Hot tub tunnel vision 

Near Steve Rubin’s cabin near Creston, spring water flows out of the ground and into what looks like a natural hot spring. Next to the spring is an old cast iron boiler Rubin recently bought from a friend of a friend for $200.

“My buddy made me test it first so I didn’t set off this giant steam bomb,” says the 41-year-old graphic artist. Once the contraption was determined safe, Rubin turned on an electric pump and began circulating 50-degree spring water through the boiler. Then he waited.

A couple hours later, Rubin checked his yellow ducky floating thermometer. The water in his natural spring registered a tepid 70 degrees—a long way from the comfortable 105 degree-plus “soak zone.”

So Rubin’s quest continues, as it does at households around Montana where normally sane individuals become primordially driven to find cheap, “natural” ways to soak naked with friends in their backyards. Members of the tub tribe begin to behave like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Each must build something.

The Snorkel Stove Company in Seattle deals with these people all the time. Since the 1970s, when the Snorkel Stove Tub was developed in a physics lab at the University of Alaska, the company has stoked the imaginations of homemade hot tub builders. But unlike the Snorkel Stove (sale price: around $2,000), Rubin’s work-in-progress involves pumping water through a wood stove, and does not utilize the snorkel design, which actually submerges the stove in the tub.

To bolster his heat source, Rubin has plumbed an intricate system of copper pipes leading from the spring outside to the woodstove inside. If all goes according to plan, the boiler outside will heat the water, and the woodstove inside will keep it hot. (One long-time snorkel-tubber was skeptical, saying, “It’s all about the mass. It will take forever to heat a concrete tub with no insulation.”)

Rubin, meanwhile, remains undaunted. “I’ve got my rubber boots on and I am obsessed,” he said, staring out the window at a cold mix of rain and snow.

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