Early Day Fuels

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  • by Jessie Sluder Guffy

    Note: Reprinted from http://www.thepastwhispers.com/
    with permission from Lois Caywood Guffy. Set in the early 1900’s.

    Early day heating and fuel were certainly a lot different from what we now have. At first, “cow chips” were about all we had to burn. They made a fairly good fire and plenty of ashes. “Cow chips” may not have a nice sounds, but the words mean just what they sound like. It was mostly children’s work to gather them, but older folks were not above helping. When they were white and dry, they burned well. They were gathered from the pastures and corrals furnished them more easily. One could use an old “gunny sack” to drag along to put them in and, as they were light, when the sack was full, it was easily carried by slinging over one’s back. If it looked like rain, or a damp spell, an extra amount was gathered and placed in a dry place. Sometimes a wagon was taken and most of the family gathered the fuel. That would last for some time. In the winter they were used in the heater as well as the cook stove. I knew of a family still burning cow chips as late as 1912.
    About the second year after settling here, People had a good corn crop and not much market for it, so many of the small ears of nubbins were burned. Good ears were shelled or fed on the cobs to hogs and then the cobs picked up and burned. Corn cobs do make a hot fire and are clean burning. We even used them for smoking meat. And I am primitive enough yet to enjoy having a basket of cobs to burn.
    In our family, for a number of years, we had a hand corn sheller and when we used it the cobs were all stored in a dry place. When it was corn shucking time, what had been gathered during the day was shelled at night and it was my work to see that the cobs were kept out of the way and stored. Later, there were horse-powered shellers used after the corn was stored in the bin, but we still took care of those cobs.
    Another fuel was corn stalks gathered and broken after the cows had eaten the good from them. Took a lot of “firing” as they burned fast. They still make good kindling for cook stoves or heaters. We set out trees as soon as possible so in a year or two they needed pruning and we burned the brush from them. It would probably look like an awful litter now to see it. We brought the brush and stacked it near the house and when ready for a good fire, dragged an amount into the kitchen and broke or twisted it so it would go into the stove. It kept one person busy firing, but did the work. I sort of drew the job of fireman the most of the time. It would surely get a good hot oven for the biscuits Mother made.
    Where I lived, we planted many cottonwood and mulberry trees. They grew fast and as soon as they were large enough, we began to have wood. Mulberries will keep sprouting so they could be recut. Where we live now is good locust tree country so that was early wood, too. They do sprout and grow rapidly and can be cut ever few years. Some other early fuel was also tightly twisted hay; burns and last longer than one might think.
    The fuel gathering took a lot of muscle and brawn and nearly every man and boy knew how to wield an ax, as there were no power saws. About 1910, my father bought a gasoline powered saw and how we enjoyed seeing it saw us lengths of stove wood. Jim, my husband, purchased that saw from my mother about 1917 and it has sawed a lot of wood. We still have it. A neighbor and we use it every year.
    Oh, yes, we have a wood heating stove and also a cook stove. A number of people around here still burn wood, but mostly in the heating stoves. To me, wood stoves are still the best and when our children come home, they say food still tastes best cooked on a wood stove.
    Many, no doubt, remember the first gasoline and kerosene cook stoves. The first ones had two burners and had to be set on some sort of stand. Then they were enlarged to four or more burners and had an oven. They were rather crude and might explode if one got careless. Now they have been made into pretty grand stoves, both cooking ones and heaters.