Waiting to ‘back up’ to the fireplace

These days, when I leave the newspaper office evenings, it’s refreshing to step outside and smell the evening air after being trapped inside an air-conditioned building all day long.

Several weeks ago when the last cool front came through, it was evident that someone in the neighborhood had built a fire in their fireplace.

Yes, there’s a tinge of autumn in the air.

And then, one night last week, I was greeted with the tantalizing aroma of someone’s steak grilling nearby in the neighborhood. It smelled so inviting that I was tempted to scale the cedar fence, follow the aroma and help myself to some dinner.

With the arrival of autumn six weeks ago, I was sure the days of near-100-degree heat were over.

Boy, was I wrong.

The past week or so, it’s been more like July and August than early November. Saturday afternoon, it was 89 degrees in the shade northwest of Doss.

I didn’t even give a thought to going hunting on the first day of the big game season. In the event that I might have shot a deer, it was too hot to let it hang outside for any length of time since the carcass wouldn’t have a chance to cool out.

And even worse … no hunter wears cutoffs and a T-shirt to the hunting blind. Or should I say “sauna.” Just thinking about sitting in the sweltering heat of a 100-degree hunting blind made me cringe.

But listening to the weatherman on Monday evening, the forecast for the remainder of the week was for more seasonable temperatures and that by the time this week’s edition of the Standard-Radio Post hits the streets, the temps could be in the low 50s or even cooler. I don’t think that many people will complain if they don’t have to run their ACs non-stop anymore.

Before the days of central heating and air conditioning, that first cool front meant the time was at hand to haul the wood heater and stove pipes from the smoke house rafters or barn where they have been stored in the off season.

After being given a good safety inspection, it is common to give the equipment a “facelift” with a new coat of stove paint.

Stove paint was formulated so that it would not blister off when the metal became hot. However, the first time a fire was built in the newly painted stove, the housewife had to be sure to open the windows and doors, since the new paint emitted such an odor that these days would probably be considered unhealthy!

But before the homeowner could set up the heat source, the chimney had to be cleaned to remove any soot and creosote that may have accumulated since the last cleaning.

Since those were the days before chimney sweeps were common, homeowners cleaned their own chimneys. There were no huge round or square “bottle brushes” like the ones we use to clean our fireplace chimney nowadays.

No, in those days, the homeowner might have used a yucca bush or a rolled up burlap sack attached to a heavy chain. He climbed onto the roof (which was usually on a two-story home), warily shimmied over to the chimney, dropped the chain and yucca/ sack down the opening and briskly agitated the contraption up and down the sides of the chimney to loosen the debris which included flourlike black powdered soot.

The soot was carefully shoveled out of the stove pipe opening downstairs in the house. Extra care was taken not to scatter the fine flourlike black soot all over the room since those were the days before vacuum cleaners became available.

And as soon as the wood stove had been set up for the season, it was necessary to locate a source of wood to burn to keep the family warm in the coming months.

Organized farmers and ranchers would saw several cords of food in the off-season, and just had to load up their wagon when the wood pile at home began to dwindle.

Some farmers and ranchers would bring extra wood to town to sell to the city folks when they made their weekly trips into Fredericksburg.

Eventually, city residents were able to buy their wood at one of the wood yards that were located in town and, if necessary, arrange for delivery.

Back in the early years, there were two wood yards in town.

One was at the Stein Ice Factory in the 200 block of West Schubert Street where Dr. Mark DeLeon’s medical office is located, while the other one was the Weiss Woodyard at the corner of East Austin and North Llano streets, on the corner where the RockBox Theatre is located. This yard was established by Benno Weiss, but in later years was operated by Alex Frantzen.

Nowadays, most of society has become spoiled with the luxury of central heating. Adjust the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, sit back and relax.

But, ask any old-timer and he will still agree that there’s no better way to warm up on a chilly winter day than to build a toasty fire to “back up” to.

sherrie@fredericksburgstandard.com

Fredericksburg Standard

P.O. Box 1639
Fredericksburg, TX 78624-4228
830-997-2155