Surveying `Da Situation: When Dad Got Heated Up

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I was with a group of my buddies not too long ago and it usually doesn’t take much time before the conversation turns to some of the not so brilliant things we may have done in our youth. I really enjoy those stories and even contribute a few of my own every now and again. Sometimes, they involve other friends or perhaps a member of our own families.

My father has been gone about 12 years now. He wasn’t the easiest guy to grow up with and at times was pretty hard on us kids. He was a consummate laborer and if it had to be dug up or moved, piled or unpiled, he was the right guy for the job. He left most of any complicated thinking to others, and of course, wasn’t then subjected to any blame if the plan went awry. Every now and then though, he would outfox himself and we would get to smile about it.

More than 16 years ago, my younger brother, Pete, bought an existing deer camp in an area he enjoyed hunting. It wasn’t much of a camp, but it was a start. (He has since built a new one and it is by far one of the finest deer camps on or near the Mosinee Grade.) Along with this camp came the need to get some deer blinds ready for the season. One of the luxuries you can have in these blinds is a little portable propane heater. They do a great job of taking the chill out of the blind, which means it is easier to hunt much longer. When I hunted with Dad as a young lad, we didn’t have anything at all like this set up.

We hunted from home, which meant getting up even earlier to be out in the woods before dawn and getting home a lot later after dark. There were no blinds to sit in, let alone heaters to keep you warm. We sat out all day on tree stumps or piles of pine boughs, so the concept of a camp and deer blinds was kind of foreign to my father. On top of that he was a proud man and saw any movement toward luxuries as a sign of weakness. He quickly bought into the idea of hunting from camp, though, as he could rationalize less drive time and less wasted gas. The idea of hunting out of a blind was a little tougher, but he came to realize he wasn’t getting any younger, and not being totally exposed to the elements wasn’t a terrible idea. He drew the line at the idea of a heater. It was like the last straw for him. My brother told him he would get him a propane heater as a present, but that even made Dad more determined. You see, getting presents was also a sign of weakness. I told you it wasn’t easy growing up around him.

One sunny day in mid-fall with deer season only a few short weeks away, my brother stopped by the family house and found our father in the backyard sitting at the picnic table working on some contraption. It seems the more Dad thought about the heater thing, the more he understood it may be nice to be warm during the day, but would be damned if he would go out and buy a new unit. It happened that he found an abandoned collapsed camp in his travels while bird hunting that fall. While rooting around in the remains, he came across this antiquated little heater that ran on fuel oil. It was a very early attempt at portable heat and my brother wasn’t sure how well this was going to work. In time Dad had it cleaned up and running right there on the picnic table. According to my brother it was throwing off heat and actually humming along quite well. Pete just shook his head, wished Dad well, and left.

Soon enough, it was opening day of deer season. My father and brother headed out to their respective blinds early in the morning. It wasn’t very long before the sun came up and soon after my brother was able to bag his buck. After preparing it for the trip, he started his way back to camp. He had to pass quite close to my father’s blind so he thought he would swing by and show Dad his deer (as well as checking on him, too). As he got closer to the blind, he could see something was horribly wrong. Black smoke billowed out of every crack and opening in the blind. He stepped up his pace. Just as he reached the blind the little side door opened up and my father’s "free" fuel oil heater came flying out of the doorway and tumbled across the landscape into a nearby snow pile. Dad followed close behind, covered from head to toe in thick, black soot. Pete said he couldn’t see Dad’s eyes until he blinked. Dad was doing his best to start a line of cuss words that would have embarrassed anyone, but each time he started to speak all that came out was a little puff of black smoke. That was too much to take and Pete couldn’t help but start to laugh.

He took Dad back to camp and got him cleaned up. Dad didn’t think the whole thing was all that funny until later, but he did get all the soot out of his system and was able to finally properly swear at the blankety-blank heater. It seems it wasn’t running correctly right from the first time he lit it. The more he tried to adjust it in the dark, the more soot it threw off until he finally kicked it out of the blind. I have heard this story several times and can’t help but laugh when I picture my Dad covered in soot and not being able to swear.

A day or so later Pete came back to camp and found Dad fiddling with yet another heater. This one was much newer than the first, and although it did run on propane, it was nowhere near brand new. Pete didn’t want to ask where it came from and Dad wasn’t offering. He just looked up at Pete and said, "A little cleaning and adjusting and I will have this thing working like one of your fancy store-bought ones." Pete just shook his head, reached in a cabinet, and took out an extra roll of paper towels…

And that’s the situation as I survey it…

John Matonich is President and CEO of Rowe Incorporated, and is a licensed surveyor in Michigan and Ohio. He is Chairman of the Joint Gov’t Affairs Committee for ACSM, Chairman of the Bylaws & Resolutions Committee for NSPS, and Vice President of NSPS.

A 477Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE