The Black Bellied Thing Blew Up!

From an Old Preacher’s Journal

It was late March, but unseasonably cold. After the morning service we were invited to take lunch with one family and supper with another.  The lunch and afternoon visit were pleasant and routine. Then it was time to drive on over to visit and eat with the other family. By late afternoon, the day seemed to be getting damper, darker and colder by the minute.

I was thinking how cold that church building would be when we arrived for the evening service.  The one room church building was “heated” with a large black stove that stood in the center aisle, right in the middle of the building. The flue went up the center of the back wall.  Hence, the stove and the flue were connected by about 20 feet of stove pipe. The pipe was supported by three or four wires that came down from the ceiling, some eight or ten feet above. The stove was perhaps five feet tall. There was a large ash box at the bottom. The fire box bulged out like a fat man’s belly all around. The stove was flat on top, with a removable lid. In an effort to dress the thing up a bit, the manufacturers had put an upper and lower ruffle of chrome plated iron all around. All of that chrome decoration was also removable.

As our journey took us past the church building, I had a brilliant idea! I would stop and throw a bucket of coal in the stove. Than it would be much warmer when we arrived for services. The brethren always bought the cheapest coal they could find. It was dumped out in a pile behind the church building. After a few months taking the best lumps out, the coal pile resembled more of a dust pile. My knowledge of stove firing was very limited, so I preceded to throw in a whole bucket of that “slack.” And it never occurred to me to shake some of the ashes down or to open the lower damper a little.

With a great deal of self satisfaction we proceeded to our supper appointment.  The visit was very pleasant and then we all assembled back at the building for the evening service.

A nice crowd gathered. It seemed a little warmer than usual and the service proceeded in a normal way. I went to the pulpit and it was time to preach. Unbeknown to me, one of the brethren had likely shook out some of the ashes and opened the damper a little. The bucket of coal dust that I had put in the stove had now smoldered for some time.  Gas built up in the stove and suddenly it got a breath of air from the damper below and that stove blew up with a mighty explosion! It blew the door of the ash box open! It blew the door of the fire box open and it blew the lid off the top! It blew all the ornamental chrome off the sides, and worst of all, it blew the stove pipe down!

After the explosion, the fire roared out the top and in an instant the stove was red hot. With fire blowing out of the top of the stove and out of the place where the pipe connects, it was obvious that if something was not done at once, we could lose the building.

The men all worked frantically to reassemble the stove pipe and get it reconnected. They did this with remarkable speed and in a few minutes the real emergency was over. By this time the building was filled with blue smoke and the temperature was unbelievably hot.

The brethren opened all the doors and windows and I proceeded to preach my sermon. I never, never told a soul in that church that I was the one who fired the stove!

By the way, the sermon subject that night was “The Devil.”

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 8 p5  April 20, 2000