I recently attended a Catholic church in northern Maine, built in 1937. When the service ended, the pastor asked those present to consider a donation toward the needed furnace.

And by the way, he wondered, did anyone know someone who might remember how they got the furnace into the basement in the first place? The contractor was trying to figure how to get it out.

I stopped to thank him for his homily, and to ask him if he had ever read “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” as a child. No, he couldn’t say that he had, he shared.

I explained the story of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, who dig cellars for city skyscrapers until they were outdated by modern diesel engines. To prove themselves, they took on the job of digging one last foundation for the new town hall promising to finish the job in one day. However, in their haste, they neglected to leave a way out for the old steam shovel – not unlike the old furnace in the church.

“So what did they do?”

I told him that he would have to read it for himself, and I promised to send him the book once I returned home.


Once back home in southern Maine, I shared my experience with my neighbor who owns three apartment buildings in northern Maine. He told me that around the holidays, he received a phone call that the furnace in one of his buildings had stopped working.

He texted his handyman and asked him to please check it out. The text that came back was not encouraging: The handyman said it was fatal, and could not get the old burners to start. He would need several parts, and it would be days before he could get them.

It was freezing, three families were without heat and it was the holiday weekend. My neighbor expressed all this to the handyman in a text and then waited for a response.

At 10 p.m., he got a text: “Heats on.” Somehow, the handyman had gotten the furnace running. The handyman knew that the parts were not to be purchased locally, so he crept into a deserted building that had been vacant for years. As he climbed down into the basement, he found the abandoned furnace still standing in the dark and cold room. Carefully examining all of the furnace’s remaining parts, he was able to restore the broken furnace.

“How did you get the parts across town?” my neighbor asked his handyman. “You don’t even have a license to drive.”

“I just put them in my wheelbarrow and ran them back and forth all day!” the handyman replied.


“You pushed a wheelbarrow up and down those streets in freezing temperatures, into the night?”

“Well, I needed to get it fixed. The tenants had nowhere to go, and they had little kids. So I did what I had to do, that’s all.”

“Send me your cost for the extra work to fix the furnace.”

“I did – it’s just my usual day’s pay!”

Read more stories from Maine at www.pressherald.com/meetinghouse

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