I grew up outside Philadelphia in Benjamin Franklin country. Franklin’s electrical storm kite experiment confirmed his notion that we could harness electrical power. This experiment, which started with his curiosity, literally changed the world.
Once Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, there was no stopping other inventors from bringing electricity to the masses. Electricity spawned General Electric, energy consumerism and convenience. Now we have electric lights instead of kerosene lamps, electric ranges instead of wood burning cook stoves, electric refrigerators instead of ice boxes. Whoa! Hold on. With the miracle of electricity, how the heck did we end up with a propane refrigerator?
For 11 years, we have been living off the grid deep in the Santa Lucia Mountains in Cambria’s backcountry. We spent our first year here in a fifth-wheel trailer and have spent the past 10 years in a house. Off-the-grid for us means solar power for all of our electrical needs, a wood stove for heat, and propane for everything else, including our wretched propane refrigerator. No indicators of what our solar set-up could support included the luxury of an electric refrigerator.
For 10 years, we have suffered with a propane refrigerator that we had to defrost every six weeks and had to fight to keep running, experiencing one fridge failure after another.
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Mind you, not all propane refrigerators are the work of the devil, but we apparently got one that was possessed by an evil spirit. It was built by an independent Amish man in Illinois who was unable to give us much assistance when we had trouble, and almost no one on the Central Coast is knowledgeable about working on this model.
This refrigerator, this bane of my existence in an otherwise heavenly living environment, died for the umpteenth time late in October. During its death throes, we were keeping it running by wedging a piece of wood against the button that kept the pilot light on. We decided that, as far as we were concerned, it had used up all of its propane refrigerator lives, and we agreed not to resuscitate it again.
What do you do when you have an awful appliance that needs to be replaced and nothing you can find seems less problematic? In our case, we decided to venture outside the propane box and start to research alternatives. Imagine our surprise at how seriously energy-efficient electric refrigerators have become since we moved to the back of beyond.
Imagine our delight at finding a refrigerator the same size as our 18-cubic-foot propane model that would purportedly use no more energy than a light bulb. Imagine us rolling our eyes at each other as our appliance salesman tried to get us to believe this. When we mentioned this claim to friends and coworkers, the reaction was always the same. It would have to be a pretty darned big light bulb.
But, we were desperate, so we decided to trust in the unlikely claim of the salesman and buy the refrigerator. We started talking about beefing up our solar array to accommodate this new appliance if we needed to. I was willing to consider anything to have the electric refrigerator I’d been wishing for.
So, what do you think happened? Our new electric refrigerator has turned out to be the dream-come-true we had hoped it would be and really doesn’t use more energy than a 100-watt light bulb. We have moved out of the dark ages and into the 21st century, at least on the refrigerator front.
Every time I go into the kitchen, I can hardly believe we survived the propane refrigerator wars and came out the other end into the light. And to think this blessing started with Ben Franklin’s lightening experiment and Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb — the symbol of all good ideas and aha moments.
Marcia Rhoades’ column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at firstname.lastname@example.org.