It didn’t look like much. But the small stature of this cast iron box belied its true heft.
At 248 pounds, this wood stove weighed more than most refrigerators - but in a much smaller package. And we had to figure out some way the five of us were going to haul it up a mountain.
“We’re gonna ‘Ark of the Covenant’ this thing,” said Bryan Wiegers with a grin, referring to the way the ancient Israelites used wooden poles to carry the Ark of God in the days of Moses. I couldn’t help but also think about how Indy and Salah did the same thing in Raiders of the Lost Ark…
But this was no movie; we were undertaking a special mission to replace the worn-out woodstove that has helped keep Cabin guests warm for the last 30+ years. That stove stopped producing efficient heat a few winters ago and could hardly keep The Cabin warmer than 65 degrees on a cold winter’s night. Replacing it was a critical update on the list of the EHMI Board of Trustees.
There were five of us who had volunteered to undertake this mission. Bryan Wiegers, of course, who sourced the woodstove itself, buying it with Greg Gordon several years earlier. Then there was Kent Koeman, a man who smiles at just about every opportunity to do things that are physically difficult. Alongside Kent there was Brian Graves, another man with sneaky powerful strength and an appetite for conquering the most physical of challenges. Also, Mike Clafferty, a new Friend of the Cabin who came along to relish in the labor while keeping us laughing with funny quips and his masterful ability to belch at will. Then there was me – a guy with a bad back and barely average strength, but who loves the camaraderie of being on a mission with other guys.
And so, we were the five who stood over this small black box of heaviness at Camp Shiloh in New Hampshire, fingertips stroking chins and brows, wondering aloud how we would transport it safely up East Haven Mountain without killing ourselves both figuratively and literally.
And then there was that wonderful “eureka” moment that broke into our collective thought and discussion – of how transporting it would be possible using two long 2x4s and a few tie-down straps. A brilliant “man-o-vation” crystalized and before we knew it, the stove was attached very sturdily to the wood and the straps in a manner that would even make Indiana Jones proud.
After loading it into Bryan’s pickup, we soaked in the blessings of a prayer spoken over us by Greg Gordon (the original owner of The Cabin) to encourage us, keep us safe and give us strength.
Within an hour we were in East Haven, unloading the stove in the pouring rain at the side of a deserted logging road that Bryan said would give us the shortest point-to-point route to The Cabin. Just under a mile.
We took some pieces off the stove to lighten it – such as a few of the internal firewall cement blocks; the door and another piece of bolted-on metal. We would return to the truck for those pieces and our backpacks after we got the stove to The Cabin.
It was a precarious and exhausting haul. It started off with four guys carrying the stove up the trail, each man grabbing hold of one end of a 2x4, ignoring the fact we were quickly soaked through our clothes from the rain…heaving, sliding, lifting our “little ark” in all sorts of awkward ways up a narrow trail that was getting progressively muddier and steeper.
We stopped about every 20-50 feet to re-grip, catch our breath, navigate over a large rock or fallen tree or to rotate where each man was carrying so as not to exhaust left and right arm and leg muscles too quickly. The fifth man would rotate in with fresher muscles every 10 minutes or so. It was quite an effective system that we made up on the fly. Nonetheless, the task was brutally challenging.
The strongest guys in the group – which was everyone but me – would sometimes take the stove for a spell with only one man carrying it at either end. Sure, they’d grant the rest of us a reprieve, but I could swear they also did it because they’re the kind of guys who thrive on pushing their bodies through seemingly impossible physical challenges.
“You guys are animals!” I would shout, as they found a fresh burst of energy and strength that I could only hope to muster.
At just under a mile, this kind of hike would normally take around 30 minutes, depending on a hiker’s pace and the frequency of rest breaks. For these five guys hauling a mini Ark of the Covenant in the rain, it took just over two hours. One of our crew recorded the journey using a hiking tracker app on his smartphone and discovered some fascinating data: during those two hours, we were stationary for 83 minutes, while in motion hauling the stove uphill for the other 37 minutes. We also made a vertical gain of more than 1,400 feet on that trail. So, while it was the shortest route to The Cabin, it was also one of the steepest ways to get there.
The rain abated during the climb and the sun even poked through as we got closer to the top. Fortunately, our collective strength and determination (fueled by The Holy Spirit!) helped us carry on. When we reached the clearing at the toolshed, sore hands and tired muscles gave way to excitement that our goal was close by. That’s when Kent Koeman and Brian Graves had another burst of energy, each taking hold of one end of the stove themselves and making the last 200 yards of the haul on their own. Within minutes we were making our way onto the deck of The Cabin. There were high-fives, fist-bumps and a collective praise to God for giving us everything we needed to make it happen.
Within about 10 minutes all five of us were on our way BACK DOWN the mountain to the vehicles. We still had to retrieve the other pieces of the stove and we needed our backpacks and the food we would be cooking for dinner. But Bryan made sure we wouldn’t be going down empty-handed! An old gas grill was quickly disassembled. It, along with a couple of broken plastic chairs, and a few trash bags of old food and Cabin clutter were soon slung over our backs for the descent. The load was certainly lighter and going downhill was so much easier that within 30 minutes we made it back to the truck. A brief rest at the bottom and then with stove pieces and our backpacks, we went right back up the trail. The stronger, fitter guys bounded back up the mountain trail while some of us (that would be me), were finding it difficult to ignore the fatigue and muscle soreness. Let’s just say it took a bit longer for me to get back up the mountain a second time.
Back at The Cabin, we began the disassembly process of the old woodstove that would ultimately be replaced. After some wrenching, unscrewing and shifting, the old red stove came loose from its perch, after which it was brought out onto the deck. Meanwhile the new stove and all its newly assembled piece parts that we hauled up was shimmied into place. We propped it up onto some blocks to ensure it lined up for an exact fit with the Cabin’s stovepipe.
After a few final adjustments, Kent could hardly wait to christen the new stove and began loading it with newspaper and a couple pieces of firewood. Within minutes, we were enjoying the warm glow of the stove’s first fire, despite the fact it was late July and at least 85 degrees outside. But it HAD to be done by this group of guys who, out of love for the EHMI mission of bringing people closer to God through shared experiences at The Cabin, were happy to bear the brunt of hauling that heavy hunk of iron up the mountain.
As the small flame began to grow, it became a moment to savor and reflect on. We smiled and laughed – not to congratulate ourselves or to satisfy our egos, but to celebrate together the accomplishment of this mission that God had given us to do for the benefit of future Cabin visitors.
This woodstove will bring warmth and comfort, hopefully to thousands of Cabin guests over the next 30 years – God willing.