Monday, January 16, 2012

REPOST Winter Heating Method

First Posted as a blog 12/18/10

Furnaces and Frost Memory

The 'heating with coal' method in the 40's was dirty, messy, a lot of work but quite efficient. I believe it was the primary fuel source to heat homes.

An asbestos-covered furnace existed in our cellar. The pipes running from it were also asbestos-covered. In fact, in the grammar school I attended, the asbestos-covered pipes ran all through the hallways. I remember scratching my initials and drawing pictures in the asbestos coverings with my fingernails! (This was done when my parents weren't looking because a strong scolding always resulted, but I couldn't help myself.) Naughty!

Coal slid from the delivery truck down a metal chute which went through our cellar window at the far end of the house. The truck first had to back into our neighbor's driveway to deliver. Then the back of the truck would raise up and tip downward, the chutes would be attached and a lever was pulled to release the coal. The coal was wet, I guess so it wouldn't spark and catch fire!

The coal was hand-shoveled into the furnace and had to be replenished regularly throughout the day. It was brought over to the furnace from the bin across the cellar in a hand-carried pail. When Dad was at work, Mom had to keep the fire going. Dad was away overnight for a day or two periodically. Times were hard then.

The fire had to be remade each morning which was the coldest time of the day. The first task was to remove the old ash from beneath the fire grate (a cast iron grid which held the coal). The grate was raised up to allow air in and to let the ashes fall into a pan, and this pan had to be taken out and up the cellar stairs to the outside driveway besides the house to be emptied. If there was no snow, it was emptied into buckets and kept for future use. The process created clouds of dust. Although most of the ashes did collect in the pan, the space below still needed to be swept out, which made more dust.

Keeping the fire going was really an art in those days. Chimney fires were always a threat when the heat was cranked up. It had something to do with the draft and the draw. If the fire went out, it was a pain to start it up again. I remember balled up newspaper being used. A hot fire in the furnace created the heat necessary to boil the water to make the steam. I remember there was a glass tube on the side of the furnace in which a certain level of water had to be maintained so the steam could build up in the radiators on the first and second floors. Steam heat was the result. How I loved to hear the whistle go off when the steam pressure was released. It meant heat!

It also meant that when I woke up in the morning the gift of an absolutely wonderful and beautiful frost-glazed window was sparkling bright to greet me. - and tempt me. I could now scratch magical designs with my childhood imaginative artwork. Breathing on the frost would enhance the drawings - in my mind! I would redecorate my window at every chance throughout the cold winter.


  1. We rarely get snow here in Central Texas, but it does get cold enough for us to draw "fog pictures" on the windows, which my kids do every chance they get. It's usually as they are leaving the house, and after making sure no one is looking, they draw a quick picture and label it. I catch them ever so often and tell them where the glass cleaner is. Thanks for stopping by my blog!