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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Comfort    ( Posted January 16, 2006 )

This is the first winter we have spent at our home in Bahia de Los Angeles. We're settling in and bringing more and more personal possessions with every visit. We bought this house in a condition called "turnkey." While it's a common term, here it means that the previous owner walks away and leaves everything. There were so many "everythings" that we were overwhelmed at first. But it didn't take long to find families that could use things we could not. We donated at least ten bags of clothing, bedding and miscellaneous stuff we didn't have space for. Then we began to settle in and adjust to our new surroundings. I organized the garages and their many spare hardware components. These were items I would never dispose of; living in the outback you just never know when you'll a small replacement part or a particular screw or finishing nail of specific dimensions.

In late December the nights grew cool. While the outside air temperature was ~68-69 degrees, there was always sunshine and the air temperatures were comfortable without heavy clothing. But at night even inside the house it was cool enough we had to break out the comforters after the sun had set. I thought about a fire in the fireplace but I had installed thatch as a patio cover. The thatch terminated adjacent to the chimney. Not a good idea I thought to myself. No fire tonight.

After a week of shivering before we went to bed and snuggled beneath sheets smelling sweetly of fabric softener, blankets and heavy quilts I was looking for alternative solutions to warming us up when necessary without burning the entire house to the ground. Behind a door to the south-facing balcony I noticed an old, old space heater the previous owner had apparently never used as it squatted in reckless abandon, out of sight and mind.

I pulled the old beast from behind the door and washed off a heavy coating of dust and straightened the metal plates and fittings to more or less their intended positions. I had no clue what fuel drove the old heater to produce warmth. My original position was diesel. It had a rubber tube leading through the outside wall to the heater. There was a ventilation system which, now broken and laying in pieces behind the heater and under our bed, had once carried exhaust fumes through the wall to the outside patio.

I consulted with our neighbor and we decided it had to be natural gas-driven. The fittings were identical and in the old days diesel wasn't always available in our village. I drug the old heater from the bedroom into the living area and positioned it in front of the fireplace I had rendered unusable; I jury rigged the exhaust tube to the chimney flue. I lugged a bottle of Butane up the stairs and fit it to the tube leading to the heater; I familiarized myself with the operation of the device, opened the Butane tank, found a striker, lit it, inserted it into a pilot opening and opened one of the two valves allowing gas into the heater. I could hear the gas flowing.

Whawhomp! In a small splash of flame on the tiles and a manageable backflash of excess gas and an adjustment or two on my part, both of the device knobs and my own expectations of perfection, the old heater calmed down. The internal configuration threw heat forward into the large room. What a welcome sensation.

I experimented for hours while we basked in the old heaters glow and warmth. It was obviously intended for natural gas while we were burning a hotter fuel, Propane. But if the heater can adjust to new circumstances so can we. Eventually I lit the second bank of burners, careful not to tax the heat disbursal system with hotter than engineered fuel. I turned the two burner banks low, kept an eye on the process, and sat back in my chair enjoying, for the first time, nighttime warmth in our new home in the midst of winter.

There is something beyond words to have repaired and used the old heater rather than running out to buy a new replacement. My efforts were minimal and included no serious experience, just common sense. And we are, after all, living in Baja California, Mexico now. Mexicans have a powerful ability to patiently repair almost everything. It hasn't been long since there was almost nothing available along the deserted shores and deserts of Baja. Availability of some goods is more common recently, although it will be a very long time indeed between now and the first line of goods we have learned to take for granted in the States.

The old tarnished chrome and browned enamel box still sits beside our fireplace, warming us nightly. It's a welcome addition to our discoveries in our new form of life. In the Spring I'll haul the old box back to where we discovered it, behind our bedroom door to the southern balcony. But it won't be forgotten. It's a welcome and contributing member of our forming household.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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