January 24, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.

Battery wasn’t ready for the cold

Back in the Saddle


Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from Jan. 21, 2009. A couple of weeks ago, we shared Jack’s column about the 2005 ice storm. Once again in 2019, he was on adventures in the cold.


It only took a second before I knew I was in trouble.

The key turned in the ignition, and there was a sound like a low growl.

Then it stopped and clicked.

I tried again. Same growl. Same click. No ignition.

I looked at the odometer and read 92,020 miles.

And at that moment, I realized that the battery under the hood was original equipment.

Not what you want to have if you’re trying to start your car on a morning when it’s 15 below zero.

There had been warning signs on a couple of other cold mornings. The car started, but it started grudgingly, not enthusiastically. (I’ve had mornings when my start to the day could be described the same way.)

Back inside, grumbling but blaming myself not the battery, I prepared to bundle up.

If you live in the Midwest long enough, you develop a serious outdoor winter wardrobe.

I was already wearing long johns, jeans, a turtleneck, and a cotton sweater. A second pair of socks under my old boots would have been a good idea, but I was going to be late for work if I didn’t get started.

From the closet came my down parka. I bought it more than 20 years ago, and in a normal winter I’ll only wear it about a dozen days. But when you need it, you need it. And I figure that by wearing it only a dozen days a year, it has at least another 20 years of service ahead of it.

The parka has a series of string ties to cinch it up and keep out the cold. I tied the one at the waist, zipped up, snapped a few snaps, and tied up another string to cinch up the coat right around the hips.

Then it was time to address my head and face. The myth about 40 percent of your body heat escaping through your head has been effectively busted, but when it’s 15 below zero and the wind is blowing, you want to keep as warm as possible.

I pulled a black silk balaclava over my head, making me look a bit like an aging ninja in the mirror. Then I put on a wool hat that’s lined with an insulating material. Then the hood came up and more snaps were snapped.

By now I looked more like a turtle than a ninja. If I’d had a mask, I suppose I could have passed as a ninja turtle, now that I think of it.

Gloves were pulled on, and it was time to be out the door.

It was about 7:30 a.m. when I set out, late, to walk to the office.

There was no traffic to be seen. No cars or trucks, let alone pedestrians.

Within a half a block, the cold had asserted itself on my legs. Blue jeans and longjohns weren’t enough to keep it out.

As I turned down Pleasant Street, I was aware of a few vehicles moving up and down U.S. 27, a few blocks away. Apparently I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to be out. Just the only one crazy enough to be out on foot.

I walked in the street because too few of the sidewalks were clear. The last thing I wanted to do was cover my feet with snow.

By Race Street, I was feeling pretty good. My eyes were cold, and for some reason I thought about the desert and the strange feeling one gets when the heat starts to dry your eyes.

By Arch Street, I started to wonder if I had made it halfway yet. I hadn’t. But by High Street, I figured I’d crossed the midpoint.

About then I wondered if anyone else at the newspaper had had similar car trouble.

Would there be anybody there? Would the boiler be functioning? Would I be able to warm up? Ever?

By Walnut Street, I was getting a little nervous. I could see steam rising from chimneys all around me, but I didn’t see any coming from the newspaper building. Could I type with my gloves on? I wondered.

At Main Street, I could see that there were plenty of cars in the parking lot.

Apparently I was the only person who was foolish enough to go into winter with an aging battery in a car that is routinely parked outside.

The good news is, the building’s boiler was working.

The better news is, a new battery has the car starting enthusiastically these days. I’m doing my best to follow its example.

PORTLAND WEATHER

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