Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com
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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was running on half a cylinder when I pulled up to my miner’s shack in Aspen after three event-filled holidays in Leadville with my family – ready to crawl under the warm covers with my dachshunds, Nicky and Freddie, and take a long recuperative nap. Reality had other plans.

The house was so cold that the heat must have gone off the minute I left on Friday morning, Christmas Eve. The thermostats read 41 degrees, and when I went outside to check the furnace room, the boiler was stone cold and water was spraying everywhere. Good golly Miss Molly, plus it was a Sunday afternoon.

Thus began a 10-day siege with the furnace, during which I ran through all three of the local repair staff of Source Gas, in a total of seven visits. Israel, Eric and Will couldn’t have been nicer, and each thought he had solved the problem: it was the pump, the temperature of the water, the relay switch, the valve cover – and the furnace would cook along until the middle of the night when I’d wake up with chattering teeth, surrounded by shivering dachshunds, realizing that it was out again.

I discovered that both my old hot water bottles leaked when they soaked the bed, borrowed an electric heater from The Aspen Times and bought a new hot water bottle from Carl’s after the furnace’s first relapse. Luckily this happened during our extraordinary heat wave, when the afternoon temperatures were in the 50s, but when it went out for the sixth time – Friday, New Year’s Eve, a holiday – the third repairman, Will, came in after a long inspection and said, “I have bad news.”

The bad news was that the valve cover needed to be replaced and it couldn’t even be ordered until Monday, wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday, meaning four-plus days without a functioning furnace. To add to the joy, the weather report was surprisingly accurate: It would go down to 14 below that night and remain cold throughout the weekend. To ice the cake, my car wouldn’t start.

When I was young and resilient, three of us spent the 1961 Christmas holidays camping on our homestead in Alaska when it was 30 below, day (what there was of it) and night. We spent the scant daylight hours chopping up small trees and spent the long nights feeding the logs into a primitive woodstove in a ripped canvas tent. We kept three-hour watches all night to make sure the stove didn’t go out and we didn’t freeze to death and did that for three days.

Why we stayed there instead of going back to our trailer in Anchorage, I couldn’t tell you, except to say it was all very adventurous, and for the next 50 years I could say, if the subject came up, “COLD? Now let me tell you about COLD!”

Been there, done that.

Now, emergency provisions were called for. I couldn’t just pick up and move to a hotel or a friend’s house – there was the matter of the dachshunds and the heavy oxygen tanks and, above all, keeping watch for fire and freezing pipes.

Will lowered the Times’ heater into the nasty crawl space under the house, my friends Jack and Hilary supplied me with two more heaters, placed in the living room and my bedroom, the new hot water bottle was filled, the oven (electric) was turned on with the door open (turned off before bedtime), the dog door was shut off, and a new electric blanket, which turned itself off after three hours, was cranked up to high.

If I call, “LAUNdry,” Nicky and Freddie come flying from the corners of the house to nestle under the clothes hot from the dryer. The electric blanket was like permanent laundry, and we’d all get under it and toast away. I had just picked up a new supply of books on tape (just in: “The Bell Jar,” very good) and it wasn’t so bad as long as we all stayed in bed.

I felt quite Rip VanWinkley by the time Will returned on Tuesday. I asked him if this would fix it and he said, “It better – that’s the last part to replace.” And so far the furnace has been working just fine.


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