“Winter and Wet Wool”

51AF46A0-7233-4C3F-9E95-1534183FB153It snowed four inches last night and my husband came in after a couple of hours of clearing snow from our home, our daughter’s and our neighbors. As usual he draped his wet clothes over radiators in the dining room and living room. The sight took me back to grade school and wet wool.

My elementary school was heated by radiators warmed by a giant furnace fed with sawdust. Long radiators spanned the length of each classroom, providing great ledges for wet clothing. We covered them with wet wool hats, wet wool mittens, wet wool gloves and wet wool jackets when we arrived at school. Today few winter clothes are made of wool, having been replaced with all sorts of polyester fleece and down alternative fillings. But any readers of my age can easily summon the very particular smell of wet wool on a radiator. Not as unpleasant as wet dog, but equally distinct.

Sawdust as fuel for a furnace was fairly normal in the 1950’s in Oregon. Timber was the biggest industry, and sawdust from the lumber mills was abundant and cheap. Our odd school janitor took care of the furnace, surfacing only to clean up when a student “lost his lunch.” One day in fourth grade in fact, Jim stood up to start the Pledge of Allegiance and promptly was sick. The janitor hurried in and sprinkled the mess with—sawdust!

Coal, sawdust, oil, and natural gas have all been used to fuel furnaces throughout my life. But radiators have been a constant. Here’s to the smells of winter, not just of Christmas cookies and pine trees. Let’s pause a minute to remember wet wool drying on a radiator.

27 thoughts on ““Winter and Wet Wool”

  1. I used to have a wool balaclava helmet, knitted by my Mum, as well as hand-knitted wool gloves. But we were not allowed to put them on the radiators at school, so when it was break time, they were still damp and cold. Even by the time I went home in the afternoon, they still hadn’t dried.
    My main coat for years as a boy was a wool duffel coat. Luckily, that had a lining, so I didn’t feel the fact that it hardly ever dried out.
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Why on earth did they not let you use the free dryers? Maybe your teachers couldn’t stand the smell of wet wool. My coat in college was a wool duffle too. I bought it when I needed a much warmer coat than I had needed in Oregon.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We had a “cloak room.” Pretty old fashioned name for the closet. But the tradition of the radiators was well established by the time I came to school. I would never have dared asked.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I likewise never heard of sawdust being used to fuel furnaces. I think I would’ve preferred clean sawdust to the dirty coal I shoveled into my barrack’s furnace during basic training at Fort Knox many moons ago.


  3. Our radiators were definitely multi-functional. Nothing like radiator heat. And that smell? I remember it well. When we went sledding, we always donned layers of our grandfather’s wool socks. Those were also what we hung as our Christmas stockings.


  4. We had hot water radiators in school not sure what they were powered with but us teenage girls used to lean up against them we were so cold in our tunic uniforms & tights!
    Great post Elizabeth!
    Bless you,


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