Jilly D.

Not getting married kept it hot at night

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on February 21, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 215Meeting Mother Warren legitimated our relationship in a way no wedding ever could. Sam and I could say our vows in front of an altar, but confessing our love in front of his parents was as good as telling it to God.  I remember calling my mother to tell her and dad I had met the man with whom I intended to spend the rest of my life. They seemed relieved to know it was a man, and somewhat surprised I’d found a match.

Sammy Minor Warren, the son of Charles Warren who is the youngest son of Harry Warren, started driving tractor on this land when he was 5 years old. He remembers Grandpa Warren teaching him how to kill potato bugs by knocking them off the plants into a pie tin filled with gasoline. Sam still prefers his 1951 Allis Chalmers C Tractor for plowing, harrowing and planting in the twenty-first century.

Charles Warren bought this land located one mile south from Sam’s Grandfather Harry Warren’s farm down the county line on the Schuyler County side. Janet and Charlie moved into their home when Sam was born in 1951.  This modest 1840 farmhouse has a bathroom sink installed when the Warrens moved there. The sink is the appropriate height for little Sammy to wash his hands; they haven’t changed it in half a century.

Located 1.5 miles south of New York State Route 79 on South Buck Hill Road our farm is halfway between Watkins Glen and Ithaca, NY. Just past where Enfield Center Road dead ends onto Buck Hill Road, you see the street sign for Deer Run Lane; a wooded one-way unpaved driveway. When you come around the curve, the woods clear and the fields open up. You can see for miles.

IMG020At the bottom of the fields lays a crystal clear 5 acre pond, millhouse, woodshed and machine shed. Deer, elk and buffalo graze in paddocks and pastures adjacent to the barn. The windmill atop the 80 ft. tower and the little turbine on the tin roof of the house catch your eye right away. On the southern slant of the woodshed and millhouse roof are banks of solar panels. Inside the millhouse is the waterwheel.

In 1968 Charlie built a state-licensed pond and Sam helped him do it. It is 18 feet deep; spring fed and covers 5 acres. Charlie picked one of the most beautiful places on earth to live. Sam has worked the land and developed the property diligently to honor his father.cabin where sam and jill live

Mother Warren knows how blessed she is to have her family so close to her heart. Her daughter, Judy, and son-in-law, Wayne, spent a few years in the 1970s stationed in Germany. When Wayne left the military they moved to the northeast corner of the original family farm. They still live there. Their son, Jamie, and daughter, Marti-Jo, both grown adults still live within two miles of their parents and grandparents. Sam didn’t go into the city of Ithaca until he was 12 years old, but he made up for it by traveling all across this continent in his 18 wheel rig before he returned home to the farm in 1992 like a prodigal son. He made his mother happy and his father proud.

??????????????Sam and I never married because I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe the government has any right to license or register love. The state issues you a license, but all they test is your blood. Sam already flunked marriage twice. He’d married Sharon when he was 23 years old and had a beautiful daughter, Tricia. After the baby was born, Sharon wasn’t interested in Sam and he sought the solitude of the road as a trucker.

Sam married again 10 years later to a younger woman who bankrupted him with her cocaine habit, but not until she had slept with most of his friends and acquaintances while he was on the road trucking and trying to keep the bills paid. Colette (rhymes with toilet I was instructed) bore a son for whom Sam pays child support but with whom he has never been allowed any contact. Colette’s five husbands since – the last in prison for bank robbery – have all had to pay maintenance on this child given Sam’s name. No piece of paper can make a union work. He messed up his first marriage and was messed over on his second. I was not going to be the third wife. I never intended to marry.

Initially Sam didn’t believe me. What gal doesn’t want the white wedding scenario? The ring? The ensuing babies? Likewise I had difficulty believing any man wasn’t interested in just one thing: sex. We both had a lot to learn; especially about each other. Almost 40 years old I felt as though I’d waited all my life for Sam. I was glad I hadn’t met him any sooner. I had learned to take care of myself. And Sam had taken his own time to mature as a man.

Sam proposed marriage several times over several weeks, but he shifted his proposition to spending our lives together and came to appreciate my view of weddings as an incredible waste of money. I worried the “too soon, too fast” syndrome would ruin what we had started. I was having too much fun playing Little House on Warren Pond.

There are no guarantees in life. I took a risk. I made it to 40 years old without any ex-husbands or step-children. I planned to keep it that way.


Sam Warren made many improvements and additions to our homestead over the years; from materials on hand and what we could afford at the time. Most of these projects involved creating additional heat during the coldest days of the year during February. We had plenty of wood. With the enclosure of the porch, he added radiant floor heat.

The radiant floor heat worked well in the coldest months but we found it difficult to moderate the temperatures inside during fall and spring. Radiant heat requires 12-24 hours to take full effect. A cold evening in November or April can sometimes be followed by a sunny, hot afternoon the next day. By the time the floors were really warm it would be sweltering inside.  Adding old fashioned cast iron radiators to the heating system allowed for more rapid heat dispersion in the cabin when needed.

Having hot water running through the pipes in the floor can be costly if you heat water with propane. It has become quite fashionable in home redecorating schemes, but it is not always economical. Sam heated the water circulating throughout the cabin with the help of his old wood cook stove.

100_1027Nearly 20 years ago Sam found this antique 300 lb. cast iron stove in Florida and trucked it back to upstate New York. It is the center of our home. The tiny firebox of 6” X 6” X 18” can quickly raise the temperature of the cabin because of the massive size and weight of the cast iron stove. But it is amazing to see how it can also heat water. The pipes run through the fire chamber of the cook stove and circumvent the need for the propane water heater altogether in winter.

A water heater is a terrible waste of energy for the most part. Electric water heaters are ridiculously inefficient; propane less so. Most of us are so used to having hot water on demand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year that we don’t realize what it costs. New fangled “on-demand hot water” systems are the latest rage for those concerned about wasted energy and expense. Borrowed from the European models, these units heat small volumes of water just before you need them.

A simpler method for controlling the hot water heater is the temperature gauge. Before taking a bath, washing floors or doing a sink full of dishes it is easy to turn the knob up to a hotter temperature (120-140 degrees) about 15 minutes before you start running water. When you are not using hot water, turn the temperature gauge down to its lowest setting. Common sense energy conservation.

In winter, Sam starts a wood fire in the cook stove. The pipes run through the firebox and it heats up the water. The water circulates through the floor and up and down re-purposed cast iron steam radiators. The biggest radiator sits in front of the porch windows to counteract whatever cold air hits us from the south.

Sam decided to add a second hot water manifold around the Ben Franklin wood stove the next year. This one he put underneath the grill we use for indoor barbecues. Pipes run back and forth above the flames of the fire. Hence, the water is heated once by the big wood cook stove and circulated halfway through the cabin before heated again on the Ben Franklin.

After ten years together, I am certain I will never be cold in the winter if I’m with Sam. He likes to keep it cozy and warm. He’s cold if it gets below 70 degrees. Once I hit middle age and experienced my own tropical moments in sub-Arctic conditions, I stopped worrying about ever being too cold again. The best part of the “change,” according to Sam, is that I always come to bed naked. No more flannel nightgowns.

When Sam built the millhouse around the waterwheel, he “remodeled” the kitchen. The old lean-to summer kitchen had nothing more than a small propane gas stove, two shelves two foot long by eight inches wide and an electric fridge. In our first year together, I learned to cook in his place the hard way.

The propane stove was new to me when I agreed to bake blueberry muffins and turned the knob to 350 degrees. After ten minutes I noticed it wasn’t pre-heating. I asked for Sam’s help in getting it to work. He opened the door to the lean-to and lit a match.

KA-BOOM! The force of the explosion knocked him back into the main room. The gas had been filling the lean-to since I’d turned the knob on.

After rushing to him, I helped Sam to his feet.

“Okay. The oven is lit now. You can get supper on,” he said, while staggering to find his usual seat on the bench. He sat down, hung his head and waited for me to make him supper. He didn’t say much about it then, but he’s told the story of how I first tried to kill him dozens of times since.

By 6:30 pm, dinner is done and we haven’t had to turn on any appliances all day. The passive solar heat is generated from the sun hitting the flagstone floor in front of the wall of triple-pane glass on the south side of the cabin. Sam started a fire in the Ben Franklin so we could barbecue chicken for supper. It is 84 degrees inside and only 5 degrees outside. The photovoltaic panels on the roof made enough power to keep one circulating pump and the electric fence going all day and night. The water running through tubing underneath the floor kept it plenty warm all day and it will stay warm all night. The sun sets. Supper is over. Time for bed.

  1. Lovely, Jill. I hope these posts are going to be converted into a book one day. Heart, Jenna

  2. Yep, you have all the ingredients to keep readers turning the next page. Looking forward to more of you and Sam and Warren Pond.

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