Monday, September 5, 2011

Grandma's Coal Chute

(I have retyped this blog entry three times and cannot get it to format right, so "it is what it is.")

Clunkers? Clinkers? Apparently it's clinkers, though the only clinks I've heard mentioned are the ones like hoosegows, the kind bad guys were "thrown" into in the Wild West. Clunkers are old cars/things that either don't run or just barely run...Cash For Clunkers. You might say the grand old car John Candy drove in Uncle Buck could be a clunker. Others might call it a "classic."
I don't think anybody would call it a clinker.

What started this line of thought is a mystery, but somehow I got thinking about Grandma Rice's coal chute. There was a little room in her basement, next to the wringer washer & tub area, with a door of its own. There must have been a furnace beast in there somewhere, but I have no recollection of it at all. It borders on my vision of hell.

I do remember the magical-looking chute on the north side of her home, at basement level. How the loads of coal got transported from the yard to the chute is anybody's guess, but I'd guess my dad. The fence wasn't movable, so anybody unloading coal had to probably use a wheelbarrow and make ten trips.

My family's coal was stored west of our house in a pile. There were big hunks on down to the slack coal, which basically nobody wanted to mess with. During the worst of the winter, you brought in two buckets of coal; by the end of the day, what was left were clinkers..."The incombustible residue, fused into an irregular lump that remains after the combustion of coal"

Well do I remember the Nasty North and Wicked West windy days that forced the coal soot back down the chimney and into the house, gagging us all and filling the house with big billows of black smoke. More work for Mother. We had two coal stoves, one in the kitchen for cooking and heating bricks and dad's feet in between chores on frigid winter days, and the Warm Morning one in the living room. When the coal in the kitchen stove burned down, we'd dig out the clinkers and take them outside. It runs in my mind, though it could be phantom memory, that there was an old hook with a long handle, like the ones we used to catch chickens by their legs, that was used to "fish out" clinkers from the Warm Morning, but I never had to do that, so who knows? Clinkers were a real drag. They were scratchy and uneven and you had to take them outside to put into another pile that either magically disintegrated or got hauled off, probably by Dad.

One of the funnest experiences I've had with coal did not involve making eyes for snowmen. There were 30 kids or so in our class at West Side High. Somebody came up with the idea of us unloading a train car of coal, by hand, for a fund raiser. On the appointed day, about 14 of us reported for duty with our shovels. I remember Kenny Kendall, Robert Bingham, Randy Howell and I (and probably others) working our buns off for several hours unloading that big car of coal. It was a memorable experience, and those who participated probably still remember it as a satisfying experience, though not necessarily one they'd like to repeat. Also, I have no idea where the $90 went.

Coal starts out as leafy compost. Block out the air, add some pressure and let it simmer for ages. The longer it simmers, the harder the coal. The harder the coal, the hotter the burn.

Graphite, used often on bicycles and pinewood derby cars, is a type of coal.

Coal is the official state mineral of Kentucky, even though coal is not a mineral, and is the official state rock of Utah.

"China is by far the largest producer of coal in the world and relies on coal for about 70% of its energy needs. An estimated 5 million people work in China's coal-mining industry. At some place in Tajikistan, coal deposits have been burning for thousands of years, creating vast underground labyrinths of unique and beautiful minerals. Wild coal fires were reported by Lewis & Clark. In Centralia, Pennsylvania, an exposed vein of coal ignited in 1962 due to a trash fire in the landfill. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continues to burn underground to this day."

Australia exports more coal than any other country in the world, followed by Indonesia. Japan, China and South Korea are the biggest importers.

The current price of coal is $30-50 a ton, depending on the quality. The current price of a cord of wood (4'x4'x8') runs roughly $150. Harder wood goes for more.

My suspicion is, if you plan to stock up on either coal or wood, now would not be too soon.

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