Carol Nelson: We cleaned out the building and moved in on December 19th, winter of 1977.
Don Nelson: There was no heat in the building so we brought in what we’d made up at the New York Farm — we’d made woodstoves out of old water heaters and 55-gallon barrels. Every person’s apartment had a big brick wall. You could tap along it and find as many as six or seven different flues in there. You could knock out some bricks, tap into one of those flues, and use that to vent and hook up your woodstove.
Sharon Wells: When we first started heating with a wood fire, we would go into abandoned buildings and take wood out of them. The buildings were crumbling anyway, so you may as well take out anything that was good for something.
Don Nelson: Then you had to go out and find firewood. We’d come in hauling firewood after going to Joe Maligno’s dad out on Long Island or Albert Bates’s mother out in Connecticut; clearing out their woods, thinning them out, prettying them up. People on the street would say, “What are you going to build with that wood?” “We’re going to build fires.”
Eli Gifford: Every week Don and I climbed into a 1948 Chevy 16-foot flatbed truck and lumbered off through the streets of New York City to the hinterland of rural suburbia with chainsaws, wedges, splitting mauls, gas, oil, and good-old-standby axes. First time I drove that behemoth through the narrow streets of New York City with cars double-parked on both sides of the street so it looked like a Volkswagen bug wouldn’t fit, Don gave me my first NYC-truck-driving lesson — not lesson — more like philosophy. “Don’t worry if there is enough space — just believe there is and drive between the cars.” That is a pretty damn stupid philosophy, if you ask me (he didn’t) but I never hit a car the entire winter of driving that flatbed truck. It is hard work cutting down trees, hauling them through the woods, and loading them on the truck, but our day did not end when we finally showed up at the doorstep of 1157 Fulton Street. We had three flights of stairs to haul each round up. So we set up a chain of men from the truck up three flights of stairs, because in the South Bronx if there is something of value on the streets at sunset, it is not there at sunrise.
Don Nelson: Neighbors called the fire department on us because they could smell smoke. The Bronx was burning. There were a lot of fire scares and burning buildings in the Bronx. We were about two blocks up from the fire department. We were used to the sirens going by. We hear the sirens come up and they don’t go by. The lights were flashing in the window. I looked out the window and I could see them coming in right below where I was. They were two or three stories below. This was at night. I was undressed and the lights were out. I jumped up and was able to get just ahead of the first firemen spiraling up the stairs. I ran them up to the roof and opened the door, so they didn’t have to break anything down, and showed them the smoke was coming out of the flues. They laughed, got on the radio, and said, “Yes, it’s just coming out of the flue.”
Eli Gifford: Somehow we made it through that first winter fine with all the usual runny noses. Come summer the following year we had a godsend: a furnace. New York Farm construction crew was remodeling an old farmhouse and it had a large old furnace. Imagine a series of donuts on edge standing about four feet all tightly held together with five-foot long bolts. No problem. We’ll take everything apart load it in the back of a pickup truck and put it together in our basement. We didn’t know till later from furnace men that if you tear apart an old furnace and put it back together it leaks — always. This was one always that wasn’t an always. Five years it was still down there purring — actually, boiling away.
But I get ahead of myself. Before any of that could happen Dennis McGurk and I had to take off this six-inch thick covering. It seemed like some weird mixture of clay and insulation — fiberglass? Nope. It happened to be good old asbestos and the asbestos lawsuit hadn’t hit the courts yet, and these two hippies, in a room just big enough to let you get around, were not notified by the proper authorities that we were about to give ourselves one helluva dose of USA-bonafide-lung-cancer-asbestos fibers. We were young men anyways. Who needed masks?
Man, that stuff came off so easy. That room was a cloud of ripped, torn, and scraped asbestos and two hippies. I’ll knock on wood right now cause I don’t have lung cancer — hope Dennis doesn’t.