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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stove Hospital Gives New Life to Old Stoves

Pineos repair antique stoves so they can be reused to heat homes and cook food.
Text and photos by FRANK CARINI/ News staff
Emery Pineo has been fixing antique stoves for 40 years.

LITTLE COMPTON — The backyard of the home where Brandon Pineo grew up looks like the final resting place for outdated stoves. But these once-modern home appliances are not brought here to rust away; they come to Long Highway to be reborn.
For the past four decades, Pineo’s father, Emery, has specialized in the largely-forgotten practice of repair and reuse. Some 10,000 different types of wood and coal stoves once heated New England homes, before they were replaced by so-called modern comforts.

The Antique Stove Hospital restores about 150 period-piece stoves a year. At any given moment, the hospital has 200-300 patients, some of which will never work again but are the last known survivors of their kind. Others stick around to provide parts.

In all of New England, there are only about a dozen practitioners of antique stove restoration.

Emery Pineo began dabbling with stoves — out of necessity — in the early 1970s, when that decade’s energy crisis drove up the cost of home heating oil. “I bought a stove for two hundred dollars and it was worth about forty,” Emery said. “Fixing that thing was how I got started in this business.”

At the time, Emery was teaching middle-school science in Barrington, but word of his stove-repair ability spread quickly. In his spare time, he soon found himself repairing neighbors’ stoves, and not long after that, he began picking up stoves in need of hospitalization from strangers.

“It was a hobby that grew terribly out of control,” the 69-year-old Emery said.

In 2000, after 31 years in the classroom, Emery retired to his stove-fixing workshop — less than a short field goal from his home. The Antique Stove Hospital had its first full-time doctor. Six years later, his youngest son retired from his middle-school classroom on Block Island, moved to East Providence and began his residency at the hospital. Brandon, 35, now commutes to his boyhood home to go to work.

“I  grew up around these stoves,” Brandon said. “I watched my father fix them and I learned the skill.”

This stove from the mid-1870s heats the Antique Stove Hospital’s shop
The Pineos repair all types of wood and coal stoves. All restored stoves have been disassembled, cleaned, parts welded or replaced, caulked, reassembled, painted, new grates installed and nickel replaced. Their rebuilt stoves are guaranteed to operate as they were designed.

“We start over from scratch and give each stove a complete restoration,” Emery said. “It’s like going into a hardware store in 1915 and buying a new one.”

Hospital customers are from as far away as Alaska, New Zealand, Dubai and Iceland. The Pineos are currently restoring a range that soon will be warming a kitchen in Idaho. They recently received a call from Arizona from a man looking for stove parts. The Pineos’ biggest customer over the years have been Cracker Barrel restaurants, which have bought 850 refurbished stoves.

Some stoves are sold or rented to production companies. FEARnet, a cable channel, website and video-on-demand service that specializes in thriller, suspense and horror entertainment, recently bought a 9-foot-tall French-style range from the mid-1890s. The stove, which was slated for a full restoration, was bought by the cable channel to be used in an upcoming horror film.

Other customers are collectors who buy stoves as they are, because they want to handle the restoration work themselves.

“We had a guy once drive down from Minnesota to pick up a Happy Thought Range,” Emery said. “It was in deplorable condition.”

The collector paid $1,200 for his Happy Thought.
Since the Antique Stove Hospital no longer makes house calls, the Pineos never know what is coming down their gravel driveway when a truck pulls in. Besides the stoves delivered to their shop to be repaired or adopted, the father-and-son team also find their patients at yard sales, hidden in barns or dredged up in Maine during some recent work.

Their inventory includes a stove built in the 1680s. They bought it for $100 at a yard sale six months ago. They have several Shaker Colony stoves, and a covered-wagon stove that was used to burn buffalo dung. Some of their antique stoves feature themes; others were once hung from ceilings.

They have a 10-plate stove from 1805, guard-shack stoves, schoolhouse stoves and rare stoves. Some of their stoves are antique replicas of older antiques. They have a stove from 1797 that has no nuts or bolts. Gravity holds it together, according to Emery.
They have several stoves in their private collection that can no longer be used because their tiles are radioactive.

Watch out! Those green tiles are radioactive
“They’re pretty to look at, but don’t fire ’em up,” Emery said.

They have a 1791 open Franklin stove with heat exchanger that Emery said, “Belongs in the Smithsonian.” A railroad-car stove from the mid-1870s heats the hospital’s emergency room.

“These stoves were the most advanced mechanical things in our homes from the Civil War to the 1920s,” Brandon said. “They were very high-tech appliances.”

When Brandon first moved from Block Island to East Providence, he used a stove built in 1882 to heat his home and cook meat pies. It cost him $310 that winter to heat his two-bedroom ranch. The stove is now back at the hospital, waiting to be bought.

While the Pineos repair relics so they can be reused to heat homes and cook food, they also aren’t afraid to embrace the future of stoves. They remain true to stocking only antique stoves — “their design and construction has proven to be a superior product to anything made today” — they have discovered a new type of stove they believe is going to revolutionize home heating and make the “heavy, breakdown-prone, electricity-reliant pellet stoves” of today a thing of the past.

The Wiseway
The Wiseway pellet stove, first developed in Oregon 15 years ago, operates entirely off the grid. It doesn’t require any blowers, augers, electric motors, electronic thermostats or heating elements. Its gravity-fed design drafts by itself up a standard pellet-stove chimney. It is capable of a 58,900 BTU output, but also can be throttled down considerably.

The stove projects heat forward; the back and sides are barely warm to the touch.

“It looks like it belongs in an Ikea, but the Wiseway is the future,” said Brandon, standing in what amounts to the hospital’s showroom. The room, with a 16-foot-high ceiling, is being comfortably heated on a late-November morning by a Wiseway. He said one of these 113-pound stoves can easily heat about 2,200 square feet, depending on the insulation situation.

“This stove is the future of heating and doing it responsibly,” Brandon added. “It burns 1.6 grams of carbon an hour. It already meets pollution requirements for 2020. These stoves burn so clean.”

Wiseways cost about $1,800, plus a chimney kit, if the space in need of heat is chimney free. Two tons of pellets — wood waste products such as compressed sawdust — will get you through the New England home-heating season, according to Brandon. A ton of pellets costs about $210.

The Antique Stove Hospital became a licensed retailer of the Wiseway in October. Since then, the Pineos have sold 20 of Wiseway pellet stoves. A neighbor down the street was the first person to buy one.

“We’re faithful to the antiques, but the Wiseway is a significant development,” Brandon said. “It’s a self-sufficient way to heat your home in a responsible way.”

The Pineos, however, still prefer the stoves built long before Ikea and Walmart began selling cheap imitations for $49. They enjoy the thrill of putting a century-old stove back into working order.

“You’d be astonished at how effective these old stoves can be,” said Emery, standing proudly in the hospital’s boneyard. “Some of these stoves, when working properly, are more efficient than the stoves of today.”