On the Farm – Oil Heat

Here Comes the Oil Truck - There Goes $600
Here Comes the Oil Truck – There Goes $600

One of the pains of living in the sticks is the relatively inaccessibility of utilities.  You city dweller take for granted things like running water, natural gas, and cable.  Live far enough off the beaten path and these things are the stuff of dreams.  For example, our water on the farm comes from a well.  A 40 gallon pressure tank was located in my laundry room with a pump mounted on the top.  The suction line for the pump went out into the front yard about 50 ft into the ground where we were lucky enough to hit the water table.  The pressure tank is a pretty nifty device with a rubber balloon inside.  If the pressure in the balloon falls below a certain level, the pump kicks on and sucks water into the tank, expanding the balloon.  The balloon provides the water pressure, and the cycle is repeated as water is used.  The water supply in the ground is not infinite, nor is it of constant quality.  For the first couple of years, the water was good, then it started to stink.  No amount of water conditioning could make it more palatable.

Pressure Tank - Yes the balloon inside CAN break
Pressure Tank – Yes the balloon inside CAN break

And then there was cable TV.  Or lack thereof.  The cable stopped about 300 yards from my house.  I tried unsuccessfully to get them to extend it.  I tried to pay off the neighbor to let me run 300 yards of coaxial cable.  I tried everything, but alas, I could only get the local CBS, NBC, and ABC affiliates on the antenna.  No Fox, no cable sports.  Until the day when Direct TV came and put up a dish in my back yard.  Since I could get the l0cal network affiliates (yeah, I know what I said previously, but I was told by the guy that installed it that I couldn’t get them), I got all four networks activated for all four US time zones.  I could watch The Simpsons on Fox 24/7.

And then there was heat.  Now it was a law in the US that everyone had to get electricity and phone service, or else we probably wouldn’t have gotten them either.  But we had no natural gas.  It is ironic that there were no fewer than 12 gas wells within a mile of my house, but there was no gas line, so I had no gas.  What I did have was an ancient 250 gallon heating oil tank in back of the house.  The heating oil contractor came in a truck.  He had a computer program that estimated what the oil usage was, then made sure that the truck showed up before you ran out.  If you elected this option, it was guaranteed that you would never run out.  If you did, you’d get 50 gallons of free oil.  Now before we moved in, the place sat empty for several years.  Before that, there was an old lady who couldn’t get up and down the steps, so she kept the upstairs closed up and lived downstairs.  The total heated area was about 1/3 of the total house area.  And we used the same guy, so 140 Gressley Road had over 10 years of data that suggested that not much oil was being burned on a per month basis.

33_sattelite dish

Of course, we used the WHOLE HOUSE.  So the oil usage was far greater, even though the old lady kept the downstairs at about 100 degrees.  At least once each winter, we would run out.  Now I had a dipstick that was essentially a long piece of wood that I would drop into the tank to determine how much oil was left.  When I got low, I was torn between wanting the 50 free gallons (circa 1995 heating oil was running about $3.00/gallon), or not running out on the coldest night of the year which is what invariably happened.  There is nothing to compare with waking up at 3 AM and seeing your breath freeze.

When you do run out, the first thing to do, after being yelled at by your frozen wife, is to go to the local gas station and buy some kerosene.  The nearest one that was open at 3 AM was about 10 miles away.  Ten gallons or so would get you through the night.  So in sub-zero temperatures, you pour the kerosene into the tank, and then the furnace comes on, right?  Nope.  There is no oil in the line.  So you have to prime the pump.  You use a can to try to catch any excess oil from the priming process.  If any gets onto your basement floor, your house smells like diesel fuel for the next several years..  Finally the pump is primed, the furnace comes on, and your house starts the several hour-long process of heating to near-habitable temperatures.  Funny, but it seems to cool off much faster than it heats up.

Of course you got 50 gallons for free so your bill is $600 instead of $750 when the truck finally comes by.

I will say that the first time this happened to my current wife, was also the last time.  We moved to the suburbs shortly thereafter.

Gas - Gotta Love that Blue Flame
Gas – Gotta Love that Blue Flame

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