07 January 2024

Caesar and the Hotbox

Kaiser Henry J (1951)
Kaiser Henry J (1951)

Last week, RT wrote about his family’s Christmas, which shared touchpoints with my family. Among other things, both families owned Kaisers, supposedly a bit ahead of the pack in styling. Of interest to mystery fans, Kaiser sponsored early Dumont Network Adventures of Ellery Queen television shows.

We experienced a somewhat different Christmas Kaiser story. I was too young to know details, but Dad scrapped one of the Kaisers. I think he swapped engines or something, but the vehicle disappeared leaving only its rugged windows which he used to make hotboxes.

Hotboxes or hotbeds (sometimes confusingly called cold frames) are miniature greenhouses, bottomless wood frames with glass lids. They trap heat, moisture, and sunlight, allowing seedlings to get an early start and extend the growing season through autumn.

Dad built a row of hotboxes between the grape arbor and the orchard. The salvaged windows were sturdy and couldn’t be broken under ordinary use. The last garden vegetables were harvested late in the year and the hotbox was tucked into its, er, hotbed until next spring. Snow came and covered the landscape, but heat retention melted it over the hotboxes, exposing the glass.

Rat Terrier
Rat Terrier ©

Did I mention our farm dogs? We had two, our venerable samoyed who looked like snow itself, and a ranch terrier named Caesar. It’s unfair to say Caesar was dumb just because he never studied Newtonian physics.

Ever watch a dog catch a frisbee? To calculate the launch point, speed, angle, curvature, and interception point requires an astonishing degree of calculus, and yet our dogs execute that program routinely. Just because Caesar skipped the class on heat conductivity and expansion would not normally have impacted his life. But miss that lesson he did and therein lies the flub.

So I’m outside in the snow and the terrier is out in the snow and the samoyed is out in the snow, and the fields and forests are beautiful on that gloriously cold day where temperatures hovered near zero Fahrenheit. Although I really wanted to tramp through the woods with my Red Ryder BB gun, I milked and fed and watered the livestock trailed by the dogs.

Last step was to feed the rabbits, stationed near the hotbeds. One of the hutches housed a peg-legged Bantam pullet that other poultry tormented. Thus Peggy lived amid the much nicer Easter bunnies.

So I was tending the rabbits and Caesar nosed along the hotboxes. He sniffed, and sniffed again. He raised his leg. Did I mention Caesar hadn’t passed the science section on heat expansion? In this case, ignorance was not bliss.

So he snuffled a box and raised a hind leg. He hovered. Some of you know what hovering is all about. His nose twitched. His bladder tickled. That signal in his canine brain switched on and, well you know, the tanks pressurized and began to expel warm body temperature liquid in a hot stream against cold glass and– here comes the physics lesson– it exploded.

Not like a cannonball, not like a bomb, but it exploded like tossing gasoline onto a fire with a deep, vibrant Whumph! Like a bull rider tossed from the back of a steer, the dog levitated sixteen feet in the air.

Caesar yelped an ancestral scream that harked back to Brutus and Cassius, a baying to end all bays, a yowl that echoed across the frozen landscape. Like a Tex Avery canine, his wheels were churning before he hit earth again. He shot through the orchard, ricochetting off trees and bouncing into sheds crying pitifully, not merely because his morning ceremony had been interrupted. The terrier was terrified.

Hotbox BC (before canine) Hotbox AD (after dog)
Hotbox BC (before canine)
© Gardeners.com
Hotbox AD (after dog)
© SleuthSayers.org

For the next week, he crossed and recrossed his legs, his eyes turning yellow from water retention. He slunk under one of the barns, peering out in fright.

Raccoons eventually evicted him and the day came when his urinary tract could bear no more. The samoyed and I politely turned our backs for the next twelve and a half minutes whilst Caesar drained the reservoirs and then collapsed in the snow.

The skittish dog could not be persuaded to attend our rabbits in the orchard. These were pre-cellular days, so he didn’t have to worry about anyone posting embarrassing videos on the Web. Still, word got around and squirrels would sneak up behind him, clap their paws and shout, “Bang!” and then laugh and laugh.

While he never fathered a pup, there’s no truth to the rumor Caesar went all friends-with-benefits with the cute spaniel in the next county or that her doggy-style birth control was a sharp bark.

Philologists might note that Kaiser is rooted in the word Caesar, but no one dared tell the dog. And that is the tale of Caesar and the Kaiser hotbox.


  1. Amusing and a good argument for building a tall hot box( or as we always called these, ) a cold frame!

    1. Thanks, Janice. Until I started this article, I didn't realize a cold frame was the same as a hotbox. The husband of a long-time friend in Connecticut built his wife the ultimate of hotboxes, a conservatory. Like Nero Wolfe, she's very much an orchid fan.

  2. That was hilarious! Thanks, Leigh!

    1. Thank you, Eve. Poor pup… He was never the same after that.

  3. Definitely got a laugh out of that one.


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