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If the bitter cold this week troubles you, cheer up! It was worse on this date a century ago.

The high temperature on Dec. 16, 1916, was a relatively balmy 23 above, but that's deceptive. But HVAC systems were a lot different then.

Homes generally relied on coal for heat back then, not a steady supply of natural gas fed through a pipeline. Propane customers who depend on regular deliveries might know what it means to worry about fuel supplies when the weather gets cold. I remember running out of propane more than once when the truck didn't deliver the fuel on time. Believe me, natural gas was a priority when I shopped for a home after renting an old farmhouse.

The "coal famine" in mid December 1916 was a real concern.

"Gary coal dealers are alarmed over the supply prospects and unless there is a relief both as to the zero wave and the car shortage they see high prices and inability to make many deliveries at all," a story in The Lake County Times said on Dec. 16, 1916.

"There is enough hard coal to last a month and of soft coal the supply will not last longer than a week or two," the story said.

The shortage of railroad cars full of coal was blamed.

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But the shortage of coal wasn't the only worry. The safety of heating systems was, too.

"Explosion Wrecks Dwelling In Dead of Night," said the banner headline across all seven columns on the front page that day.

At 1 a.m., an explosion destroyed a house, leaving a family homeless and the windows in the house next door broken.

"Hundreds of people have braved the cold to see the ruins at 410 Summer street today," The Lake County Times reported. "It was one degree below zero at the time, according to a thermometer in the vicinity."

Police Capt. Hanlon "found that the radiators in the wrecked house, which had been heated by a hot water system, were frozen. The overflow tank was in a like condition and as the fire in the ruined boiler was a heavy one it is believed the explosion resulted when the hot water was prevented from circulating."

R.B. Yasnlis, his wife and two children escaped from their beds in their night clothes and were uninjured except for the shock of seeing their home in shambles.

George Sweiman, whose address and occupation were unknown, wasn't so lucky that day. He was taken to St. Margaret's Hospital, "suffering severely from frostbite."

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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