Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 22, 2022

A fan of fans

Husband Art and I were sitting in Heathrow airport in June waiting to board our flight to Chicago, when five others claimed the seats opposite us. They appeared to be a grandma, two parents and two children - a boy and a girl - the latter in the just-under-10 neighborhood. While the adults seemed to be in the same vegetative frame of mind we were in, the two children were full of energy. But while the boy was running around, the girl was busily fiddling with something in her hands.

I couldn't see what it was until she succeeded in her goal. It was a small hand-held battery-operated fan and, after placing it close to her face and enjoying its breeze for a minute or so, she moved from person to person, dosing each for a few seconds before moving to the next.

The only personal fans I remember from my growing-up years were the ones tucked in with the hymnals and Bibles in the slats of the wooden pew backs in our church. They were "hand powered" by the congregation members. During summer months at home, it was far more common to see the improvised version, made from a handy newspaper or magazine.

I have always wondered if the cooling effect of using one of those self-powered types exceeded the body heat generated by the operator. I learned from a little internet cruising that for every unit of work our muscles do moving the fan, four units of heat are generated in the body, but that doesn't say how much cooling results.

I thought I might get an easy answer from engineer Art, but it turned out that it is more complicated than I had imagined. It seems the answer is "yes," people are better off fanning themselves if the air is cooler than the body and also relatively dry. In fact, in dry air, even if the air is warmer than the person, it will probably help. But there is a limit. If it is warm enough, the person becomes something like a meal in a convective oven. The question is even harder to answer as air becomes more humid.

One thing not in doubt is the large square wood floor fan we had in our house when I was young was a lifesaver during hot Kansas summers.

As a kid, Art's bedroom was on the second floor of their home, so the heat accumulated there on warm summer days. Their only fan had a small crank-like mechanism at the rear with a link attached. If the other end of the link was placed on the nearby post mounted on the base, the fan oscillated. His bed was near the window and he'd place that fan in the window opening to pull in cool evening air. The fan's drone encouraged sleep.

The places we usually visit in Europe are at latitudes at or farther north than our northern-Wisconsin cottage. Britain is even farther north than any part of the United States, except Alaska. So one could reasonably assume that summer temperatures in those places would be much cooler than Kansas. The Gulf Stream waters moderate the effect, but in general, this is true. As a result, until recently, we rarely encounter air conditioning.

But climate change isn't just happening here. On a trip in summer 2017, we gave in and went looking for a fan. But the locals had already been shopping and fans were difficult to find. So in both 2018 and 2019, one of our first purchases upon arriving in France, despite it being cool at the time, was not a croissant, cheese or wine, but a fan. A 20-Euro bottle of wine is gone in a day, but a 20-Euro fan can be enjoyed for many days during a warm streak.

In 2019, when we later took the train from France to visit our friends in Germany, the fan accompanied us. In the evening, we'd open the windows and put the fan in one of them, which cooled the whole house. Since most homes are made of stone, we then shut the windows and drapes at about 10 a.m. and put the fan on a shelf. We were comfortable right up to the next night.

Just before leaving for home, we gave our fan to our friend B�rbel. Judging by her reaction, I doubt we could have found a better going-away gift.

So why am I thinking about fans? "It's that time of year," is an obvious answer. Another is that just before going to bed yesterday, a last-minute check revealed temperatures had dipped to the mid-70s. That was the sign to activate our "Charlie Brown" fan.

Art bought our house in July 1977, just after accepting a position to commence a new program at the university. Since he was busy most of the day, he thought it was wasteful to run the air conditioning. But one evening he found the house was just too hot to sleep comfortably. A fix was needed! He returned to work, took a 12-inch-wide board from a packing crate and cut it as long as the width of the bedroom window. He drew a circle to match a fan-motor unit he had found in the trash. By drilling many small holes through the wood along the circle, he could eventually punch the center part out. After mounting the fan, he cobbled in a switch and used a cord spliced with duct tape. Once home, into the bedroom window it went.

Ah, sweet refreshing air.

His intent had always been to replace it, but somehow that never happened. Forty-five years later, it still works like a champ. As a bonus, the sound of air being pushed past the blades blankets the early-morning sounds of neighbors heading off to work, dogs barking for whatever reason dogs bark and even the occasional thunder from a rare Kansas shower.

Just like those fans of our younger days, Charlie Brown gave me a great sleep last night. Consider me to be a fan of fans!

Left: Art's "Charlie Brown" fan has made for many a night of comfortable sleeping; right: in an example of sheer coincidence, friend Gini recently sent a picture of the "hand-powered" fans set out on each chair on Jerome's and my wedding day. It was a warm September day on the farm and I think they may have been "borrowed" from the local Methodist church. If so, it was a bit ironic that the music is the "666 Carol." Those three numbers together have often been associated with the devil, but these fans were widely distributed to pharmacists by a Florida drug manufacturer whose principal product was a "666" liquid purported to treat everything from a cough to malaria. This image was clearer than the one Gini sent and is from the eBay website.

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