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CLAYTON RYE

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

It would be easy to write about the cold weather and endless winter.

After weeks of wind, cold and snow, what did we get last week? It was a whopping dose of wind, cold and snow, just when I thought the cold snap weeks ago was the last big one.

The cold is on my mind most of the time because I am usually cold, even when inside. My best companions this winter have been a quilt and a wool long sleeve shirt that I wear over my daily shirt.

So rather than complain about the cold, I want to write about heat.

More specifically, if you are more than 60 years old, I’ll bet you remember the heaters that were used in cars until the late 1950s.

The car heaters I remember so fondly were placed directly under the front seat, not some little vent sitting way up front on the dash.

Once they got warm, the word heater was an understatement. Just think, the water from the engine circulated under the front seat so heat went front and rear plus the heater was huge as it was the size of the front seat cushion.

There was a time when I reached under the front seat to touch it and found it was not just warm, it was hot.

I remember these heaters being in my dad’s two-tone blue 1954 Pontiac and then his blue and white 1957 Pontiac.

Every fall when the heater was turned on for the first time since the previous winter, the summer’s dust that had collected on it would rise with the heat in the car’s interior and we all breathed, sometimes choking on that dust. We couldn’t get the windows down fast enough to clear the air.

Then there was one more source of heat, although it wasn’t intended that way. Remember when radios had to “warm up” before they made any sound?

Those radios had tubes and “warming up” was exactly what they had to do and looking in the right place a person could see the tube filaments glowing.

The heat required lots of electrical power and leaving the radio on overnight would result in a dead battery.

Transistor radios required much less power, produced very little heat and were an improvement over the tube radios.

So why was the heater removed from under the front seat?

I read that as cars were built lower to the ground, seats had to be built lower to the floor. In those cars with the heater under the seat, a person could sit with their knees bent. Lowering the car seat put feet and legs stretched out ahead and it has been that way ever since. I guess that is progress.

The ’57 Pontiac was traded for a dark blue 1963 Ford Galaxie and one of the first things we noticed was that all the heat came from a little hole below the dashboard and above the transmission hump.

We weren’t sure if it would do the job at first, but it did; however, it was no match for the heater in that ’57 Pontiac.

Cars are still built low with seats barely above the floor, but it sure seems there is space under the seats of our SUVs for a heater that puts out real heat, both front and rear.

My best memory of those under-the-seat heaters was at Christmas time when we would be visiting my mother’s family in southern Minnesota just under an hour drive from home because most of it was on gravel roads.

My dad would start those Pontiacs before we left for home to get the car warm. We sleepy kids would climb in a car as warm as our own house, possibly warmer, for the ride home.

Now, that is a warm memory.

Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at crye@wctatel.net.

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