Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 6, 2023

"What a revoltin' development!"

Almost every year for the past 35, husband Art and I drive to his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin to spend some time around the New Year with family members. With retirement, we can go pretty much whenever we want as there are no school schedules or work days to hinder us.

Our plan this year was to leave Friday, Dec. 30, but we both had been so busy the day before, we were tired as evening came on. I was relieved when Art suggested we leave a day later. We spent the extra day just relaxing.

But Art awoke early Dec. 31 and, since he does all the driving, was concerned he might get tired. "Would you mind if we left tomorrow instead?"

This was even better! New Year's Eve revelers would still be sleeping it off or watching football. It also gave us time to have supper with daughter Mariya and her wife Miriam.

We left around 9:30 a.m. on New Year's Day with blue skies and the temperature in the low 40s. Just a week before, bitter cold temperatures, combined with ice and snow, had caused treacherous driving conditions. We were feeling so smart.

The trip was uneventful, with our usual 2:30 p.m. stop in Des Moines to get fuel for the car and our bodies. We arrived in Appleton at 9:30 p.m. - an entirely typical 12-hour jaunt. Art went to unlock the door and turn on the light so I could see to help him unload.

As I approached the house, I heard him say, "Well that's not good news."

And it wasn't. The furnace had failed at some time and the inside temperature was 40 degrees. Ice stretched from one side of the kitchen sink to the other. The pipes in the cabinet below were encased in it and about half the kitchen floor was covered, it being thickest where water had dripped from the cabinet. The items inside were trapped in ice several inches thick.

"Well, hell," I thought as I surveyed the mess.

Art turned on the range's gas burners to generate heat. It would be a balancing act ... the heat quickly caused the ice to loosen, but too much could use up the house's oxygen, generating carbon monoxide. He put a fan in the kitchen doorway to move heat into the living room.

We took turns gingerly using an ice chipper and dust pan to remove as much as we could without damaging anything. We put the chunks into a bucket and then emptied it into the bathtub. We could have thrown it outside, but that would have let more cold air into the house. Since we didn't have a hair dryer, we used a vacuum cleaner with the hose connected to the exhaust to warm the pipes under the sink.

Apparently when the temperature dropped, the faucets began to leak, which was no biggie until the trap in the sink froze. Then the water accumulated in the basins. It also froze, but with ice being lighter than water, it floated on the top. So the frozen layer was about four inches thick. We threw those chunks out and, once the hot water line opened, the water flowing into the sink melted the trap, allowing the basins to empty.

Another fan and the vacuum slowly melted the ice around the cold-water pipe. We watched closely, worried the pipe may have burst and would begin leaking as it thawed. Meanwhile, the tub was so full, it looked like a glacier had formed.

It was near midnight when we were sure the pipes were all ok. But now, how would we survive the night without heat? We knew we couldn�t keep the gas burners on and we didn't feel like getting in the car and looking for a hotel.

The stove had raised the living room temperature to 61 degrees, but the upstairs bedroom had received no heat. So, we piled all the blankets we could find onto the bed and crawled in, still wearing our pants, socks and hooded sweatshirts. We snuggled together, and I pulled the sheet and one blanket over my face so my breath would keep me warmer. I hate having something over my face when I sleep, but I hate being cold even more!

It warmed very slowly, but sleep arrived swiftly. We were surprised when we awakened to light. It was 8 a.m. We had survived!

Art called an HVAC company he knew, but they were closed until the next day. He called another - Black-Haak Heating - based on having seen the company's vans around town and liking the name and it had received good Web reviews. A technician would come to the house as soon as possible after he had finished some other jobs and there would be an extra charge because it was considered a holiday.

Art looked at the furnace and determined it was the ignitor that was bad, but decided to let Black-Haak do the work. He also found an electric heater - one his older brother had purchased but never used. It didn't produce a lot of heat, but it kept my hands and feet toasty. Our cat Minnie kept my lap warm.

About 4 p.m., a Black-Haak van pulled into the driveway. Anthony, the technician, said we were lucky. His day was coming to an end and all the others after us on the list would be bumped to the next day. We were also lucky as he had the correct ignitor. The repair took about an hour.

I watched the temperature on the thermostat. 55, 60, 65 and finally,72!

"Hallelujah, we have heat!" I exclaimed.

Art said the whole affair reminded him of the TV show, "The Life of Riley" he watched as a kid. Chester A. Riley was just an ordinary guy who seemed bedeviled by bad luck. When some unhappy situation occurred, his common exclamation was "What a revoltin' development this is."

We could relate!

Top (l-r): Traveling to Wisconsin. What could possibly go wrong?; It looks good ... now that the ice has been cleared. It flowed from the front edge down to the floor; the bathtub glacier had receded from the far-left end of the tub and was now only half its original height by the time we stopped to take a photo. Bottom (l-r): Minnie on my lap keeping my legs warm; Seven of the blankets on our bed can be identified in this picture; The Black-Haak man cometh.

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