COAL- Interesting Customer for your Railroad


Coal was an essential supplier of heat and power for homes and business at one time in America.  Local coal dealers were in nearly every small town in most parts of the country.  Depending upon the severity of the local winter weather, a fair number of loads would be delivered during the cold season.


Coal dealers ranged from a  piles of coal trackside to giant bunkers with elevators to raise the coal for storage.   Some dealers had low trestles that allowed the coal to fall on the ground.   Many dealers used electric conveyors to move the coal from the hopper to a pile or from the pile to a truck for delivery.

coal conveyer pix 2

I built a coal conveyor many years ago and wrote an article in the Gazette describing the construction.   Chuck Yungkurth was kind enough to gather a number of photos for me and prepare a number of drawings that were used in the article.   My model was built using styrene.   The wheels are not accurate but they fit the deadline for publication.

coal conveyer

The nice part of this industry you could fit them in a small place on your layout.

coal conveyer pix 1



9 thoughts on “COAL- Interesting Customer for your Railroad

  1. I was about 3 when my parents bought their first house in Portland Oregon. It had a coal fired monster in the basement that had been recently converted to oil. The basement coal bin was a great fort until my mother had my dad remove it — she was tired of all my clothes being black wit coal dust. We owned a house in Indianapolis with a fancy iron door in the foundation that led to the former coal bin. Both houses were well set back and up hill from the street — pity the delivery driver who had to wheel barrow the supply up the driveway.

    Love the shiny New Jersey coal company trucks — “Blue Coal” is the term for a once-popular and trademarked brand of anthracite, mined by the Glen Alden Coal Company in Pennsylvania, and sprayed with a blue dye at the mine before shipping to its northeastern U.S. markets to distinguish it from its competitors.

    • Bill
      I have never seen a color pictured of loaded anthracite with the blue dye. The local dealer picture that I used sold Blue Coal but it is not visible in the pile.
      Anthracite was popular in New Jersey when I was a kid. Homeowners were rapidly switching their boilers to oil in the ’50s. My grandmother had coal later switched to oil. The coal bin was removed and an oil tank was installed. The steam heat was wonderful on a snowy day.
      The local coal dealer expanded to include heating oil. New storage tanks and trucks were added to their business.


      • RMC ran articles on anthracite production long ago and may have had a color photo or two. I wonder if the sprayed the coal load in the hopper after loading so only the top was colored.

  2. My parents rented a house in Portland OR during WW2 with one of those furnace monsters in the basement. Coal was not used however, as we got deliveries of charcoal briquettes. Lots of sawmills in the Portland area at that time. So I would assume the fuel was made locally. I’ve wondered if this might have been a large enough industry to be shipping the briquettes outside of the area in boxcars.

    • Charlie
      I have not heard of charcoal being used for home heating. It might have been a regional commodity for the railroad. Coal was used for heating in the Pacific Northwest but much of it came from places like Utah.


      • I wonder if they compressed coal dust into a briquette with a binder for home consumption. Probably sold in burlap bags.

      • Coal crumbs to briquettes: recipe for home heating in Massachusetts using European technology.

        Bill Uffelman

        Coal crumbs to briquettes: recipe for home heating The Christian Science Monitor is an international news organization that delivers thoughtful, global coverage via its website, weekly magazine, daily news br… View on Preview by Yahoo  

  3. A lot of sawdust went into Presto Logs or similar products for home use. Equivalent of the pellets for pellet stoves that are popular today.

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