Tuesday, March 4, 2014


When Dave, Jasper our grandson, and I stepped out of the house Sunday morning, the cold air caught at the back of our throats. There was something besides cold in that air, a hint of smoke, drifting in from the west on the wind. I didn’t identify that something until we stepped into the barn and saw the smoke billowing out from under our waterer.

The waterer is a metal tank with a float valve set over a hole in the barn floor. A short hose runs from the bottom of the tank to the water hydrant in the bottom of the hole. We keep the water from freezing with two tank heaters on either end of the tank and by two heat tapes, one to wrap the hose and the second around the water pipe coming into the barn.

Dave began wetting towels and laying them along the bottom edge of the water tank, hoping to cut the air to the fire. I turned off all the electricity to the barn. Then Dave ran for fire extinguisher. Jasper and I brought the shovel and the pick axe from the garage and then observed from a safe distance, the most useful thing a three year old can do in this situation. Dave emptied the first fire extinguisher under the edge of the tank, but the smoke kept coming. So he hefted the pick axe. Amber joined us with two more extinguishers as Dave finished breaking the bottom of the water tank free from the ice on the barn floor. As Dave tipped the tank back, Amber threw buckets of water onto the glowing straw stuffed under the tank.
When all hint of burning straw was gone, Dave shoveled out the soaked, blackened mass. “The insulation on two of the wires has been stripped,” He said. “Rats.” The next shovel turned up the body of a wood rat.

“Well that one won’t be a problem again,” Amber commented.

Dave rewired the tank and the heat tape while Amber, Jasper and I fed sheep who seemed completely unfazed by the commotion. The last thing we did was to throw a bait bar into the hole under the tank.

Three hours later, after Amber and Jasper had gone home, Dave and I went out to feed the lambs and check for new babies. The waterer was steaming. Not a good sign with the temperature at 12° below zero. The electrical work Dave had done was working well, but sometime during the repair, the water line had frozen either in the hose or at the stand pipe. We got out the trusty old Vidal Sasoon 1800 hair dryer and began the thawing process. When the water was flowing freely, we decided to add skirtings, dirty clumps of wool, as insulation around the waterer. It was reassuring to find that the bait bar had already been chewed. We’ve been farming for thirty years. It’s even more reassuring that the only fire we’ve ever had in our barn was caused by a rat.


  1. Go Fire ResponseTeam Ellison!

  2. I bet your hairdryer won't be used again for a year. Is it about 20 years old?

  3. Actually, the hair dryer has a second use. One of our fiber projects creates felted balls or felted Easter eggs with designs on them. We use the twenty plus year old hair dryer to dry the balls and eggs. Keep watching for a posting on felted eggs and balls.