Capitol Winchester

Capitol Winchester

My furnace was a young pup in 1936 when Saint Paul hit its all-time low temperature of -34° F. Capitol Winchester sits like Santa Claus in my basement. He’s entering his eightieth winter.

The raised letters of his name, Capitol Winchester, stretch across his chest like a workman’s name embroidered on a pocket. He stands a sturdy four feet tall, with spider webs encircling his seventy-five-inch waist. Someone once tried to spiff him up by painting him white.

Capitol Winchester chugged along during a sixty-six-day stretch when it stayed below freezing from December 18, 1977, until February 23, 1978. He purred at age sixty when national TV crews came to town to film the tallest-ever Winter Carnival Ice Palace in 1986. Each October, he clocks in and runs until April. An old man who comes just for winter.

When I bought the house eight years ago, I nervously signed up for the utility company’s appliance insurance program. They sent a guy over to check things out. I was sure my Capitol Winchester was a goner.

“Naw,” the guy said, affectionately tapping the furnace with his clipboard. “These things can go for one hundred years. They’re much better than the new ones.”

The lady from the insurance company wasn’t so impressed.

“You’ve got an old furnace,” she droned as she declined my homeowner’s policy.

“Yes, I know,” I said politely, but she wasn’t going to budge. It was like she wanted to take Old Shep out behind the barn and shoot him. American Express and I haven’t spoken since.

Capitol Winchester may retire on me one of these days. I wonder each October as I swivel the thermostat knob whether I’m going to lose him during a -30° cold snap. But each April arrives, and he’s still on the job.

I know the new models are the size of makeup cases. Those gaunt supermodels probably consume less energy. But could they work as uncomplainingly as Capitol Winchester?

He’s so old that you can’t Google him. The average furnace today lasts twenty years. I guess Capitol Winchester didn’t get the memo about planned obsolescence. It’s true he can’t double as an iPod or text message me at work while he’s breaking down. But Capitol Winchester is my true hero of winter.

Comment List

  • Chicago Vota 13 / 11 / 2016 Reply

    Looks like I have the same model. Bought my house 23 years ago and never thought of changing it. It was converted to gas before I purchased the house and ran like a tank until the Republic radiator gave up the ghost last year. I had it retrofitted with a Honeywell and it ran great until a couple weeks ago. The pilot light mechanism that the heating guy installed seems to have been deliberately shoddy to get me to replace it. I did a Home Depot run yesterday, purchased a gas grill piezo lighter and retrofitted it. Spent $450 for the shoddy work and $15 to fix it to a safer to light.

    Next step – get rid of the asbestos and move to fiberglass. The tank rolls on.

  • Bill Adams 12 / 03 / 2014 Reply

    We lived in Omaha from 1971 through 1976, the last 4 of those years in our own beautiful brick and stucco house that was built in 1923 by a Swedish builder who built it for himself. It was probably the most solid house I’ve ever lived in; the floors felt as solid as concrete. We could actually dance or jump around while playing records without making the music get all wobbly.

    Our heating system consisted of a Capitol-Winchester hot-water boiler nearly identical to yours (I also took pictures) that fed large, cast-iron radiators in all 8 rooms of the house. The system was completely filled with water which circulated naturally when the burner was on, without the aid of pumps. It was almost totally quiet, the heat was even, and we loved being able to cozy up to the warm radiators when we came in from the cold. I learned how to clean the boiler and bleed the system of air. The boiler was originally coal-fired, then converted to oil, and by the time we arrived it had been converted to gas. We drove by the house last summer, and it appears that the boiler has been replaced by a modern high-efficiency system. It might save them a little gas, but it will never last like the old boiler, and they will always know when it’s running.

    Now we live in Dodge Center in a ’70s vintage split-foyer house which is easier to heat, cool, and maintain, but has only about 1/10 the “personality” of our old house. I don’t miss the big city life, but I do miss that house and the quiet way it kept us warm in winter.

  • Ed Voytovich 11 / 04 / 2013 Reply

    I googled “capitol winchester boiler” and found plenty of information about this marvelous survivor from the days when the “Dead Men” knew how to make equipment to last. It’s great fun to read about this boiler (including what appears to be an original manual).

  • Bill Buttrill 11 / 04 / 2013 Reply

    Is it a furnace or a boiler? What is the fuel source? It looks like it was coal fired originally. I’m sure that it not the case today. More pics :>))

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