The Old Home Comfort
Written by Hulda Franklin
Edited by Reg Quist
It happened on a lovely June day. Daddy Jim, Mary and I had been out on the Canadian Pacific Railway quarter getting rails for pig fences. Not that we two youngsters, four and six, had been much help, more of a hindrance most likely. But Daddy Jim had a way of making us think we were quite indispensable, and when a great, long tree began to totter under his axe, he’d shout “timber” and we’d scurry to his side and hold his hand as the falling tree crashed to the ground. Then we’d play around again while he chopped off the branches and carried the pole to the waiting wagon.
Mary and I were sitting atop the high load of rails, coming home at noon. As we came over a rise, we noticed a team and wagon standing in front of our house.
“No one from around here,” Daddy Jim observed, “those are mules on that wagon.”
In the wagon were some dark objects. Driving into the yard we heard the owner of the wagon talking in excited tones to our mother as he pointed to the black things in the low wagon box.
Daddy Jim unhitched his team and put them in the barn. He knew that whoever the visitor might be, he would likely be sharing dinner with us. Taking our hands, daddy Jim walked towards the scene of action. On the way he cautioned us: “Don’t go near those mules, girls. Can’t trust them. They’d kick you on sight. Great little pullers though.
Nearing the house, the man shouted at our dad, “Get your wife a real cook stove! Keeps you warm in winter and cooks and bakes every day of the year. A real Home Comfort! Stands up to any condition. Jump on it, throw it around; it can’t be busted.”
Suiting actions to words he jumped first into the low wagon box and then to the top of the stove, bouncing up and down like a Jack-In-The-Box. He grabbed the four stove lids, one at a time, and slammed them against the steel tires of the wagon. Grasping a great hexagon wrench, which we learned later, was to turn the huge nut that connected the water heater, he banged what was left of the stove top with all his might.
Next, he let down the well ornamented oven door and plumped himself down on it. “You sit on it. You let your kids sit on it. Warm your back when it gets cold.”
Next, he started pulling from its depths an array of cooking utensils. On the grass at our feet, he threw two large blue and white enameled kettles complete with covers, one heavy dark blue tea kettle, two large steel frying pans and three large, black, bake pans, one nearly as large as the oven. On top of all that, he pulled out half a dozen tin pie plates.
Judging from the size of the utensils, the company must have expected pioneers to go in for large families and cook in quantity.
Also going with the stove was a huge blue and white enamel hot water reservoir which could be attached or removed at the owner’s convenience. And to top it all off, a warming oven with two little rounded doors that slid up and down to open and close.
“All this,” the salesman concluded “and pipes to set it up for only seventy-five dollars, and two years to pay.”
Daddy Jim was all for getting so much convenience for so little cost. Mother was well acquainted with the good cooking and baking qualities of Home Comfort stoves. But Mother, as usual, was quite happy with the low, small Homesteader that had served them so well until that time.
They let the energetic salesman pack up his wares and return to the neighbors where he had already been invited for dinner. They, too, were undecided on the purchase. Cash was so hard to come by, even in the fall, when the crop was threshed.
It was true that there was usually cattle and grain to sell at that time, but there were always machine notes coming due, and in our case a mortgage payment of seventy-two dollars and a thirty-two-dollar payment on the CPR quarter.
Daddy Jim and Mother spent the noon hour figuring. Daddy Jim won! He thought we would need this stove when we moved into the new “L shaped” kitchen addition he was building on. Indeed, it could be set in at once, now that the roof was shingled.
So the salesman was asked to come back. The new Home Comfort was duly installed and was to become an integral part of our family life.
There was great excitement. Most of the afternoon was spent getting pipes and fittings assembled. When all was ready, a fire was lighted. Now great clouds of evil smelling smoke filled the small kitchen.
The wily salesman had neglected to mention that every part of that stove, inside and out, had been dipped in a rust resistant coating which defied the weather and had to be burned off.
The burning off process took weeks of smoke-filled days. It was lucky the new kitchen, far from finished, had so many smoke escapes and there was, as yet, no interior finishing.
But once the anti-rust coating was gone, the Home Comfort came into its own. Many were the perfectly baked, golden loaves of bread that came out of its oven. Many were the chilled backs warmed by sitting on its sturdy oven door.
Countless were the good meals it faithfully helped Mother prepare. Unlike modern electric or gas stoves, food, when cooked could be kept warm by sliding it over to the medium warmth of the shiny black top or placing it in the warming oven beside the hot stove pipe.
Mother, being a cook, knew full well why these stoves were brought into western Canada to be sold. The square section of the fire box could not be opened to accommodate a broiler. To Easterners, the broiling of meat over the coals was at that time very much the “thing.” But to the homesteader that was a minor detail.
And as the years and decades rolled by, the new Home Comfort was to become our “Old Home Comfort” and a very welcome addition to our kitchen.