You could drain the oil out of your car every night. Then put it back in the morning.

Or you could put live coals under the car to keep it warm.

Around 1940, a man who was living on Cottonwood Street figured out a better way. And as the years rolled along, Andrew Freeman led the way in making sure cars would start with the Freeman Headbolt Heater.

He’s long gone now. He died here in Grand Forks. The obituary in the Grand Forks Herald in 1996 said he guided Minnkota Power through some of the rockiest times North Dakota had seen within the coal industry.

His story has been told in print and on public radio

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Andrew Freeman was born in 1909 and grew up in Upham, N.D. He graduated from UND with a major in electrical engineering. He was known as a visionary as he guided Minnkota Power Co. for 40 years. He also was an amateur radio operator

As a child, he was interested in how people started their cars. He knew the mailman in Upham drained the oil from his car every cold winter night. He kept the oil warm and put it back in the car in the morning.

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Around 1940, Freeman found a better way -- with copper tubing he found in a pile of rubble. He put it together with a heating element from an old iron. He made trips out to check during the night. Then at a quarter to 8 a.m., he stepped on the starter.

It took off.

On Nov. 8, 1949, Freeman obtained the patent. At first, Freeman once said, when the word got out everyone wanted to know all about it and started making heaters for their own cars.

He said, “I made them by hand and especially for my barber.”

He went into production of the Freeman Electric Internal Combustion Engine Head Bolt Heater in East Grand Forks. Four years later, the factory was turning out above 240,000 units for distribution in 28 states.

From there, Freeman moved into warming not just engines but home, school and office buildings. As long time leader of Minnkota Power he became a champion for rural electric plants. He was credit for guiding the way through some of the rockiest roads of the coal industry.

His obituary in the Herald in 1996 described Freeman as a quiet, almost retiring man with a great sense of humor.

And in Dakota Datebook, Mary Helm wrote, “It is amazing what a little curiosity can do. Thank about that the next time you plug in your car.”