Propane trouble raises concern tiny living decision was a big mistake

Thom woke up freezing on the first morning of the big freeze and scrambled to adjust

Thanks to all of you who have have given me kind comments on this column recently.

I have always been a big fan of op-ed writing. So, when I got the opportunity, first with my university newspaper and later when I decided to become a journalist, I jumped on the soapbox with great enthusiasm.

In my youthful idealism, perhaps I felt like it was an opportunity to change the world. Of course, the world doesn’t change much, and when it does, it does so incrementally (and not always for the better), and almost certainly not because Thom Barker has roughly 25 inches of newsprint every week on which to pontificate.

I very briefly considered going into politics, but that was quickly quashed because of my op-ed writing, in fact, specifically my commentary CBC Radio aired suggesting circumcision should be illegal. B’nai Brith was not amused.

LAST WEEK: Research makes me suspicious my dog is manipulating me

It used to really bother me that as I was taking on serious, important issues, the columnists who were writing fluff were much more popular.

Case in point, the most popular series of columns former Interior News editor Ryan Jensen wrote when he was editor in Vanderhoof, was a weekly update on his efforts to knit a scarf for his uncle for Christmas.

Similarly, my most popular pieces are the ones featuring my dog, Lady MacBeth (aka, the bug). Second most popular appear to be my adventures in tiny living.

Last week, I thought I was in big trouble. On the first morning of the deep freeze, I woke up to a skin of ice on the bug’s water dish.


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When I started considering last spring to solve my housing problem by buying a trailer, I did my research anticipating it would be a cold snap like last week’s that would be the true test of whether it had been a good decision.

The first test came in November when the temperature dropped into the high minus-teens to low minus-20s range.

My preparations appeared to have proven worthy. With the winterizing of the windows and door, my electric heat mostly kept up supplemented by the propane furnace. With the skirt I had built and a small heater underneath, my water tanks remained ice-free.

If I’m being honest, I was quite proud of myself.

Then the arctic air hit. The first thing I noticed was that the burners on my stove were still working, but the flame was kind of weak. When I stopped getting heat, I was really worried there was something wrong with my furnace, but now the stove had also stopped working. I figured I was out of propane and that it was going to cost me an arm and leg to keep up with really frigid temperatures.

I have a background in science, so I knew the boiling point of liquefied petroleum gas (propane) is -42C and the freezing point is -188. And I used to barbecue all winter on a propane grill when I was in Saskatchewan without any issues.

What I didn’t have is any practical experience heating with propane. So, I trundled my tanks off to the Petro-Can to get them filled. As it turns out, when the temperature outside gets into the low- to mid-minus-30s, I can only use about five to eight pounds before the pressure in the tanks gets too low to feed my furnace.

It also turns out at those temperatures, it’s difficult to even buy propane. As the kind employee at Petro-Can braved the weather to fill the tanks, the machine broke down. Canadian Tire had also shut down their propane service. I had to drive to Telkwa (thank you, Patricia and Leroy).

I also picked up a couple of extra tanks so I would have full ones to swap out just before I went to bed to make sure I would not experience a repeat of Monday morning.

Long story short, it worked. It took a little work, but I got through the week nice and toasty in my cozy little space. And it gave me some ideas for summer projects to even better prepare for next winter, but I will hang on to those for future columns.

We are northerners. Our tales of hardship are not so much complaints; we wear them more as badges of honour.

And, of course, there is always someone out there who has a “You think that’s bad…” story.

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