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Hessick and Son: 1925

Hessick and Son: 1925

Washington, D.C., 1925. "Hessick & Son Coal Co." The company's catchy slogan: "Anthracite and Bituminous Coal in All Sizes (Furnace, Stove, Egg, Chestnut, Pea) for Immediate Delivery." National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.


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King Coal

I still use lump coal in my house and shop. Far easier and cheaper than wood, not to mention cleaner and easier to contain. I buy it by the barrel full. The acrid smell is nostalgic perfume, nauseating in heavy concentration, but wonderful in small wafts. The neighbors are all too young to know the smell and I have occasionally heard them asking one another what that "odd smell" is! I keep it a "secret," but the DeSoto in the driveway ought to give clue that something is going on.

Coal shifting.

There were conveyor belts on wheels, powered by gasoline engines, that lifted the coal from the piles on the ground into the trucks for delivery. Deliveries to our house were made by a five-ton truck with solid rubber tires and a huge chain like a bicycle's to drive the back wheels.

It cost extra to use the chute, so my father, ever thrifty, would just have the driver dump the five tons on the sidewalk and we would shovel the coal into the basement window by hand. It took most of the day for us to shift it into the coal bin.

In the basement, the bin was about six feet away from the furnace. As the level of the coal was lowered, 2x8 boards were removed from the door.

Ashes and clinkers

My first apartment, over a carriage house on an estate, had a coal furnace that I hated. The only good part was the ashes and "clinkers" - the chunks of "stuff" that wouldn't burn. It was the best material I have ever found for putting on the ground for traction on ice and packed snow.

Old King Coal

I worked for Hessick between 1984 and 1989 and was told many times about its history in the coal business. This photo might be the old Washington Coal Depot on Rhode Island Avenue NE. I believe the coal silos are still there today.

"Them" were the days!

We had two coal-burning stoves in our third-story walkup. Every summer, in the heat and humidity of an Eastern big city, my mother ordered "two ton of coal" to be delivered. She claimed it was cheaper during the summer.

The delivery men had to haul up the whole two tons one burlap bag at a time. This was up rickety wooden stairs in an unlit stairwell without a handrail. I doubt they were making more than 25 cents to 50 cents an hour.

I was, at most, 7 or 8 at the time; I recall them sweating profusely. As I stood there and watched, they would pass me and still be able to crack a smile.

That was brutally hard work. They truly earned the little money they made!

Chicago coal

I'm in my mid-50s and probably among the youngest to remember coal deliveries, in Chicago (alley, dump truck, chute.) And the smell! I can't describe it. Probably for the best, but Chicago does not smell nearly as interesting as it did 45 years ago.

Has the coal been watered?

I remember my dad running out to ask the coal delivery driver if the coal had been watered so the coal dust didn't get all over the basement where my mother hung clothes to dry in the winter. If it hadn't been he'd have the guy sprinkle it with the garden hose. Also remember them stuffing rags around the coal room door to block the dust. Remember: "Take out the ashes!"

Dad had his first heart attack stoking the furnace on a Saturday morning. He was in the hospital for three weeks. When he got home Mom had converted the furnace to fuel oil and no more coal.

Coal Renaissance

Local antracite coal has made a comeback in Pennsylvania these days, probably due to the outrageous cost of heating oil. One block of coal, say the size of a cinderblock, is enough to keep a woodstove hot overnight. The stove goes in the basement below the ductwork. Not the warmest arrangement, but a cheaper alternative.

Cold in the Mornings

I grew up in Michigan, and we had a coal furnace to heat our house. One aspect no one has touched on is that no matter how much coal my dad put in the furnace before going to bed at night, it always ran out by morning.

Winter mornings it would be in the 30's or lower inside the house. I'd get dressed in bed under the blankets. There would be frost on the windows -- not on the outside but on the inside. Ah, the good old days.

Coal Delivery in My Old Neighborhood

In the terraced street I lived on back in the mid-1940's, semi-attached duplexes lined one side, and garden apartment buildings lined the higher-elevation side. The coal bins for the duplexes were in the front, and chutes were used for easy delivery into the basement bins from the trucks parked on the street. On the other, apartment side, the land itself was higher, and the coal bins were in the back. Because of the lie of the land, chutes couldn't be used, so the deliverymen had to shovel the coal into very large canvas sacks and lug them up to a basement window in the rear, through which they then unloaded the coal. That must have been a job from hell.


We had a coal fired furnace until I was 11. Sometimes I would break up pieces to see if I could find fossils. I don't think I saw anything but plant impressions.

At one point, we had an "Iron Fireman" installed to feed coal from the bin into the furnace. I think it used an auger feed, similar to what farms use for grain.


Most coal trucks had tilt beds and the delivery man guided the coal onto the chute. The guy that delivered for my dad did not have a tilt bed and actually shoveled the whole ton of coal from the bed to the chute. I never knew what that was all about, but it was unusual.

Another perspective on coal

I heat my house with wood. I wish I had ready access to coal! It's hotter than wood, burns slower, and I would think cheaper too.

Ah, the Good Old Days

Coal by the truckload, ice by the block, radios the size of refrigerators. Arghhhh! Makes you appreciate what you have today.

Coal bins and things

Not just in the Northern states. I grew up in North Carolina in a two-family house in the late 1940's. My father had to go to the basement to feed the stove to keep the heat up. We had ice delivery to keep the icebox chilly, but later upgraded to an electric fridge with the coils on top. For radio reception, there was a small hole in the living room floor to run an antenna wire from the console radio to the plumbing pipes in the basement to do the job.

The Gentle Art of Coal Delivery

With regard to an earlier comment: if you were LUCKY, coal would be delivered direct from the truck to the basement chute. My grandfather was not so lucky: the chute was to the rear of his house, and there was no alley. Coal was dumped on the curb in front of his house. He'd have to transfer the stuff around back via wheelbarrow. He was very happy to convert his boiler to natural gas.

One could still see the rail berm pictured in this photo until very recently on the block bounded by N Street to the north, M Street to the south, 1st Street to the west, and the Amtrak right-of-way to the east. Immediately prior to the construction currently underway, the site required some environmental remediation, including the removal of underground storage tanks of some kind.

Coal, coal, everywhere...

So why is there a pile of firewood stacked to the right of the scales?

[They sold wood, too. - Dave]

A coal bin in every basement....

Younger people may not realize that in days of yore, the homes in cold climates (northern states) all had an area of the basement walled off from the rest of the cellar, in which a very low-to-the-ground window allowed passage of a chute (like a children's slide) with which the coal truck would deliver large amounts of coal, a ton or more, to be used by the home's occupants over the winter. We had a coal stove and a coal-burning furnace before we switched over to oil and gas. I would not want to go back to those laborious days.

Black gold

When I first looked at this photo, I immediately sensed the "smell" of coal in my mind although it's been 40-plus years ago that I last knew the aroma.
Note the worn doorway threshold; many a gritty boot has trod there.

Valley of ashes

All that's missing are Doctor T. J. Eckleburg's spectacles.

Two Scales...

Two scales for in and out weights....Exit weight minus Entrance weight equals the weight of the coal load.

The coal came out of the bottom of the rail car into the pile below, how did they get it from the pile into the trucks for delivery? I don't see any conveyors unless they are hidden behind the building.

[Or they could just weigh the truck twice on the same scale. The coal comes out of the chute to the left. - Dave]

True Grit

That place has "Dirty Jobs" written all over it.

Clear as a bell

This is one sensational negative! Perfectly developed as well.

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