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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Brick chimneys a favorite memory

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

A recent experience gained while installing a wood stove in my workshop brought back memories of early day brick chimneys and flues. Almost every dwelling I can remember contained at least one brick chimney, venting smoke and fumes up, up and away.

This simple square brick vent was fireproof, insulated enough to protect the nearby wood and was usually located centrally for service to more than one heating stove. Most chimneys were located in the corner of a room with vent inlets opening through the walls to other rooms.

Unused inlets were covered with round decorative metal covers with flowers painted on the surface. Some bricks were left raw, some varnished and ours was papered over with wallpaper that sagged after the glue gave way. Mother complained once in awhile, but we never corrected the sagging design.

My favorite memory of our chimney was of the shelves built below. Few chimneys extended completely through the floor to the ground below. A shelf some 5 to 6 feet tall, was built of heavy 2-inch by 12-inch lumber to hold the brick chimney in place.

Inside these shelves most women stored their heavy sad irons and heating stands. We kids used the irons as make-believe ships on the ocean.

Grandma Trew placed hand crocheted doilies on her shelves and kept knick-knacks on the doilies. Our shelves had newspapers folded under the sad irons to help keep away rust. The bottom shelf held a box of dominoes and packs of playing cards pushed back so if the preacher came he couldn't speculate about our sins.

Our chimneys served to carry both wood and coal smoke out of the house during my early years. Later, for a while, we had a kerosene stove fueled by a little glass jug held upside down behind the stove. The chimney carried away kerosene fumes until we installed a butane floor furnace. Even then, the furnace vent entered the brick chimney, carrying away the gas fumes.

A study of western history reveals that every town was plagued by fire. Rural school records show that most early schools burned at least once, leaving nothing but the wood stove standing among the ashes. If the truth was known, it would probably come down to faulty flues or chimneys causing the fire. In Europe, the chimney sweep is a valuable member of each community, keeping the chimneys clean and in good repair.

A major inventory item in all old-time general stores was the stove and flue component parts. Along with assorted lengths of metal stove pipe, there were connections, dampers and insulated floor pads.

Accessories included shovels, ash brushes, ash buckets, coal buckets, lid lifters, match holders and boxes for kindling. Some stores owned the equipment to manufacture the length of pipe needed complete with fitted ends and snap-together seams.

The brick chimney and metal flue served man well through the evolution of devices developed to heat our homes. From wood to gas and electricity, they kept us safe from toxic fumes and smoke. Here's a salute to the old-time, simple brick chimney.


Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew"
- March 14, 2006 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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