Imagine my surprise when I discovered that covering car engines with blankets to keep them warm on frosty nights isn’t the only technique that is a few cylinders short of four — let alone a V6 or V8.
Last week’s column not only threw cold water on the idea but also smoked out a confession.
The gut-spilling came from a man who pleaded with me not to use his full name and consented only to be identified as Jef from Sparta. The heck with what he wants to be called.
It’s more fun to call a Spartan Spartacus, so let’s do that, even if he says, “I am not Spartacus.”
Spartacus provided a back story, perhaps to build a case for plausible deniability of responsibility. He was born in South Dakota, but even being from the same state that gave us the Corn Palace isn’t a good excuse for what he did.
However, he lived there for only six months, when his family moved to St. Paul. Being a resident of the Gopher State during his formative years and into his mid-20s comes close to getting him a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The facts that he then got married and eventually moved elsewhere doesn’t have a bearing on his criminal jacket, but his decision to return to the Midwest reflects well on his character.
“Bottom line,” Spartacus wrote, “I know COLD and the effect that it can have on vehicles.”
Spartacus said he also recalls the practice, from Neanderthal days, of tucking in vehicle engines and, as I did in the column, questions its effectiveness.
“My Dad was a pretty smart guy, too, and I think he knew that, while a blanket probably slowed the heat loss, that engine would be at whatever the outside air temperature was 10 to 12 hours later.
“I’m guessing that it was more of a ritual. I don’t remember ever hanging a trouble light (treble LOL) in the engine compartment but as the years of very cold winters went on, we did invest in block heaters and dipstick (oil) heaters to mitigate those subzero temps,” Spartacus noted.
“Fast forward just a few years. I’m in college (River Falls, Wis.) and the winter is just as cold as it is in the Twin Cities. I have a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I live off-campus and like to drive to class,” he wrote.
An aside: Talk about a small world — although I drove a Volkswagen Beetle when I was in college, I owned a Karmann Ghia just a few years later, and then another — a convertible that threw a rod but was fun while it lasted (and the guy who bought and repaired it drove it for years). Spartacus had a total of 3½ KGs (three drivable and another, just for parts, he told me).
Like most college kids, he had to park on the street, and he had learned enough to eschew the blanket option.
Instead, he wrote, “I came up with a novel method to warm the engine. Before I describe it, keep in mind that I’m (at that time) a just post-adolescent male (i.e. brain not fully developed).
“Back in those days, most trash cans were fairly heavy galvanized steel with steel lids. I ‘appropriated’ a lid from a nearby trash can. I smashed the handle flat so it was like a large shallow bowl,” Spartacus wrote in a paper-trailed admission of larceny and mayhem that obviously explains why he hides behind the nom de guerre of Jef from Sparta.
“I put a half bag or so of charcoal (by now you see where this is going) into the trash can lid, squirted some lighter fluid on it and lit the coals,” he wrote.
Hmmm, let’s change his name to Sparkacus — yeah, that’s the ticket.
“I wasn’t so dumb as to immediately slide the actively burning pile of charcoal under the engine. I did wait until the coals had become what most would consider perfect for grilling burgers or hot dogs. Then, I slid the cover under the engine,” Sparkacus wrote.
“I usually did this very late in the evening (right after ‘bar time’ — go figure) and let the charcoal burn until it was consumed. The car started easily on those extremely cold mornings, and I made it to class on time.
“Amazingly, I never had any issues with this method, in spite of the presence of the flammables in the immediate area.”
I’m a little surprised that he confessed so readily, because it’s a well-known fact that the statute of limitations doesn’t expire for stealing garbage can lids.
Plus, his polluting habit of burning charcoal makes him guilty of causing global warming.
Jef from Sparta admitted that the car’s engine compartment caught fire a year or so later, but it was during the summer, and he claims the charcoal couldn’t be blamed.
His final observation: “Not a chance in the world that I’d ever put a pile of glowing charcoal in a garbage can cover (who has steel ones anymore?) and slide it under my truck! That’s just plain crazy.”