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At home on the range

Our food page lately had a fine article about household cookery on an old-time wood-burning kitchen range, and I read it to my cook while she was stirring a lamb stew on a wood-burning stove. The article not only eulogized the ancient joys, but between the lines I felt a hanker to throw the power companies into bankruptcy -- a worthy crusade. My cook, whose wedding present from me was an old-time wood-burning kitchen range, assumed a faraway sentimental expression while I was reading, and she kept nodding at the good parts. When I finished, she said, ''Nothing about the Kineo!''

Not one word! The old ''black mogul'' is twitched from the archives now and then to remind of fine fare long gone, as if nobody ever cooked anything on any stove except the Modern Clarion, the Glenwood, and the Queen Atlantic - or one of the other 100-inch wheelbase models cast by the competition. Remember the P.D. Beckwith Estate of Dowagiac, Michigan? The Kalamazoo? Walker & Pratt? Those were all fine engines, with warming ovens, shelves, water tanks, thermometers, rods for socks and mittens - but not one of them the equal of the efficient little rascal called the Kineo, cast in Bangor, Maine, by the Wood & Bishop Foundry. Now long out of business.

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Wood & Bishop may have been better known for the ''ram-down.'' This was what we now call a ''space heater,'' a box stove with a top that slid completely to the side, revealing the entire fire box - wood was rammed down into it to last the night. The ram-down came in several sizes, and the big one would handle a lumbercamp with a hundred choppers. They'd be sitting around at -40 degrees (C. and F.) in their underwear, the ram-down aglow, and the shingles on the bunkhouse roof twittering like birds. The ram-down cover that slid aside would also have two circular covers for cooking, but that was secondary. Wood & Bishop made the ram-down and the Modern Clarion kitchen range as the mainstays of their ''line.''

But their best cookstove, and possibly the best cookstove made, was the Kineo. Kineo is a wild-land tract at Moosehead Lake, where Mount Kineo dominates the scenery at almost 2,000 feet. It was a good name to apply to a biscuit baker that would soon be as common in the Maine woods as blackflies, poachers, tree-squeaks, and absentee owners. The Kineo, also in several sizes, had four lids, but the top had an overhang so the cooking area was bigger than the oven and fire box. The oven had two doors, one on each side of the stove, so it opened like a tunnel. This was to permit setting the Kineo against a wall either way, but I don't recall ever seeing one so set. They'd be back to the wall and both doors available. The saying was that you could pass a pan of sal'ratus biscuits in at the starboard, remove them immediately at the port, and they'd be done to a golden brown, fluffy, and light's a feather.

The Kineo came close to that efficiency. It had no doodads, no extras, no ornaments -- it came straightforward, unpretentious, and purposeful. It did have a big hearth for keeping food warm, or for roosting larrigans in the leisure of a winters evening. Being something of a midget stove, the Kineo had short legs, and so was often set up on blocks of wood to bring the cooking surface to a comfortalbe height. My friend, Flint Johnson, had a Kineo in his hunting lodge up on Eustis Ridge which he played with much the same harmonious delight as provided by the organ in Westminster Abbey. Flint stands a mite better than six feet, and he had this Kineo up on blocks of wood so he was cooking at the level of his chin. This gave rise to one of the better, and most often abused, folklore goodies of the Maine wilderness.

Well, one fall he had a couple of professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of them commented that the stove was perfectly positioned to give it maximum efficiency in that camp. How, he asked, would a simple backwoodsman, without scientific training arrive at this somewhat complicated thermal conclusion? Flint explained that when he set the Kineo up, he lacked stovepipe enough to reach the floor.

Imitation Kineos are available. They say, ''Product of Taiwan.''

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