Saturday, June 27, 2020

Using the Hayes-Custer Range in the Summer Kitchen

As I've mentioned before, we moved our summer kitchen closer to the house in April of 2019.  However, I didn't get a cookstove hooked up in it last summer because I was so busy with all of the rigamarole of publishing my novel.  This year, because of all the Covid-19 stuff, I've had a lot more time at home, so with the help of my brother, I was able to move the Riverside Bakewell to a different corner of the summer kitchen and put the Hayes-Custer on the hearth.

First, some of you may be wondering why I traded the beautiful green and cream Riverside Bakewell with its spacious warming ovens for the beige Hayes-Custer which is only outfitted with a high shelf, especially when I tell you that the baking ovens and cooktops are the same size.

The Riverside Bakewell--former occupant of
the hearth in our summer kitchen.

Folks, it all comes down to this:

The right oven door hinge broke some years ago, and while the stove still heats, cooks, and bakes just fine, this is a major inconvenience, and it's also rather dangerous since one has to balance the hot oven door on one's knee in order to transfer anything into or out of the oven.

Besides, I also wanted to be able to share the experience of cooking on a different cookstove with all of you.

You can read about the acquisition of the Hayes-Custer at this post, and you can read about the history of the Hayes-Custer Stove Company here, so this post is about the range itself and its actual use.

This stove has done 100% of the cooking, baking, and food preservation here since its installation on June 12th.  While food preservation has so far only been canning pickled beets, blanching peas for the freezer, and a batch of mixed fruit jelly, there is a lot more of that to come.  The meal preparations have only involved breakfast once because I've been eating a lot of toast and cold cereal on these warmer mornings, but dinners and suppers have been a little more elaborate.

So far, I would say that the stove performs just fine.  I do have to rotate things which are baking, but I've got some chimney improvements to do which may change that.  I'll let you know.

The fire you see burning in the stove is of wood, but yes, you
do see coal in that hod in the lower right corner of the picture.
I'm trying to learn how to burn coal, but it is proving to be quite
the learning curve.  I'll let you know if I ever get it figured out.

In the picture below, you can see some homemade hamburger buns which were toasting over the fire, waiting for the barbecued beef which is in the pot to their right.  The hamburger buns were baked in the Hayes-Custer and rotated once.  You can see that the bottoms were sufficiently browned as well.

One of the things that I like about this stove is that it has a pouch feed with a door which lifts up.  The Riverside Bakewell has a pouch feed, but it opens down.  The Qualified Range has a pouch feed too, and it opens up, and I really prefer this arrangement.  The Margin Gem doesn't have a pouch feed, and I would have to admit that I miss it.

You can also see from the picture below that the hole for the lid lifter in the "T" has worn through, and I have stuffed it with foil so it doesn't spoil the draft.  There is also a chip out of the cast iron to the right of the pouch feed door, which I have also temporarily patched with foil for the same reason. This is not scientific stove repair, but it is certainly affordable.  (Actually, the foil had even been used once already.)

While putting the stove back together after moving it, I noticed something unique about the pouch feed door.  The left hinge pin is constructed such that it has a tab on the end that juts out to the left.  This seemingly little thing is actually quite thoughtful on the part of the Hayes-Custer designers. The Qualified Range is not equipped with this extra tab, and I've had the pouch feed door fall off a few times during particularly athletic episodes of adding fuel through this door.

You may have noticed how rusty the top of the range is in the two pictures above.  I had removed all of the rust with my grill brick and given it a good coating of vegetable oil once the stove was in place, but I've had some hot fires since then, so the oil burned off over the firebox quickly.  Then, even though the summer kitchen is an enclosed building, the windows are open nearly all the time, so the humidity can get pretty high in there.  Hence, the rust came back in a hurry.

You can see in the picture below that this stove has seen some intense heat. Below the pouch feed, a repair has been made using stove cement. I imagine that this injury is the result of an extremely hot coal fire at some point in the stove's history.

The Hayes-Custer firebox is 7" deep x 8" wide x 18" long and is equipped with duplex grates.

Another interesting feature of this stove is that the only place which tells you who the manufacturer was is the outside of the front firebox door.  In a day when most stove makers were prominently autographing their ranges, the Hayes-Custer company was concealing their information pretty well. You can also see from this picture that the handle has broken off the front of the ash drawer.  This makes ash removal a little more difficult than it need be, but I've learned that by prying with a small flat screwdriver or the handle of a pair of pliers, you can create a gap between the top of the ash pan and the opening to get your fingers into and pull.

Although I haven't measured its capacity, the reservoir on this stove seems HUGE.  It must hold at least ten gallons.

Of course, when I run into a vintage stove, I can't help but wonder about its history.  Was this range a household's only heat during the notorious winter of 1936?  How many Thanksgiving dinners did it turn out?  In this stove's previous home, it had not been used since the 1970s when an ice storm knocked out the electric power for a week.  It kept its owners warm and well fed during that time.

No matter what its history, it is certainly working hard in its present.  And I'm pretty sure that I'm the first person in its list of owners to ever bake a frozen pizza in it!  Don't be too harsh on us.  During Covid-19 Quarantine, we've eaten exactly two frozen pizzas, but we've had three from-scratch homemade ones, complete with sauce which was home-canned.

You can see the raging fire that was burning in
order to achieve the quick oven needed for baking
a frozen pizza.

The finished frozen pizza.
I don't know what the temperature inside the summer kitchen reaches, but I can assure you it is beastly hot.  However, doing all of the cooking out there has enabled us to go without turning on our house's air conditioning so far this summer.  In addition, there is very little cost involved in collecting the fuel for this stove since I'm able to use small sticks and other poor quality scrap wood I've picked up in our pastures.  And while the Lord has so far protected us from dire financial consequences during these uncertain times, it does seem prudent right now to trim costs wherever we are able.

Stay tuned for more posts which feature this stove, since it looks like it's going to have a busy summer.

In the meantime, if you are interested in the Riverside Bakewell, let me know--since I'm interested in having the floorspace back.


  1. I just found your site and I am enthralled! We have heated with wood for 30 years and I also have an old cook stove but I’ve never learned to use it. I think it’s time.

    1. Welcome to my blog and thank you for your kind words, T! If you have any specific questions about cooking on a woodburning cookstove, be sure to let me know; I'll do my best to help. In the meantime, enjoy the reading!

  2. It's such a shame that the Riverside Bakewell is out of commission - it's so pretty. Hopefully there's a solution out there somewhere. Looks like the Hayes has seen some hard miles in its day and is up for more.

  3. Wonderful article! Hello from Alaska. I am currently living off grid in a dry cabin. I just inherited my Grandparents wood stove and will be installing it soon. This stove was one I was also raised cooking on when our power went out in the winter in the 1980’s. So I won’t be a complete stranger to this old family member but we will have some catching up to do now that I am almost 50.
    My comment to your article.... my Papa was reminding me that to polish the stove back to usable standards and keep it shining... Grandma used waxed paper. Tear off a large sheet, ball it up and scrub it on while the stove is still hot.
    I’m not clear if this will keep the rust from coming back but might be worth a try.
    I will be looking forward to reading more articles!
    Best wishes, and God Bless.

    1. Welcome to my blog, Snowkeeper! I've heard of and used this same waxed paper method for cleaning the soleplate of a clothes iron. I'll have to give it a try on the stove. Thanks for the reminder!

      If you would ever be interested in me writing a Reader's Cookstove post about your stove, just let me know. And please feel free to comment regularly!