Bringing Home the “New” Maple Syrup Evaporator

by Tig Tillinghast

Today the guys and I went out to Enfield, NH to haul back an old 3′ by 10′ evaporator to replace our tiny 2′ by 5.5′ unit that served us the past couple few years. While the little unit should have been enough for what we were doing, it turned out to be less efficient than I’d hoped, and we plan on doing some expanding in the sugar bush over the next few years.

I knew I’d be upgrading to a larger used rig when we were sitting around a boil in the middle of last season. It was me, the two Roberts and John wondering why our new tricks (a homemade pre-heater, an improvised forced draft unit and a few other things, like dry wood) weren’t bringing our number of gallons boiled per hour much higher than it was the year before. We went from about 12 gallon an hour to just shy of 20 gallons an hour. When you have 800 taps, that’s not a lot of gallons, even with the ancient reverse osmosis machine we’d located and cobbled into some sort of working order. If each tap pushed out a gallon of sap in a day – a typical decent run day – we would be boiling at least 10 hours. Add a couple slow hours when starting up in the afternoon and some cleanup time at the end, and you might find yourself seeing the change of light toward dawn before slogging home.

So, sitting there during the boil with the other boys, I took the cordless phone and dialed up Leader Evaporator, finding their number on the back of a catalog. I spoke to a tired-sounding sales guy who proceeded to tell me that a 3×8 air-tight, wood fired arch with a new suit of their best pans would get to something close to $24,000. I put my hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and whispered the number to the guys. They immediately set to arguing about which piece of information I’d managed to screw up in relating our requirements to the sales rep. I told the fellow I’d stop wasting his time and went back to the boil and to the argument.

From that day on, we knew we’d be looking for an old-time rig that we could rescue. While the year before I’d seen plenty of wood fired evaporators in the classifieds section, suddenly they’d gone missing. With #2 fuel oil passing the $4 mark, people were sidelining oil rigs and snapping up the units coming on the market that used wood. That and the prices of stainless steel might explain a lot why Leader was demanding a starting year’s salary for an evaporator.

This past summer I found myself out in Enfield helping a friend of a friend look at the sugaring equipment that came with a house and garage he’d bought. He had no intent to sugar, but figured he’d ask me what the stuff was worth. It was a 3×10 wood fired Grimm from 1994. Pretty good condition. Raised flues, stainless, although the sugar pan looked like it had gone through some abuse. It came with steam hoods and all the stack pieces someone could possibly use. I’d made a list of prices for him, that I promptly forgot until a few months later, when my search for a used 3×8 unit proved fruitless.

This morning we picked up that unit, after taking a piece of the west wall of the sugarhouse off so that we could fit the new unit inside. After a century of disuse, this old chicken shack is about to burst its seams with both bulky equipment and the buzz of industry. I owe a big one to the Roberts, John and Mike for wasting a Saturday helping me get this monster over state lines. The picture above is of the trailer that had the 600 gallon feed tank and the evaporator behind it, with the back end just poking over the hitch. The rig filled that, the inside of the truck, and two additional pickups.

For those who’ve never done it, moving an evaporator involves knocking out the fire bricks one by one, transporting them, and then lifting the unit onto whatever is going to transport it. In general, it takes about three times as long you think it will.

The picture below shows the big rig in our shack, with Mike bringing in some bricks from the truck. Later, when we put the pans and hoods on the arch, the whole mass of metal reached just five inches below those cross beams on the ceiling. I still have to brick the arch in, but that’ll wait till worse weather this winter, and in the meantime, we’ll try to get the woods work done before the snow builds too high to work the line.