would be a snap thanks to their power appliance cart. He had me at “power.”

A few days later, two guys arrived at our house in a pickup and unpacked the legendary power appliance cart. It didn’t look much different than a normal cart, but I had faith.

We went to the basement and assessed the situation. “This should be a snap for the three of us and that power cart,” I said. “After all, the furnace weighs only 300 pounds.”

The guys tried to scoot the furnace from the spot where it had sat all those years. This required a mighty and unified shove from the two of them. Skepticism was expressed regarding the furnace’s weight.

The bottom of the furnace was a rancid mass of rusted metal, so it was decided that it should be hauled out upside down. Its flue pipe thus had to be chopped off so the power hand truck could obtain proper purchase.

I had always assumed that the flue was steel, but it was apparently some unbelievably hard substance such as titanium embedded with diamonds. Cutting it required several Sawzall blades and a great deal of lubricative cursing.

The furnace was eventually strapped to the power cart and pointed up the stairs. One of the guys manhandled the handle of the cart while the other guy and I put our shoulders to the furnace from below.

We quickly learned that the power cart was pretty much powerless when moving extremely massive and bulky objects. Each time the cart’s wheels were ratcheted upward to grab the next step, the HVAC guy and I had to hold the furnace’s full weight lest it tumble downwards and turn us into human pancakes.

After ascending the first step, we concluded the furnace weighed at least a quarter of a ton. A few steps later, its weight had soared to 1,000 pounds. By the time we got to the top of the stairs, the furnace’s weight had increased to a full metric ton.

Veins bulged and sweat ran as we grunted beneath the ever-increasing load. At one point the HVAC guy asked me, “You OK?”

“Never better! Just give me a second to pop this eyeball back in.”

We finally got the old furnace loaded onto their pickup. I don’t know what this dead simple job will cost, but the HVAC company probably owes me. After all, they got more than two tons of scrap iron in the deal.

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: jjpcnels@itctel.com.