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Coal to the Curb: 1925

Washington, D.C., 1925. "Ford Motor Co. -- A.P. Woodson Co. coal truck." And now for the hard part. National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., 1925. "Ford Motor Co. -- A.P. Woodson Co. coal truck." And now for the hard part. National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.


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What a dump!

I know the train has already left the station, but I've been in the hospital. Only on Shorpy, Dear Friends, will you find 16 substantive (I'll err on the side of generosity) comments on a dump truck and a load of coal. Makes me smile.


For Jim Page - I am not a coal "expert", but my understanding on the difference in chimneys has to do with creosote. Coal burns very cleanly (anthracite being much cleaner than bituminous coal) and does not produce creosote, as does wood, and therefore does not build up on the chimney walls. Many coal burning chimneys were not lined with a terra-cotta flue liner. Such an unlined chimney cannot be used for wood as the creosote buildup would be disastrous. Unlined chimneys are often newly lined today with flexible stainless steel liners to allow their continued use with gas or wood. Gas fired also produces a great deal of moisture which is quite bad for an unlined chimney as well.

More About Clinker

There are two kinds of clinker (there is no plural - you've got clinker, or you don't).

In a properly burning coal fire, the parts of the coal that don't burn filter downward and drop harmlessly through the grate into the ashpan.

If, for some reason (weather, strange stuff in the coal, or bad karma) the ash, instead, lays on top of the burning fire and melds together, it will form "Soft" clinker. This is what gturkovi describes. It is light, breaks up easily, and sorta looks like coral. But, it prevents air flow through that part of the fire, and in a spot without air flow the coal will not burn there. Clinker spreads like a cancer to the fire, and soon the entire firebed will be covered and you will be cold. It can be usually dealt with by simply breaking it up with a poker or rake to allow sufficient oxygen into the fire and burning it off. If not, it must be removed as described.

"Hard" clinker is created when the ash that is sifting down through the firebed gets so hot that it actually melts, forming a heavy glasslike substance that also blocks air flow. It also spreads like cancer. It's harder to remove, since when in the firebox it's actually a semiliquid, kinda like hot chewing gum.

Burning coal isn't easy.

[At least in the pages of the Washington Post, "clinkers" seems to have been abundant. But of course they didn't have the Internet back then. -Dave]

Ford Model TT Truck

The first thing that struck me about the picture was that the truck had two spares - one for the 4 bolt front tires and one for the 6 bolt rears. If the picture was taken in 1925, the truck looks like it's been around the block a few times. According to Wikipedia the Ford Model TT one ton was manufactured from 1917 to 1927. I'll bet it was a joy to drive - NOT.

Coal chimneys?

Maybe those with experience with coal heating can solve something that strikes me as unusual. Our house, a 1926 Sears kit house in Maryland, was totally refurbed before we bought it.

My neighbors told me that the guys who refurbished the house, a trio of brothers in the construction trade, replaced the fireplace and chimney and so our house is the only one on the block that is rated for burning wood, as the other houses--all 1920s vintage--are only rated for burning coal in their fireplaces.

I never realized there was a difference. Our furnace, original to the house, was converted to gas long ago and my wife won't let me use the fireplace anyway. But it's strange that there is a distinction between coal and wood for fireplaces.

Clinkers = Cinders

Several years ago I was employed by a consulting engineering firm. While looking at the plot plan of an existing high school for which we were to design an addition a new young engineer pointed to the running track shown on the plan labeled 'CINDER TRACK' and asked, "What's a cinder?" I explained how, in the past, most of the private and public buildings in the city were heated by coal furnaces which resulted in the generation of mountains of cinders for which uses had to be found. I then roundly cursed him for reminding me that I was getting old.

Automatic stoker

When I was a kid in the 50's we had a coal furnace, a boiler, and an electric pump that forced the water through radiators throughout the house. Nice, even heat.

The coal was delivered through a hole, covered with a metal disc when not needed, in the garage floor. Every night, my dad would fill an automatic stoker with coal. It fed the furnace when the thermostat in the house called for more heat. Every day he'd shovel out the furnace of ash and clinkers.

Reading the stories here, I realized that our house, built in 1942, had a really deluxe furnace.

In 1959, natural gas pipelines made their way out to us, and we switched to natural gas. So much easier!

Thank you, all!


Does anybody remember "clinkers"? Over a period of stoking the furnace it would develop lightweight, sort of coral-shaped, football-sized "rocks" that were removed from the furnace with a long handled tool with a open-close claw on the end.

Coal heat

LarryDoyle gives a pretty good picture of what it was like for me as a kid growing up in Rhode Island with coal heat. I'll just add that we kept our coal heat well into the 1960's, and when there was a winter power outage, the whole neighborhood gathered at our house, because we still had heat! Everybody else's heat needed electricity for one reason or another. Also, our driveway was for years paved with coal cinders and ash-until Mom said "no more!" Too messy. The "mud" of wet coal ash after a rain is nasty stuff.

I was grateful

Following up on the comment from aenthal let me say that as a youngster growing up in the UK in a family that was not too wealthy I was very grateful that the coal delivery system was not very well organised.

As a reasonably well built 13 year old lad I used to earn useful cash after school helping in the coal delivery process. Coal was sold by coal merchants and delivered in one hundredweight (112 pounds) sacks off the back of a lorry. But this size sack was relatively expensive. Not everybody could afford such an outlay.

Alternatively coal could be purchased at greengrocers in 28 pound sacks. This is where I came in.

I was taken to a railway yard in a lorry. Both the lorry and I (plus a very large coal shovel, coal is not very heavy) were left there for a few hours whilst I unloaded a railway wagon of coal onto the lorry. After this back to the yard where...I unloaded the lorry to free it up for other work. I then weighed out 28 pounds of coal and put it into paper sacks for sale.

Doubtless this shameless "child labour" would be forbidden nowadays. But I was grateful for the work that did me no harm and the money which did me much good.

And I loved the smell.

I was taken aback

I did an internet search for space heating last night and got a bunch of hits of automatically stoked anthrocite coal stoves that were power vented through the wall. I guess we're going back to the future and might see this again.

How long did it last?

In Florida that might just about get you through the season.

In Washington D.C., probably a week or two.

In St. Paul, a day or two.

Coal was delivered to the cellar window of our house in Minneapolis by the ton. The piles on the ground in the photo is, probably, 250 pounds.

Dad stoked the furnace early every evening, burning a hot fire to burn off the volatiles and warm the house. Then, with a system of levers and chains directed from the upstairs hallway, he'd shut down the damper and through the rest of the evening and the night, the coke fire would simmer and keep the house comfortable enough that sleeping was easy. In the morning, he was first one up, to open the damper. He'd then go downstairs and throw in a few more scoops which would keep the house warm for mom and us kids through the day. Come evening - repeat.

Dad was our Day/Night thermostat.

The roar of the coal

Following up on Max's comment below, as a young boy, the excitement of "the coal man" coming was greatly enhanced by being in the basement at the time of delivery and watching the dust as it spread out from the coal as it came racing down the chute into the coal bin, accompanied by that magnificent roar of the sliding coal.

Motion Study

1. Load truck
2. Drive truck to customer's house
3. Dump coal on ground
4. Pick it up for delivery one bucket at a time

Wouldn't it work better if you skipped the dumping step and loaded the bucket from the truck bed? You could just push the coal into the bucket and never have the back breaking shovel job at all.

16 Tons And What Do You Get?

This is not my area of expertise but is he shoveling coal, coke or some other fossil nugget? This guy is doing some heavy lifting. I'm guessing, that once he filled that metal container, he then has to carry it down to the basement area for the furnace or into the kitchen for the cook stove, he did this for not a lot of money. Unless they shared their duties the Driver had the better deal.

The easy part

When I was a boy, about 5 years old growing up in East Liverpool, Ohio, with hills on every street, We had coal delivered to the curb. Our house was downhill from the street so my dad built a chute from the street into the cellar window, about 30 feet. The neighbors on the other side of the street were not so lucky, gravity working against them.

My friends father built a ramp from the street to their coal cellar and we took turns pulling a wagon full of coal up that ramp using a pulley system. We little ones all worked together and we got that coal in. Can't imagine where the authorities were when we needed to be saved. We had fun doing this.

My dad soon went to natural gas, even with gravity on our side.

No chute!

I can't remember the exact moment when nobody took coal delivery at home anymore. What I can remember is that nobody took delivery by the "dump and carry" method shown here. Maybe it was cheaper to hire help in that time and place than in the times and places of my memory.

Cellar windows in older homes were hinged on top to facilitate such things as coal delivery. The deliveryman ran a chute from the truck bed through the cellar window to the coal bin. The delivery was made by gravity, with but a minimum of labor to keep things flowing.

I just realized that when I wasn't looking, I reached an age at which I can remember things that younger people have never seen.

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