We're in the middle (day 4, hopefully it's the middle and not the beginning😛) of a cold snap here in Fairbanks, so I decided to hijack my own blog for the day to tell one story of extreme cold that we have experienced! We have lived in Fairbanks twice; from 1986/7-1994, and 2006-now. The first time we lived in several little cabins, a total of five years with no running water. (That was because one, it is much cheaper, and Brett was a full time student, and my teaching job at a small private school was almost volunteer 😂 At my interview they wanted to know what my husband did so we would have income. Umm... 😂 He did have part time jobs, and I assured them our tiny $100/month dry cabin would enable me to afford the job😂 And two, we had 10 sled dogs, so we couldn't be choosy about where we lived😂)
In the winter of 1988-89 we actually lived one mile from where we do now. (On Yellow Snow Road😂 There may have been multiple dog teams...) We have lived in several places including upper and lower Michigan in between, so it's funny to be back in almost the same spot. However, there's enough elevation difference between that cabin and our current house that it was much colder there! We had a record breaking cold snap that lasted several weeks, and it ended up being a bit of an adventure! (Involving a stray sled dog, propane issues, heating oil issues, water issues, truck battery issues, to name a few 😂)
A day or two of extreme cold is one thing, but when it becomes extended, lots more things start to go wrong! Our cabin had a barrel stove, a fireplace, and an oil furnace. We did have running water at this one. (Well, usually... 😂) It was also a leaky log cabin; we could actually see light through a couple of cracks up high in the logs. The downstairs was divided into two main areas, so the woodstove and fireplace didn't do much for the other half. (Upstairs was just a loft.) The bathroom was in the farthest away corner, also by one of the doors, so it was a challenge. (If I had a dollar for the number of times I said I wished we had an outhouse...much easier to maintain😂) The shower actually had ice coming up the drain for most of the winter, so we gave up on that and took showers in town. (Common at laundromats here.) Pretty soon the incoming water to the toilet froze, so we gave up on that too, and just used a pitcher of water to flush. The outgoing toilet pipes were a never ending project for Brett for a few weeks! He had to crawl under the house with a space heater to thaw the pipes regularly. They had heat tape, but the cabin was built on permafrost, which meant it had to be elevated above the ground (to prevent thawing the ground, making it unstable). So there was very cold air space the pipes had to go through!
Our kitchen stove was propane, and propane liquifies at around -30 degrees. So that ended up being out for about 6 weeks, and we were left with an electric frying pan and a crock pot.
With the furnace and the barrel stove both running, it was still pretty cold downstairs, so we spent a lot of time in the loft! We had a chocolate lab in addition to the sled dogs, and we kept his water by the back door. One night it froze, so we moved it closer to t he living room. Eventually it froze on the floor next to the barrel stove! (They are far less efficient than the wood stoves of today. I'll have to look for a picture of the cat laying underneath it.😂 It looks red hot, but it was just rusty... But it DID have a fire going!)
Then the trouble with the furnace started... We shared a vehicle, and our work locations and schedules were vastly different, so it was interesting. Brett was still in the Air Force that winter, which was about 35 miles from our cabin. We had moved in anticipation of him getting out soon and going back to school. I still worked at a sewing shop in town, 10 miles into his 35. He had to be at work at 7:30 am, so I got dropped off around 6:30-7. The shop I worked at opened at 10. 😂. All that to say, our days were very long! One day was extra long because my work was swamped and I had to stay late. I remember it being 14 hours that we were gone, and I was exhausted. We got home to a 35 degree house. 😭 It turned out it wasn't actually the furnace, it was the underground oil tank. It had been cold enough, long enough, that the oil had gelled. 😬 So our landlord's solution was to hook up a 5 gallon jug of heating oil directly to our furnace, which was in a closet in the living room. So we had a jug of oil in our living room. Near the wood stove. 😅 But the stove didn't get that hot, so it was fine. 😂 (And still there were stretches where Brett got up almost hourly to put wood on the fire.)
We also had trouble with the truck. (We had a garage at our very first house, in North Pole, where we lived for 18 months, but have never had a functioning one since. We have had two that weren't, one involving a man with a bloody knife, but that's another story... 🤣) Even with all of the winterization and plugging it in, the truck still froze a couple of times. (I was in college before I knew plugging in cars wasn't standard😂) We were stuck at home for a total of 9 days in two stretches due to the truck. Someone let us borrow a giant heater that I thought looked like a jet engine. Brett shoveled a bank of snow around the base of the truck to hold in the heat, then aimed the heater under it, and eventually got it going both times. Thankfully our jobs were both understanding, as everyone was in the same boat!
Right before this cold snap, on Christmas Eve, a sled dog had followed Brett and our dogs home from a run. He had a collar, but leaving signs around never turned up his owner. (This was the third sled dog that had wandered in and refused to leave. One of those involved an 8 inch long gunshot wound, and another story, but I digress again...😂) We named him Nisse (Norwegian gnome), and since we didn't have a dog house for him, we gave him a whole bale of straw, which he turned into a big nest, kind of like Big Bird's. 😂 That ended up being all he had during the cold snap, but he did great. Brett gave them hot food a couple of times a day, and they were fine, they're made for it! The rest of the dogs had houses with plenty of straw, and the chocolate lab lived inside.
Our source of water was an underground tank that we had water delivered to. Thankfully that never froze. But one evening I was saying I hoped incoming water pipes didn't freeze, because we didn't have any spare water. Then my brain went duh, we have water now, lets fill whatever containers we can find. Well, that turned out to be a good idea, as the pipes froze that night. The landlord came and worked on it, and I used warm water drained from the hot water heater to wash my hair. 😂
Now, if you haven't lived in Alaska, this all probably sounds crazy. But to us at the time, it didn't seem like we were living an epic adventure, it was just life. And anyone local who has lived here very long would just laugh at this story, and say, "That's nothing, you should hear MY story..." 😂 People have often told me I should write a book, as this is the tip of the iceberg, but my life has just been my life, so it doesn't really seem noteworthy. 😂
Hopefully after this cold snap I won't be adding stories, but here are a few pictures from today. Frosty windows, (inside) due to the exactly 100 degree temperature difference from one side of the (double paned) glass windows to the other! I tried to add a video of the swirl of cold you can see coming in the door when the dogs go out, but it wasn't cooperating... I'll try facebook 😛 We are now blessed with a well, ten inch thick walls, a very efficient wood stove, car batteries have improved, and probably more that I'm forgetting. the cold is making my walk to my studio a little more interesting, but we have always had good outdoor gear, so I haven't even gotten cold. My bunny boots weigh three pounds each, (yes, I weighed them😂), but they're warm!
Thanks for joining my little trip down memory lane! Beret
Beret Nelson's On The Trail Creations Blog Page
I am a homeschooling mom of three fun kids, who are now old enough that I have a little time to pursue my passion for sewing! After several years of making quilted cards and art quilts, I'm now designing kits and patterns. Some of my designs have been in Keepsake Quilting and Art Quilting Studios magazine! I teach classes online, and am starting to do more traveling and teaching. I also have many tutorials, including some on YouTube. I am blessed to live in Alaska where I am surrounded by the inspiration provided by the beauty of God's creation!
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