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By Staff | Jan 8, 2016

A little bit of imagination can go a long way when you’re faced with the possibility of becoming a human popsicle.

It’s surprising how quickly you become aware of the cold once there’s no heat in your car. As the temperature plummets you realize that you could freeze solid at 70 mph, that you’re hurtling along in a huge mobile ice cube tray.

The heater in my work car died recently. It was gradual process. At first I could resurrect the fan with some percussive maintenance, that is, by thumping the dashboard with my fist.

To the casual observer, it may have looked as if I were upset about the car’s inability to find a decent radio station.

More and harder thumps were needed to coax the fan back to life. I could see that I would soon need a sledgehammer if I wanted to stay warm. But modern automobiles can’t withstand that level of thumping.

Back in the day, cars were made entirely of slabs of solid steel. A padded dashboard would have been viewed as a sign of weakness, a clear indication that the commies had won.

I thought about heating the car with a campfire, but it occurred that everything inside a modern automobile is flammable. I considered installing a torpedo heater, one of those kerosene-powered contraptions that’s constructed from a flamethrower and a coffee can.

But I concluded that the tremendous airflow needed for ventilation would negate any heat gains.

I have long history of trouble with car heaters.

It started when I was a little kid. One winter, the fan in my parents’ 1953 Chevy quit working (ever notice that heater fans never malfunction in the summertime?), so Dad took the car to Bob’s Texaco. Bob installed a new heater control switch that squatted beneath the dashboard like a brown Bakelite toad. Its stubby tongue was the heater fan’s speed control.

Our parents never used the fan’s “high” setting. They believed that there were a limited number of revolutions in the fan motor and that we had to conserve them.

Everyone in the car may have been turning blue from the cold, but at least we were saving on the fan.

As we shivered down the road in the old Chevy, I would eye the heater switch and fantasize about flipping it from “low” to “medium.”

In my imagination, the car’s interior would be transformed into a tropical paradise, complete with swaying palm trees and Hawaiian music. Incipient hypothermia can do strange things to the mind.

The first car that I owned, a 1959 Ford Fairlane, tried to murder me with cold. Its heater was feeble and its cab drafty; even on the best day, staying warm in that car was like trying to drain the ocean with a drinking straw.

It seemed chillier than usual in the old Ford one midwinter Sunday when I was driving home from church. It became so cold that atmospheric nitrogen began to liquefy and puddle on the floorboards.

Steam suddenly began to pour from the radiator. Panicking, I checked the temperature gauge. It was pegged out at “reactor core meltdown.”

I pulled over and popped the hood. It was deeply below zero with gale-force winds. In other words, a typical winter day on the Dakota tundra.

My Sunday clothes, unsuited for Arctic conditions, instantaneously solidified into a set of rigid tubes. I leaned over the engine compartment and discovered that the bottom radiator hose was a salami of ice.

Even though the engine was glowing with heat, the old Ford was refusing to share any of its live-saving thermal energy with me. The car was clearly intent on bringing about my demise.

The only tool I had was a tire iron. I used it to tap on random areas of the engine until my fingers felt like frozen bratwursts.

I clambered back into the car and weighed my options. They seemed to be limited to maintaining a peaceful facial expression so that I would look good at the funeral.

I took a small amount of solace from the fact that I was dressed in my Sunday duds.

This might help reduce costs with the undertaker.

I was just beginning to enjoy the imaginary hula dancers when a faint gurgling arose from the dashboard. I started the engine and heat – glorious, life-giving heat – poured from the air ducts.

I would live to see another day. But first I would go back to Bob’s Texaco and do the walk of shame as I purchased a gallon of antifreeze.

My work car’s heater fan has now been fixed. But I must admit that I’m going to miss listening to Don Ho.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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