EXCERPT 1: from The Polish Experience

the perfect tool. Splintered wood would have yielded enough kindling to do the job. However, as I started, I didn't believe I would be collecting kindling all that often. I was soon to learn the sad truth. Even newspaper was something of a problem . In our isolated outpost, there was no newspaper delivery or even a newspaper stand. Any newspapers available were those I had remembered to buy in Wrodaw. That seldom happened because I had decided that Malgorzata and the television were the only acceptable source of news. This meant that we'd be starting the furnace with both limited paper and kindling. I wasn't worried . I'd been a boy scout. Starting a fire would be a cinch.

We endured the cold until the weekend so that I had the time to start the furnace at my leisure. I crumbled some of the precious paper and placed it on the bottom of the furnace cavity. I then made a platform of three parallel pieces of kindling that covered the paper. Three more pieces of kindling, perpendicular to the first three, formed the second row of my stack. I was ready. I opened the flue, made a torch from some of my limited paper, lit it and waved it around in the furnace cavity to preheat the chimney so smoke wouldn't come back into the room, and then used this torch to start the paper core of my little pile. It worked beautifully. The paper fire ignited the kindling and I soon had a roaring wood fire. It was time to add the soft coal. This was new territory. Too much soft coal seemed to dampen the flame. That might have been expected. However, as the flame temperature decreased, the smoke failed to rise and came back right at me. No problem, even for a non-smoker. This was just a little glitch that I would rectify next time I had to do this. After all, once I had my roaring coal fire, I could probably keep it going indefinitely and this little exercise would be unnecessary. The lighting ceremony lurched ahead. After the initial smoke backfire, the soft coal began to burn and I soon had a roaring soft coal fire. The defining moment was at hand. I opened the furnace door, filled a flat bottomed coal shovel with the coke and tossed the coke into the roaring fire. I closed the furnace door and went upstairs to savor the hot water that would soon be running through the pipes while spewing heat into the house.

I was used to a gas fired furnace with circulating hot water, that took very little time to begin heating a house. The coal/coke system seemed more sluggish. As time passed, I began to make more frequent trips to the nearest radiator which was no longer ice cold but certainly wasn't blazing hot either. Perhaps a coke fire wasn't as hot as a gas fire. I finally ventured into the basement to open the furnace door. The fire was still burning as it had been when I had the soft coal chugging away. Apparently one simply had to be patient with a coal/coke furnace. We went to bed expecting to wake up in a house at a very comfortable temperature. Not too hot and not too cold.

That little pipe dream was replaced by a cruel reality when we did wake up the following morning. The house was icy cold. That roaring coal fire had done nothing of value. I plunged down the stairs to add some more coke to the flames. After all the house had many rooms to heat. One night of heating might not have been enough. Opening the furnace door, I was greeted by-almost nothing The fire and its heat were gone . The wood, paper and soft coal were gone. What had once been coke was now a sandy colored rock. It certainly looked like that very expensive coke was nothing of the sort. It was mostly sand . We ~ad burned off the little carbon wedged into this sandy rock, but that was certainly insufficient fuel to heat a full house.