Tundra tradesman Dan Phinney serves a unique market.
He owns Phinncraft, an unusual heating company. As far as he knows, he’s the only heating professional serving the wilds of southwestern Alaska. His commute typically involves a bush plane, miles of barren tundra, and a rough landing outside an Eskimo village.
“From my shop in Dillingham, AK, I head northwest, responding to calls from Eskimo villages in need of heating system help.” Phinney lives in Elk, Washington, alternating between Dillingham and home.
“In the remote tundra villages I serve, residents were throwing away cast iron boilers every five years,” he continued. “They weren’t properly installed, and there wasn’t anyone to service them.”
Oil is the only fuel available on the coastal Alaskan tundra – and it doesn’t come cheap. It’s barged in once every year – the weather has to be warm enough for barges to make it up river, but cold enough to provide easy ground transportation over frozen tundra.
Once oil reaches the dock, it’s moved in 25-gallon drums via dogsled. The #1 fuel oil stays in an outdoor tank – sometimes gelling around -35°. But it runs into a 30-gallon “day tank” inside the building to liquefy before entering a boiler. Phinney uses a -30° outdoor design temp, but a few nights drop toward -50°.
“If you don’t have what you need out here, you’re totally out of luck,” continued Phinney. “There’s no Hajoca or Winnelson.” When Phinney orders parts, he always orders 20 percent extra. All of his parts, including the boiler, are flown into the villages.
In January, his work at the Dillingham City Jail pushed his limits. He had one hour to remove the existing boiler and fire a new MPO-IQ made by U.S. Boiler Company.
With – 30°F outdoors, and the inability to move prisoners elsewhere, the pressure was on, and he worked feverishly after pre-cutting and pre-assembling everything he could. For extra muscle, Phinney hired a few locals to help. Just as the temperature in the jail was getting uncomfortable, the new boiler ignited.
“On the tundra, only reliability trumps efficiency,” said Phinney. “That’s why I only use boilers made by U.S. Boiler Company; you get the best of both. Usually, it’s an MPO-IQ. When installed correctly and serviced annually, they last a very long time.”
The three-pass, cast iron boiler boasts 87% AFUE, and has a size range that fits most residential applications.
“I’ve been using these boilers for years,” continued Phinney. “I can’t use an unfamiliar product when I’m out here. U.S. Boiler Company keeps making the MPO-IQ more efficient and easier to install, most recently with the IQ control system.”
Addition of outdoor reset control, low-water cutoff, and high limit kit is made easy with plug-and-play cards. There’s no need to strip wires or remove the boiler’s cabinet.
The jail in Dillingham, and a more recent oil boiler retrofit in Togiak, are safe and warm because of Phinney’s diligence. As the years go by, Phinncraft’s reputation at the western Alaska Tundra Tradesman only grows.
“I can’t imagine another line of work,” said Phinney. “Every day’s an adventure. I’ve stepped outside to see wolves chasing a moose. But the neatest thing I’ve encountered is the Eskimo culture.”
Above: Tundra tradesman Dan Phinney.
Above: The MPO-IQ is Phinncraft’s go-to oil boiler to heat the wilds of Alaska.