Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Kids College Fund Cooks Us Breakfast

Some people waste idle hours at the p/c looking at images of questionable content, others bounce about silly, mindless game sites or read humorous postings. Some actually perform productive work while at the keyboard-imagine that! My weakness is vintage stoves. Photos of vintage, circa 1940-1950, June Cleaver-esque, what-a-wonderful-world, gleaming porcelain white domestic bohemoths stir something in me akin to what a man must feel when viewing pornography. I could spend hours Googling these images, gazing lustfully at the shiny nickled surfaces, sighing at the smooth, soft curves, marveling at the detail and quirky design features. It's an affection that goes way back.

Long ago and far away, when it became apparent to me that California would soon become inhabitable, I sought and found my little Ponderosa out here in the Land That Time Forgot. This was about 1986. The humble farmhouse and land we purchased was perfect-except that the new home had no appliances-as in kitchen accoutrements. No stove, no refridgerator-nuthin'. So it became my job to find such items so that they would make the trip with us from California to the deepest, darkest depths of the Missouri Ozarks-since we weren't sure if such things would be easy to procure out there-being in the middle of nowhere and all. It just made sense to us urbanites to make sure we brought what we needed. We viewed this move much like missionaries traveling to the jungles of Guatemala. We had some idea what was in store, but alot was still uncertain. Would they have used appliance stores there? We didn't know. And rather than be stuck for who knows how long living on sandwiches and microwaved burritos, we decided to play it safe and bring "the bare essentials" with us. That way,within a day or two of moving in we could enjoy baked apple pies and meatloaf, just like normal people!

In California, we rented-which meant all the kitchen big ticket items were the property of the landlord. Ours was an agreeable sort and allow us to buy the 'fridge that was in the house at the time. OK, that's one thing off the list. He offered the stove as well, but I turned him down. No. This house needed a suitable stove to fit with the decade or era of the home. A 1979 Kenmore would not do.This funky craftsman-style bungalow we were moving into needed some ambiance. I wanted an old stove. A relic from my childhood. I wanted The Beast. A thing that would all but swallow up the small kitchen. It would be the center of attraction. A gleaming iconoclastic altar to the way things used to be.
I wanted my cooking to be an act of worship.

And so my search began. I frequented the old appliance stores that were clustered along stretches of the downtown streets that were now technically in "the bad part of town". For the most part I was coming up empty handed. Back in the mid-80's retro hadn't really caught on and these stores either just wouldn't accept the old, nasty inefficient stoves or kept them in the backroom gutted for parts. Sad,really. They kept newer models in their showrooms-anything 10 years and up,in good shape. But then one day...

I wasn't too sure if the store was even open. It had that abandoned look about it. It was a genuine junk shop. Ancient window frames were stacked out front along with all manner of debris from the Modern Age. Old washers, dryers and other crap I couldn't even identify what purpose they once served filled the yard. The shop had once been a home, but rezoning had allowed it to be turned into a business years ago. A six foot chain link fence surrounded the place. It had a run down, tacky, sleazy feel to it. The kind of place where you almost feel unclean after leaving it, longing to at least wash your hands afterwards.
After carefully wading through the bargain items out front I managed to find the porch and went in. A disinterested unshaven man in greasey overalls was sitting behind a small wood desk,leafing through a magazine. The place smelled of stale cigar smoke and mold.

" 'Mornin'. " was the only acknowledgement I got from him. I was free to wander about and browse.
I entered what at one time had been the dining room, it was now literally packed to the rafters with old washers and dryers, narrow aisles, or were they paths?- snaked through the room, maze-like.
"Whatcha lookin' for?" the guy asked from the front room/office.
"Stoves." I answered, nearly bonking my head on a loose and opened dryer door.
"Way in the back." the oh-so-helpful man replied.
: 'Kay, thanks!" I tried to navigate towards the back without causing harm to myself or his 'valuable' inventory.

In the back rooms were all manner of cookstoves from the 40's on up. They were lined up along the walls, waiting. Most were the old style small apartment types. Dinky things with only 2 burners and an oven barely big enough to bake a chicken in. Some were full size models but yet not large enough to suit me. In my mind I knew what I wanted-just couldn't tell you the model or make-I would know it when I saw it...and I hadn't yet. Most of them appeared to be electric models, a few had that future-forward crock pot like feature where a back burner should be. Cool,but not me. I wanted a gas stove. Cooking on an electric had always been an exercise in futility for me-never could get it right. I wanted a flame.
Besides, electric stoves had always seemed to be an unwise use of that resource-always expensive to operate. I knew that the house we would be moving into had 2 gas lines poking through the kitchen walls. One for a stove, one for a 'fridge-propane 'fridges being more common back then-especially in a region that had just got electricity in the past 30 years. The wiring in that old house probably couldn't support an electric stove. The place would burst into flames the first time I tried to heat up a can of soup! Gas stoves were more safer in my mind-simple parts that wouldn't catch fire or short out.
Anyway, I wasn't seeing what I wanted. Another wasted trip! Then there was what had once been an enclosed back porch, now a warehouse of sorts. A dumping ground for the new junk coming in that hadn't been cleaned up or assessed...and it was there that my heart began to sing!

She stood in the center of the porch, surrounded by useless crap that I couldn't even see-just knew it was there-I was so smittened by her beauty. She was huge. The small confines of the porch emphased the magnitude even more so. She was fat and wide and tall. My breath was taken away.Oh my God...could it be possible? I quickly began to scan for details-my knowledge of these old things still in it's infancy, but I knew there were certain things to look for. The salt and pepper shakers were still there! (That's always the first thing to go with these beasts.) The knobs were all intact and original. It had a clock and an oven timer.The center griddle was black with age and countless pancakes from years gone by. It had a cool overhead light feature. All the burner grates were there. For all intents and purposes, she was still all there and in working condition. But did she? Were there any critical innards missing? I hailed the guy up front.

"Just got that in last week," he told me, "Haven't had too much time to check it out, yet." (he's kidding, right?) "As far as we can tell, it works. Got a few chips..." and he indicated where. "Needs some cleaning up. That handle's loose...we can fix that. Once it's cleaned up and we do a safety check on it, oh, I dunno, maybe about 175 bucks?"
Even at mid-1980 dollars that was a bargain, to me. Oh, sure I could have got a stove for 50 bucks, but it would be blah, it would be bland, it would be purely a functional item, souless and ordinary. I wanted ART! I wanted that stove!

We did some minor haggling. Weak actually. I pointed out some flaws and tried to get the price down a few bucks because of it. I was assured that those chips, loose handles, dingy nickle plating and mice nests would be takened care of and he stood firm on his price. Oh, hell. OK. I agreed to return in a week to inspect the results and, if all was right, pay for the beast.
I kept my word. And so did he. When I came back it was still on the back porch but now had been transformed-it was even more gorgeous than before. Granted, the minor chips had only been dabbed with porcelain repair paint but everything else was in order and bright and shiny. I was thrilled.

I told the guy where this old stove was going. He said I would need a valve for propane, he could sell me one-ok, add that to the tab. 10 bucks.
"I suppose you need it delivered?" he asked. "That's another 25 bucks."
No problem.
We got all the little details hammered out and I wrote the guy a check.
The next day a beat-up old pick up truck showed up with my prize bungied in the back. The guy and an assistant wrestled the beast into our garage.

A month later it was inside a Mayflower van wending it's way to the Ozarks and it's new home. It took 3 grown men to get it into the house and it just barely got through the front door! They steered it into it's chosen spot in the kitchen and there it has remained for nearly 20 years now. I love that stove.

Recently, it has developed a problem with the gas flow. Some sort of regulator is out of whack. When the oven is turned on it just fills with gas until you get a Hollywood comedy type BOOM! and the oven door flies open. Not good! So now I don't use the oven. Everything else works just dandy still. I wasn't sure if it could be fixed. But now that we have internet access up in these hills, researching isn't so daunting. I was now able to find out just what exactly my stove was other than "a bigass O'Keefe & Merrit". And what I have found out is shocking...hence the title of this long winded post....bet ya never thought I'd get to the point, eh?

What I have is one of the model 600 series that O'Keefe and Merrit made in the late 40's and early 50's. I can't bring up the exact year right off the top of my head right now. But what boggles my brain is that restored models are fetching up to 20,000 DOLLARS!! If you can even find them. Even a rat's nest clunker such as mine could easily get 9 grand,with a little cleaning up. So my intial 210 buck investment ain't looking so ridiculous now. Would I ever sell it? Oh, hell no! At least not now...or in the immediate future. But it's nice to know that when I get too old or too dead, my younguns will have a nice nest egg to squabble over when they unload that beast to the right buyer. Who da thunk?
I found a great example of my stove recently. It's the stove pictured at the top of this post. (note: this IS NOT my stove...but with just a little elbow grease, mine could look that purty.)


Blogger Kathy said...

My kids' college fund is three mowers and a weed-eater. See what a few motivated hillbillies can come up with? I can promise you they won't be paying student loans when they're 40 like someone you know. LOL.

12/14/2005 12:14 AM  

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