This week's outing took me to Jim Grenfell's backyard in Bend. Grenfell's a nice guy, and as hospitable as the next, but I'm not including directions. Grenfell and wife Chari winterized the lawn recently; lots of tromping around would surely be counterproductive.
But Grenfell and his friend Leon Pantenburg are as excited as kids at a Nintendo factory to spread the word about this little backpacking stove they've been tinkering with. It's startlingly inexpensive, lightweight and simple, which they both equate to trouble-free.
Which is why I found myself shivering out back with Grenfell and Pantenburg last week, enjoying a fried egg (sunny side up) and waiting for the coffee to come to a rolling boil.
A veteran reporter and outdoorsman, Pantenburg writes freelance stories for The Bulletin. Grenfell is a retired dental school professor, wilderness survival expert and metallurgical artist. Both are active with a local Boy Scout troop, which provides them with a corps of committed field testers.
I spent a delightful day with Grenfell and Pantenburg in the Ochocos a few years back, hunting for jasper to be used as fire-starting rocks, another Scouting project.
Anyway, back to the fried egg.
It was tasty. And all the more so because it was sauteed in subfreezing temperatures and served up in a Sierra cup, a multipurpose backpacker's utensil. In full view of the kitchen window. On a little stove that's so simple it only has one moveable part - a penny.
"I have a collection of backpacker stoves that don't work," said Pantenburg.
"The penny, the fill cap, is the only part of this stove which can be moved as compared to most backpacker stoves, which may have pumps, switches and valves, all of which are intended to provide control and are susceptible to malfunction," according to Grenfell.
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The penny alcohol stove was invented by a fellow named Mark Jurey.
"User comments and our own tests lead us to believe that it is the best backpacker's stove in terms of cost, weight, size and trouble-free function," Grenfell said.
But Grenfell and Pantenburg found the original design to be a bit wobbly, the building instructions "difficult to follow."
So the incorrigible pair set out a couple months ago to improve on Jurey's "brilliant invention."
They added a stand and sought to simplify the instructions. The result is a stove that can be built in an hour for mere pennies and that has the potential of lasting several seasons of hard use.
The stove itself weighs in at just shy of 1 ounce; the kit that Grenfell and Pantenburg have developed includes stove, "spork," coffee and condiment packets and a flask full of fuel, and weighs 2 pounds, 5 ounces.
"They're the rage on the Pacific Crest Trail right now," said Grenfell.
The stove is made of three 12-ounce Heineken beer cans (after much testing, they liked the Heineken cans the best), one 12-ounce Coca-Cola can, Permaoxy Multi-Metal Epoxy, Krazy Glue, a steel welding rod or heavy wire, a new penny and a square of aluminum foil. That's it.
The tank is the bottom of a Heineken can. The burner is the bottom of the second Heineken can. The tank nestles inside the insulation section, a portion of the third beer can. The lid is fashioned from the Coke can.
The stove burns denatured ethyl alcohol, a fuel alcohol which can be purchased locally at Fred Meyer for less than $10 a gallon (it is NOT drinkable). The stove takes 50 milliliters of fuel to operate, which comes to 13 cents for each use of the stove. Grenfell did the math.
"This is safe because the fuel is not explosive," said Grenfell, warming to the subject. Users must still exercise caution because the flame can't be seen in bright light and it will float on water while burning. Never use such a stove indoors or inside a tent.
According to Pantenburg, who's been operating the stove four or five times a day for the past month or so, it boils 16 ounces of water at 3,500 feet elevation in 4.5 minutes. That's at an air temperature of about 50 degrees.
It costs Grenfell and Pantenburg less than $16 to build a stove and put the kit together.
"I was looking for something the Boy Scouts can use that's cheap," said Pantenburg. "I wrung this thing out. We're not talking gourmet cooking, we're talking backpacking ... Ninety percent of the time, you're using a stove to heat water."
The coffee came to a boil and the conversation turned to people and places beyond the Grenfells' backyard. But not for long.
The penny. Why the penny? It turns out, the penny serves as the cap that covers the three access holes for fueling the stove. It can be moved aside during a burn to boost the heat, but that hastens fuel consumption.
"I've been preoccupied with this project," Grenfell said, "because it works so damn well."
Jurey's Web site on the penny alcohol stove can be accessed at http://www.csun.edu/~mjurey /penny.html. Jim Grenfell can be reached at 593-6751.