During the rocketstoves workshop pictured here at Blackrange Lodge in 2003, Ianto said, “who would like to type up my notes about these stoves?” My hand shot up before I could think twice.
“Typing up his notes” meant visiting Cottage Grove in Oregon and during the slushy wetness of February, live in the toolshed (no door, but a lovely rumford fireplace!) We started the worksession with a Pyromania! workshop: A gathering of enthusiastic wood burners, most of whom knew Ianto well, and who had been tinkering with rocketstoves. It was workshop as well as brainstorming retreat. Shannon Dealy was there. So was Kiko Denzer, who brought his wife Hanna’s bread. Ianto had already been living with a rocket mass heater of his own for five years and there was one in the modern condo that housed the Cob Cottage Co office, on the same property. We disassembled that heater, and one in a greenhouse, so that I became familiar with the these machines (who lived in Oakland and for whom fire means backyard campfire with cold beers and friends, not a necessary survival method for Real Winters). After the weekend and for two weeks, we went for sunrise walks, drank tea, and talked a lot. About books, art, making the proper cup of tea, Irish humor, etc. Every day for a few hours, sitting on the warm bench in the Heart House (at right) , Ianto would dictate to me what you still basically see in the book.
If you want to write a book, it should require no research. It should already be in your head. It may need some editing, but you should be able to say it. Or it’s not your book. My role, which unfolded as we worked, was to encourage, receive, be muse, I suppose. Ianto’s role was to know what to say. And he did.
After the end of that time, I went back to Oakland and began straightening up the text and learning self-publishing. Ianto stayed home and started drawing. For the next six months or so, Ianto would send drawings, I would send back typed pages (often using the same envelope and the same uncancelled stamps, as our luck would have it). Eventually we sent a collection to Michael G. Smith, the best editor Ianto knows.
The first edition, called Rocket Stoves to Heat Cob Buildings, was printed on legal-sized paper, folded in half and saddle-stitched, (stapled). Like a ‘zine, it was printed in a local copy service called Piedmont Copy, in Oakland. Thanks to an excellent article on self-publishing by Kevin Kelly in his site called CoolTools, the book was available as a .pdf as well as mail order here and at Amazon dot com.
People started reading and building their own stoves. Ianto spent time on the phone, got feedback from readers about what was missing/unclear. We needed more info and data as these stoves weren’t given the rigorous testing and measuring that rocket stoves were getting. They were much more of a fringe experimenter’s/tinkerer’s machine. In 2006, Ianto gathered a few serious pyros together for some experiments. I would be there to draw, photograph, and play the fiddle. Also involved were Kirk “Donkey” Mobert, who had attended a cob workshop and built a stove of his own before the book was even published, and Ernie Wisner, who arrived on a recumbent bike and knew Ianto from having been his chef for a few seasons. Both love fire. We built a few stoves side-by-side and fired them up. “The Stove races” I called it. Our powers of observation and a contact thermometer was as high tech a measuring device as we had. And using the very materials we were suggesting readers build their stoves with–broken chunks of red brick, used stove pipe from the dump sand and clay–we ascertained quite a bit of info for a new edition of the book, with answers to questions we didn’t realize might come up. How long can you build a burn tunnel, how high is too high for a heat exchange stack? Are these scaleable down? We were beginning to answer questions for readers we realized Ianto hadn’t written for, believing he had a manual for the serious pyro only.
This work session spawned the Second Edition, with a new name, Rocket Mass Heaters, Superefficient Woodstoves YOU Can Build (and snuggle up to), with a real spine and cover, and printed by a midwest printing company called United Graphics, LLC. It also spawned the first online forum on rocket mass heaters by Kirk which both he and Ernie (and now, a handful of truly passionate and creative stove builders) have been moderating for these 8 years.