Monday, September 30, 2013

Regulation and the Regulators they beget

In the past three years Chicago residents have witnessed one of the largest, most widespread and often irritating infrastructure improvements in the city's recent history:  the upgrading of the natural gas distribution system by the local utility People's Gas.  Streets and parkways are torn up, parking can be disrupted and restricted for weeks, gas meters are relocated from inside to the outside of many houses, often requiring rerouting of inside gas lines.  To top it off, the different phases of the work in any block can be spread out through a year or more, with very little communication provided on what work will be done and when it will happen.

For many owners of vintage stoves, including Chambers, the change can have drastic implications.  The primary reason is in many neighborhoods, the old gas supply system is being upgraded to a high pressure system.

All gas stoves are manufactured to operate with a standard pressure of gas:  If that pressure is exceeded, certain components of the stove, mainly the valves used to turn the gas on and off, will be overpowered and gas will escape past them and into your kitchen.

If your home is located in a high pressure delivery system, a disc shaped regulator (about 10" wide) is attached to your home's gas supply pipe just before going into your house.  There may be a meter between your house and the regulator, or the meter may be inside your house.  The purpose of the regulator is to "regulate" (decrease) the pressure of the gas from the high pressure "street" supply to the standard lower pressure for your home's gas appliances.

But many old neighborhoods still have low pressure gas systems that date from the original installations of the late 1800's to early 1900's.  Homes served by those systems do not have regulators because the gas supply coming from the street is the same pressure the stove and other components were made to operate at.  For various safety and efficiency reasons, those old systems are being replaced with a new high pressure supply, and when they are being replaced, regulators and meters are being installed.  But before the utility's personnel are allowed to turn the gas on and leave the house, they are required to inspect any suspect (aka: vintage era) stove to check to see if it has a regulator.  If not, the stove is summarily disconnected, the supply to the stove plugged, and the owner is told that it cannot be reconnected until a regulator has been installed.

Since the 50's and 60's, stoves have been mandated to have their own regulators for safety redundancy: if your home's regulator fails, allowing high pressure gas into your house's gas pipes, the stove's regulator would reduce it to the lower pressure your stove's components can handle.

Fitting a regulator to your Chambers is a fairly straightforward job that any plumber should be able to handle in an hour, two at most.  If you don't have a modern yellow plastic coated flex line and an on/off valve between your stove and the pipe coming out of the kitchen wall or floor, now would be the time to update everything.  You can buy all the parts for about $100, though regulators are not usually available at hardware stores:  check professional appliance supply stores in your area.

Of course if you are not qualified to work on gas systems, leave this upgrade to a professional.  If you need this work done and you haven't had your Chambers looked at in a while, please give me a call.

Monday, September 9, 2013

In-A-Counter Encounter

Having serviced quite a few Chambers "In-A-Counter" cooktops recently, I've come to appreciate their unique characteristics, compared to their free-standing sisters.  Typical Chambers design and build quality, together with distinct features, makes it clear why Chambers cook top units were so incredibly popular from their introduction in the 1950's until the company's demise in 1987.  Anyone considering a cooking appliance should take a close look at the "In-A-Counter" cooktops.

Our family shares ownership with another family of a farm near Dodgeville, Wisconsin.  The farm is in what's called the "driftless" region of Wisconsin, a very hilly area that the last few glaciers didn't plow through and render flat, like most of my Illinois homeland.  Us flatlanders are easily impressed, and particularly enamored with this part of Wisconsin:  the contour plowing, classic farm buildings, and winding blacktops provide a beautiful quilt of color and textures.  The farm's former owners nurtured Sugar Maples and apple trees near the farmhouse, and we strive to keep up their tradition of bringing in the harvest.  So this recent weekend we and our farm partners spent our post Labor Day "vacation" as we often do:  working like dogs processing our crop of apples into cider.   This year's crop was particularly abundant, and fortunately, our farm partner's son brought three of his college buddies along to share in the harvest work.  The farmhouse has a horrible electric range, which we all hate, and in the remodel of the kitchen that we've been dreaming about for years we've of course known that it will include a Chambers range.  However, while feeding the Apple Cider Gang of ten, with the In-A-Counter cooktops on my mind, it became clear to me that the Chambers range just won't do:  it will have to be a Chambers cooktop and wall oven.

The basic difference between a range and the "In-A-Counter" unit is that cooktops do not have a ThermoWell.  Some Chambers purists argue that the lack of such makes a cooktop less than a "real" Chambers range.  Everyone's entitled to their opinions:  I absolutely prefer the aesthetics of a range, and love the unique fact and function of a ThermoWell.  To my eye, cooktops come across as visually cold,  even stern, compared to their more colorful and curvy companions.  But two nifty things I'm admiring about the cooktops are its four surface burners, and the extra space around each of them.

As the one doing most of the cooking back home in Chicago, it is annoying how the crowded burners on our Chambers Model B range will not allow large pots and pans to all sit centered on their burners.  It's not due to the range's small size.  Ask anyone who's had to accomadate their existing cabinetry to a Chambers range:  37" side to side, compared to the standard 30".  It's the placement of the Griddle/Broiler on the left of the range resulting in the burners on the right being crowded quite close together, so much so that large skillets and pots will not be centered on their burners.

The In-A-Counter units still have the standard countertop depth as ranges, and gain only 1/2" of extra space between the back burners and the backsplash.  Not much, but it is an improvement.  The big difference is the increased width, devouring even more prime countertop real estate than a range:  a massive  forty two inches!  That extra width, and placement of the Griddle/Broiler at the center of the cooktop, between the left and right banks of surface burners, results in much easier placement of large pots and pans on a busy surface.  

I love the look of our white Chambers B, and whose heart doesn't skip a beat at the sight of a gorgeous red hiback Model C?  But when push comes to shove, when ya gotta feed alot o' pancakes, eggs and bacon to alot o' hungry people, you want to do it easy and fast.  Give me that spacious In-A-Counter cooktop!  

One issue with the majority of Cooktops is their bad "idling" habits, requiring up to 3 pilot lights:  one for the left bank of burners, one for the right burners and griddle, and a third if the unit has a "Burner with a Brain."   If you want to prevent this amount of heat from escaping into your kitchen and melting the polar ice caps, you can do one of two things:  turn off the pilots and use a hand-held grill starter to ignite the burners, or seek out the very latest In-A-Cooktop versions that utilized electronic ignition.  Very nifty, very simple and robust.

As an ardent Model B fan from day one, I'm certain to have guilt pangs when looking at that cold, soul-less, stainless steel In-A-Counter cooktop some future morning after we've remodeled the farm's kitchen.  But I know those pangs will be forgotten when we are enjoying it's extra capacity and conveniences cooking up the huge breakfasts and dinners required to feed our workers, er, guests, at harvest time.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Timely Item

For many years, anybody who'd listen has heard me spout on about how great a stove a Chambers is:  Retained heat cooking, the Thermo-Well, the cooktop griddle and broiler.  Oh yeah, and that great little dial timer too. 

Four months ago I removed our timer to fix it and, well, you know the old saw about a cobbler and his kid’s shoes:  we’ve been without the thing ever since. Its absence has been conspicuous, and very enlightening about the role it plays not only for cooking on the stove, but for our family dynamic.  The effect has been so noticeable that my perspective about the timer and the stove has totally flipped.  Now I tell people that a Chambers is a fantastic timer, which just happens to have a great stove attached.  Here's what that new perspective is about.

Free-floating Lux timers, or kitchen timers (some people call them egg timers) aren't anything new or rare:  they are absolutely ubiquitous, have been around forever, and as far as I know Lux still makes most of them.  But just where is yours at the moment?  Mine?  Well, I do have one somewhere around here.  Uh, let's see, where’d I put it last?  Hmmm, not on the countertop, where it's supposed to be.  Maybe the "miracle" drawer.  Nope, at least not in the top layer.  Maybe behind the toaster.  Nah.  Well, my son used it for his science homework...  Oh, right, he's not home.  No way I'm gonna go in his room:  a water buffalo would be hard to find in there by sight or smell.  Let's see... did I leave it in the basement workshop?

You get the point:  rather than the convenience they are meant to provide, those free-floating little buggers are so easy to misplace that they become a stress generating nuisance! 

Now, that same timer, attached to a Chambers…  It makes all the difference in the world, an incredibly ingenious convenience.  But to those who don’t own a Chambers, that timer dial is sorta like George Smiley, of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:  so common looking, so mundane, so invisible.  But so very, very affective. 

I had no idea about that ten years ago when my wife and I first installed our Chambers.  As we lived with it, we of course loved it, but until the timer's recent absence we really didn't fathom the specific elements of our appreciation.   But boy, we sure did use that timer a lot:  thirty minutes for piano practice, son.  Having a tantrum about it?  20 minutes time out, mister!   Okay, gotta rustle up some grub:  Rice will be done in the ThermoWell when the timer dings in ten minutes.  Just the right amount of time for pre-heating the broiler.  Pop in the chops and for another 8 minutes and it'll be time for dinner.  Please set the table!  30 minutes until the Bull's game starts.  

Now, having lived four months with the goll-blasted free floating egg timer, we realize how perfectly simple, predictable, reliable, and reachable the Chambers timer is, and what a quantum leap in usefulness over a free-floating timer these qualities provide.  Absolutely no amount of psychic stress precedes or accompanies its use.  It can be located and set blindfolded.  It's there...  We set it...  We don't even think about it.  At home, the rhythm of our lives depends on it.  

That's not all.  Another infinitesimally perceptible quality about the timer, as fantastically mundane as it is profound, is this simple fact:  

It requires only one hand to operate.  

Not impressed?  Let me put that another way...  Let me "quantify" that:  it requires 50 percent fewer hands to operate than a free-floating timer.  

Laughing, are you?  Well, before you guffaw too much, let me set the scene: 

It's Saturday, 5:15 pm.  Meatloaf’s for dinner so my hands are full of raw eggy, raw meaty, soggy bread-crumby meatloaf schmutz.  I suddenly remember that I MUST call my car mechanic before they close in 15 minutes to make sure that they have put my wife's car outside the shop for her to pick up tonight, so she’ll have it for work for Monday morning.  But first I gotta get this mess o’ meat into a pan and in the oven.   Here are my choices:

Scenario A:  Chambers stove timer:  Grab a paper towel with my right hand, set the Chambers timer for 10 minutes, live to see another day. 

Elapsed time:  10 seconds.  Stress level:  1 on a scale of ten.   

Scenario B (free-floating timer):  Scan the kitchen countertops.  Well, scan the chaos on our kitchen countertops.  Scooch the piles of school papers, bills, magazines, toys, glasses, gloves, cat toys, photographs, etc. around with my elbows.  No good.  Rummage with either hand for the timer through the Miracle drawer, spreading gobs of weapons-grade salmonella throughout.  Spy the timer.  Pick it up with one hand, set dial with the other, schmearing it thoroughly with death slime. 

Elapsed time:  5 minutes plus.  Stress level:  6 on a scale of ten.   

Scenario C (free-floating timer):  scrape meatloaf mix off both hands, wash thoroughly, search for and hopefully find the timer, then forget what the heck it was I wanted it for in the first place.  Until we are at the table an hour later and my wife sits and ruins a perfectly cooked meatloaf dinner by asking if she can pick up her car at the mechanic’s.

Elapsed time:  eternity.  Stress level:  Off scale.   

You can now appreciate the beauty of a Chambers timer:  knowing absolutely where the timer is, and the unfettered ability to set it by one hand. 

We’re still not done.  Did I mention acoustics?  Give me a classic mechanical egg timer any day over a digital version.  I like their sound, enjoy their action, and value the fact that they do not consume batteries.  However, stand in a kitchen and listen to a free floater, then a Chambers timer.  The difference is significant.  Some may say that it is more a matter of esthetics rather than practicality.  Well, sure, but, between a toy violin and a Stradavarius, what would you prefer?  Doesn’t the phrase “Quality of Life” apply here?

I would also argue that the sound of a Chambers timer does offer practical advantages.  It is, after all, attached to a 475 pound, 2’ deep by 3’ wide by 4’ tall hollow metal sound box.  The reverberations from that timer have lots of surface areas and interior spaces to resonate within and project from.  Its sound is way louder and more far reaching than any dinky, plastic, free floating timer.

There you have it.  The real perspective on why owning a Chambers timer with attached stove is the timely thing to do.  I better take a few minutes to get that thing fixed and back in place. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keep the turkey out of the Chambers?

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  For a succulent turkey with golden crispy skin, nothing beats a Chambers.  Well, almost nothing...

Heretical as it may sound, it's my belief that the best way to use a Chambers for the Great Turkey Day is to save it for all the miscellaneous baked sides:  pie, potatoes, extra dressing, biscuits, etc, etc.  Though I truly LOVE a Chambers turkey cooked in a Lisk roaster, the logistics of lots of people to feed with lots of baked items puts a squeeze on the ol' fireless range.

Fortunately, there is fantastic (and often vintage) solution:  it called the Nesco Roaster, that ubiquitous countertop cooker that does a great job on Tom Turkey while keeping the Chambers free for other things.  That's how Tillie (grandma Oliver) did it throughout my childhood.  Man, the smells are wafting through my olfactory as I type.  Tillie's children, grandchildren and great grandchildren still do it that way.

My advice is to look for a Nesco roaster, preferably vintage just to maintain the esthetic.  Easily found at estate sales or online on Craigslist or Ebay.  The old ovals are very cool looking, but most often you'll find them in a rectangular shape, plenty big for a 20 lb. turkey.  Some are fancier than others, sometimes coming with it's own rolling cabinet so it doesn't take up any countertop space.

Like a Chambers, they're well built with little to go wrong.  They often come with cool nesting containers for cooking items separately from each other, and original manuals are useful and very fun (possum recipes, interesting narratives on domesticity).  Make sure it comes with the wire rack to place the turkey on:  it keeps the bird from directly contacting the bottom, and makes it possible and safe to lift the finished bird out in one piece.

The usual fix-up for them is to replace their frayed, brittle power cord or a knob, easily done at your local Ace Hardware.  Just bring in the old one for reference.

This time - just before the baking holidays - would be the time to make sure your Chambers is operating at peak.  You will enjoy your Chambers so much more when it's adjusted and lubricated to operate and perform the way it was meant to.  Call now to schedule an inspection and low cost tune-up.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

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Tell your friends with Chambers Stoves to check this out.  And any comments would be appreciated!