There is a box fan hung at the ceiling just out of frame to the left, denoted by the red box, meant to circulate the warm air from the stove to the rest of the house. It pulls air, denoted by the blue arrows, directly along the horizontal run of the stove pipe.
A fan has been there as long as I can remember, 48 years, through multiple wood stoves. This is the only one that has had a horizontal run of pipe, and only because the door is on the wrong end of the firebox.
I think that fan is killing my draft by pulling too much heat off that section of pipe, especially when the stove is cold, and this may be a large part of the problems I've been having.
After 2-1/2 hours trying to get the fire burning again this afternoon, I had the bright idea to shoot the temp of the horizontal pipe with my IR gun. 120F. When I turned the fan off the temp on the pipe immediately rose, and the higher it got the better the fire burned. Within 15 minutes I had a nice roaring fire, and had to close the air intake down. The pipe was 170F.
I understand the horizontal run doesn't do the draft any good, and sucking the heat off it with the fan can't help.
Do I dare think that I may have solved a 20+ year old mystery?