What’s in a Name: Pot-Bellied Stove

 

On cold winter evenings the old farmhouse can be comfortably heated using just the old woodstove, and there are usually enough windfalls around the farm to keep a season’s supply of oak, hickory, sycamore and black walnut. The stove does well until about three in the morning, when a chill blankets the room and it’s time to put another log on the fire, which if we’ve thought ahead, is just a few feet from the stove and not outside on a dark, cold woodpile.

My family bought this land in the springtime of 1973 when the grass was green, there weren’t any weeds yet in the pastures, and comfort in the house could be regulated by opening windows. After that first summer and before the first freeze, my father and grandfather installed the wood stove. It had been stored in the little building that houses the electric pump for the well, and the two of them – a retired businessman and an English teacher – wrestled the stove to the house, through the front door, and to its place in front of the chimney. They connected stove to chimney by two pipes shaped in an “L” and when they’d finished everyone looked at the new presence in the room and laughed. I think I asked if the stove would stay there or be moved back to storage in Spring, and I recall my father saying, “I’m not moving than damn thing again.”

The stove itself is a simple contraption. While modern woodstoves have catalytic converters, air-tight compartments, and electric blowers, the Wood King is basically a metal oval one burns things in. The stamped-steel pot-bellied body has a few holes in it, and when the room is dark and the fire hot, little flecks of light dance on the ceiling and walls. The door handle is a clever piece of metal which has a hot center, because it is exposed to fire on the other side of the door, but which protects tender hands by way of a spiral lever that dissipates heat enough that it is merely warm. The door closes with a familiar catch, one I’ve known since not long after that first winter when I was deemed old enough to load a log onto the fire.

While he was still able to come to the farm and putter around, one of my grandfather’s yearly tasks was to brush black paint on the body of the stove before the season began. He’d proudly point out his accomplishment while my grandmother quietly wiped up drips from the floor. The stove never looked new after these coatings – it was an antique when it was installed – and after a few weeks of fires the patina would return, clearest where the fire focused most of its heat, tapering away to where newly applied black paint stood a better chance of lasting more than a few months farther away from the fire.

The stove has been moved once in all of these years, when I, having moved back to Oklahoma, took a renewed interest in the farm and decided to put down tile in the farmhouse. I rigged a way to move the stove using a two-by-four and a rolling jack. Those few days spent tiling the farmhouse floor were among the best in my life, and laid the groundwork for all that has come since. I’d work in the day and sleep on a cot at night, the house empty of furniture and books, all of which had been given away or put in storage for a few years while we rented the house and land. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was rebuilding, making what I’d always known into something my own.

Denise had been to the farm only once before my time spent tiling the floor. We came down for the day at a time when my father and I were unsure what to do with the land, and had discussed the possibility of selling. On a crisp fall day Denise and I walked through the fields and forests, which I hadn’t done in a number of years. She said, “You’re not going to sell this place. I can see it in your stride.”

I wanted to finish the floor before I brought Denise back to the farm. After the tiles were in place, the grout laid and sealed, I moved the stove back to the location my father and grandfather had moved it to thirty years earlier. It was one of the last projects I’d undertake here completely by myself. Denise has had a hand in everything since.