Anthracite coal is clean, odorless and keeping more and more people warm these days.
In plumed chapeau and virgin white dress, fictional Phoebe Snow traveled the Lackawanna Railroad all over New York state in the days of coal-powered locomotives. For most passengers on trains in those days — the early 1900s and thereabouts — a trip on the train meant emerging from the cars wearing a fine coat of black soot.
But not so for Phoebe Snow.
Most trains ran on bituminous coal, a dirty, sulfurous rock made up of a goopy tar-like stuff called bitumen. When burned, its ash turned to soot and the airflow of a train in motion sent the soot flying in peppery clouds all about.
But not so for Phoebe Snow.
You see, the Lackawanna locomotives ran on anthracite coal. Anthracite was much cleaner that bitumen. No soot here to dirty Phoebe’s white white dress.
So goes one of the many advertisements for Miss Snow and her railroad: “A cosey seat / A dainty treat / Make Phoebe’s / Happiness complete / With linen white / And silver bright / Upon the Road / Of Anthracite.”
Gone may be the days of coal-powered transport. But some folks have revived the clean sheen of anthracite as a home-energy source.
“About two years ago, our woodstove needed to be replaced,” said Canandaiguan Mike Kloppel. “We went shopping for a new one but found out that coal was much more efficient.”
So he converted.
They swapped the woodstove for a coal one and had the flue relined with stainless steel to handle the hotter burn. Then they cleared out a spot in the basement and set up a coal bin to store the five tons of anthracite needed to last through the winter.
“The stove is kept right in the living room,” said Kloppel. “It works just like a woodstove but better because you don’t run the risk of a chimney fire.” No creosote, no risk.
Anthracite burns at significantly more BTUs than wood, which means you get a better burn for your buck, said Kloppel. In a single day, he goes through about 50 pounds of coal — enough to heat the whole 2,200-square-foot home. Kloppel also has baseboard heat that runs on natural gas but is hardly ever used. Nothing beats the radiant heat coming out of that stove in the living room.
Mike Bliss has heated his home with anthracite for the past 20 years. Owner of Victor Coal and Lumber Co., Bliss got into the business of coal sales back in the 1970s. A ton of the stuff went for about $67 then, he said. Now, you can expect to pay an average of $200 per ton.
This year hasn’t been the biggest year for coal sales, said Bliss. But that doesn’t change a consistent increase over the past decade.
“I don’t think this is its strongest year,” he said. “But prior to this year, for the past 10 years, business increased about 10 percent per year.”
Bliss has a self-stoking stove that kicks on in August and goes out in May.
Kloppel stokes his own. “I once worked on a railroad and used soft coal. That stuff was real messy. But I learned how to stoke a coal fire.”
Anthracite burns a bright smokeless red often licked with blue flames as the carbon monoxide escapes. Its ash is easy to clean and haul. Unfortunately, the city of Canandaigua refuses to collect the ash, and Kloppel is left to his own means.
The coal that is burned in his stove comes mostly from eastern Pennsylvania. Down there is the flip side to Phoebe Snow’s pristine little world of virgin white finery, a scene no coal company would ever publicize. Back in 1962, in the town of Centralia, miners burning trash inadvertently ignited a seam of anthracite that still burns today. These days, you can’t get to Centralia — they detour you to Ashland — because some of the roads are cracked, and smoke and steam pour out of the fissures.
But such a hellish landscape is far from the mind of Mike Kloppel after a day’s work when he relaxes in front of his stove and lets that wonderful radiant heat warm his bones.
Contact Philip Anselmo at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 322, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.