With the cold weather, I thought it to be appropriate to tell of how this weather was handled in the old days before all you had to do was set the temperature you want on the wall thermostat.
Mention the coal bed or ash day to your grandchildren, or in some cases even to your children, and they look at you like you are from an alien nation. Coal for home-heating, to some people who haven’t had the experience, is difficult to comprehend.
For many who lived in East Rochester some years ago, the words trigger special thoughts of living just a few years back. During the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, there were at least three businesses that sold various sizes and types of coal for heating purposes, namely Despatch Coal Co., N.D. Steve and Millard’s Coal Co.
The coal bin was generally a large structure located in one corner of the basement with a window located above it. The window was usually on the driveway side, or in an area where the dump truck carrying coal would back up to. The coal bin had a series of boards on the basement side that could be removed one by one as the coal pile decreased to make the coal easier to get to.
The coal truck carried a chute that could be attached to the rear gate of the truck and placed through the open window into the basement coal bin. Raising the bed of the truck would allow coal to slide into the chute and continue on to the basement.
The alternative for the driver who couldn’t back to a window was to wheel the coal to the basement window. The hopper-type wheelbarrow used to hang off the back of the truck.
One of the features of getting your coal supply was the coal yard spraying the coal with water to wet it down to prevent coal dust from filtering through the basement and possibly the house. The only hazard this presented was for several weeks there was a small black speckled stream running through the basement to the floor drain.
Once in the basement, the coal could then be shoveled into the furnace, a large structure with cast-iron sections, a galvanized circular air chamber with octopus-like pipes running through the basement ultimately connecting to the rooms in the upper floors.
The byproduct from burning the coal was the ashes. The furnace had a lever that was worked back and forth to shake ashes down to the ash pit. Ashes then had to be removed by a shovel and placed in metal ash buckets.
The ash buckets were carried up the stairs or put out a window for ash day when the buckets were placed at the curb for pickup, sometimes still warm from the furnace.
Village trucks would make the rounds collecting ashes. The ashes were taken to the village dump with the other trash of the period. The fire department had many calls for dump fires during this time as the ashes were sometimes fresh from the furnace.
It was also evident of who was more affluent, because they had converted to oil and gas and had no more ashes at the curb.
With the advent of conversion burners for oil and gas came the eventual phasing out of the coal furnace, coal bin and ash day. And so, another era in the village came to an end.
Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester.