Archived Story

Sturdy ‘Rudy’ heated home 97 years

Published 8:27pm Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lansing State Journal

However long your creaky, clunky furnace has been mustering up heat, Kalmin and Marsha Smith probably had you beat.
The Grand Ledge couple’s basement beast faithfully performed its warmth-spreading duties for 97 years, earning it the title of the area’s oldest furnace in a contest sponsored by Aire Serv of Mid-Michigan.
The furnace’s antique vintage won the Smiths a brand-new, highly efficient Amana furnace for their 1893 townhouse.
But winning the contest also forced the Smiths to come to grips with life without “Rudy,” as their furnace had been affectionately called because of the lettering across the front of its giant cast-iron door.
“It was hard to let him go,” Marsha Smith said. “He was an interesting character.”
The Smiths only had known “Rudy” since 1996, when they bought their townhouse.
But the huge heat-giver dominated the basement like a “good-size baby elephant — with many trunks,” she said.
The Dowagiac-made machine had been converted, instead of replaced, as technology evolved.
Originally it burned coal, then oil and — finally — gas.
“You would open this cast-iron door and you could have burned the witch from Hansel and Gretel in it …” Marsha Smith said. “There was a big flame.”

A call to action

A March column about the oldest-furnace contest by my predecessor, John Schneider, first got Marsha and Kalmin, who is the Grand Ledge mayor, thinking about their furnace’s future.
Marsha Smith, believing she might have a shot at winning the contest, decided to invite the folks at Grand Ledge-based Aire Serv to meet “Rudy.”
Aire Serv received 120 entries from the tri-county area and conducted 71 home visits to assess furnace ages.
Some furnaces were only in their 20s, while a few reached into their 80s and 90s.
The Smith’s furnace ended up being so old that it wasn’t in the book of antique furnaces toted to the house by Aire Serv experts.
The Smith’s furnace conversion began about a month ago, with “Rudy” having to come out to make room for its successor.
An Aire Serv crew had to remove asbestos and figure out a way to get “Rudy” out the door.
“He had to be cut apart,” Marsha Smith said. “It was very sad, actually.”

‘Clean Boy’

The newly installed machine is expected to make quite a difference.
“Rudy” was tested to be 63 percent efficient and counted on the laws of physics (instead of fans) to raise the heated air through the house.
The new Amana, valued at $2,500, is rated as 95 percent efficient and leaves the Smiths with new open spaces in their basement.
The Smiths have been using the new furnace about two weeks and haven’t yet been able to assess the impact on their bill.
They’re also still getting used to their new wireless thermostat, which they can move anywhere in the house.
So far, Marsha Smith has taken to calling the new arrival “Clean Boy” because of its pristine appearance.
“We’re very warm and cozy, and it’s working well,” she said.

Call Mark Mayes at (517) 377-1175 or email

Reprinted with permission.

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