Capitol Winchester

My furnace was a young pup in 1936 when Saint Paul hit its all-time low temperature of -34° F. Capitol Winchester sits like Santa Claus in my basement. He’s entering his eightieth winter.

The raised letters of his name, Capitol Winchester, stretch across his chest like a workman’s name embroidered on a pocket. He stands a sturdy four feet tall, with spider webs encircling his seventy-five-inch waist. Someone once tried to spiff him up by painting him white.

Capitol Winchester chugged along during a sixty-six-day stretch when it stayed below freezing from December 18, 1977, until February 23, 1978. He purred at age sixty when national TV crews came to town to film the tallest-ever Winter Carnival Ice Palace in 1986. Each October, he clocks in and runs until April. An old man who comes just for winter.

When I bought the house eight years ago, I nervously signed up for the utility company’s appliance insurance program. They sent a guy over to check things out. I was sure my Capitol Winchester was a goner.

“Naw,” the guy said, affectionately tapping the furnace with his clipboard. “These things can go for one hundred years. They’re much better than the new ones.”

The lady from the insurance company wasn’t so impressed.

“You’ve got an old furnace,” she droned as she declined my homeowner’s policy.

“Yes, I know,” I said politely, but she wasn’t going to budge. It was like she wanted to take Old Shep out behind the barn and shoot him. American Express and I haven’t spoken since.

Capitol Winchester may retire on me one of these days. I wonder each October as I swivel the thermostat knob whether I’m going to lose him during a -30° cold snap. But each April arrives, and he’s still on the job.

I know the new models are the size of makeup cases. Those gaunt supermodels probably consume less energy. But could they work as uncomplainingly as Capitol Winchester?

He’s so old that you can’t Google him. The average furnace today lasts twenty years. I guess Capitol Winchester didn’t get the memo about planned obsolescence. It’s true he can’t double as an iPod or text message me at work while he’s breaking down. But Capitol Winchester is my true hero of winter.

Sasha Aslanian is a lifelong Saint Paul resident, although she will admit to being born in Minneapolis. She now lives on Saint Paul’s West Side with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys walking over the Wabasha Street Bridge to her job as a documentary radio producer at Minnesota Public Radio.

Posted in: History, Prose
Tagged: 2009, Featured, winter