The Coal Bin

As far back as I can remember, My grandfather had an electric furnace.  Not so at home.  We burned coal primarily and also the garbage.  Do you remember the movie “A Christmas Story” when the dad was swearing in the basement and smoke was coming out of the heat grates?  He was complaining about the “clinkers”.

Burning soft coal in our furnace produced dirty, sulfurous smoke and clinkers, or big chunks of fused, ashy rock.  Soft coal contains slate, which under heat fused into a rock-like mass ranging in size from about six inches to nearly two feet across.  Handling clinkers was a twice-a-day job.

Before going to bed, I had to use a “poker” to break up the clinkers to ensure a good flame in the furnace.  The next morning, dead clinkers had to be removed with a three pronged claw.  The poker and the claw were always next to the furnace door.  Also nearby was a large galvanized tub to hold the hot clinkers and irritating ash the soft coal produced.  The ash was removed with your coal shovel.

The coal still burning inside the furnace was then spread out and new coal laid over it to produce a good fire.  Once the clinkers and ash in the tub cooled, I carried the tub outside the back door and dumped them into a special can.  The City of Cleveland actually came to the back yard, and took the cans in the front to the truck and left your cans on the “tree lawn”.  There was always a day when only clinkers were removed.  At the bottom of our clinker can there was always some fine ash residue which could be used as a traction helper if the car got stuck trying to get up the driveway.

The coal we burned was delivered.  A truck would back into the driveway and one man would toss blocks of coal through our basement window from the truck to another man in our basement standing in the coal bin, a wooden structure with a door that housed the coal.  He stacked the coal against the far wall and it was my job to “feed the furnace” with as many blocks as it took to keep the fire burning.

I’m not sure how old I was, but my step-father bought an automatic stoker from the Iron Fireman company.  It was a green machine that held a hopper of crushed coal which was automatically fed (on a timer) by a huge auger/screw combination.  The coal we burned was now delivered through the window by a chute, which resulted in a large pile of crushed coal right in the middle of the coal bin floor.  My job was now to shovel the coal from the pile directly into the hopper of the stoker.  The biggest irony of all this is that my grandfather worked at Iron Fireman and helped to build these machines.  My Grandfather and stepfather didn’t get along very well, especially after my Mom died.  But this device was a part of my life that was touched by both sides of my family.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all on YouTube, along comes a fascinating coincidence.  A man discovered an old stoker that had been stored for FIFTY years and it still had coal in it.  This 3 minute video shows you how quiet it ran, how well built it was and I can attest that the green color of the stoker was the same color we had.  It is truly a small world…



Filed under Things that no longer exist

2 responses to “The Coal Bin

  1. Josh

    Man!! All of that sounds so tedious and complicated!! But you guys were in Cleveland, so it must have been extremely cold… I guess it was all necessary!

  2. brian

    readingthat blog brought back a lot of good memories.we moved into our first house in came with coal bin and furnace.our coal was delivered in sacks and joe the coal man[ the dirtiest man in town] dumped it in the window and down the chute into the coal father also worked for iron fireman.after a few years we got a stoker[green].what a great invention .

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