Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Era Of Coal: Bins, Buckets, And Shovels

The picture below was featured in Rensselaer Adventures Jan. 19, 2010 with its owner writing about how coal is still being used at St. Joseph's College, located on the south side of Rensselaer, Indiana.

According to the author, SJC still uses coal in its power plant, which does not produce any electricity but which does produce the heat and hot water that the campus uses.

I can remember the days when I was a raggedy little urchin living at the intersection of Angelica and Melville in Rensselaer back in the 1940s. We had a "coal-bin" in our basement with big chunks of coal that we used to have to break up with a hammer and then carry the little chips and nuggets over in a "coal-bucket" to feed the small iron stove that heated the water for our bathroom and kitchen.

Our old coal bucket looked like this one.

Pretty heavy load for an eight-year-old.

Sometimes in the winter the ashes would accumulate, block the draft, and the fire would go out. And it was my job to get the ashes scooped out, the stove filled back up, lit, and roaring hot again.

I would have to go down there in the cold basement, break up one of the big chunks of coal, carry it over to the stove, lift the top lid, and fill the stove about half-full of coal and a bunch of dried-up old corncobs from the pile out in the back yard and a few sticks of kindling wood. Then I'd pour a tiny bit of coal-oil on all that and then light a page of news-print with one of the big kitchen matches and get the dang-blasted thing started up to burning again.

I scooped out the ashes with
a shovel like this one:

Scooping out those powdery ashes was the worst part of the chore. They would come spilling out the bottom grate and rise up in a white dusty cloud around my head, getting in my eyes and my nose and my mouth.

No matter how careful I was, the ashes always managed to find their way in my mouth and I'd swallow some, and then I'd cough and choke and spit until I could finally breathe again.

That was more than sixty years ago and when I think about it I can still taste those gosh-darned ashes.

My dad used to tell of the old days just after the end of The Great Depression when he got a job scooping coal into the boilers that provided steam to heat the County Jail, Courthouse, and Hospital. He was paid a dollar for each 12-hour night. And was overjoyed to have the job.

He also spoke of The Great Depression when he was young and his family could not afford to feed him. He would get up in the middle of the night in the Fall to walk several miles to a certain farm, arriving at daybreak. The farm's owner had agreed to furnish Dad's breakfast in return for his harnessing up the teams of horses and mules that the hired-hands would be using for the day's harvesting.

Dad would then walk back to town to search for and gather up of stray chucks of coal along the Monon railroad tracks that had spilled from the coal-carrying cars of passing trains of the good old Monon Railroad Line

That coal and scrounged scraps of wood and corncobs from piles at nearby farms was what they used to heat their rented home. Sometimes he would trade some of the pieces of coal for an apple or a potato.

A while after that was when, he became employed by the county to scoop coal into the boilers that provided steam to heat the Jasper County Jail, Courthouse, and Hospital. He was paid a dollar for each 12-hour night. But I already mentioned that.

Jasper County Hospital (circa 1950)

Jasper County Courthouse

My Dad, Jesse William Chambers
Born in Rensselaer in January of
1906 and died there in May 1975.
Courthouse Custodian 30+ years.

People will not look forward to posterity
who never look backward to their ancestors.
--Edmund Burke

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