Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

January 12, 2014

Ed Hungness: Coal in stockings may become extinct

What’s that in my stocking?

They looked like the pieces of Hawaiian lava we studied in junior high science class in 1956. Ours also had a rough texture and an irregular shape, like something from outer space perhaps? Unfortunately ours didn’t come from Hawaii or outer space, but from the furnace in our basement. Dad called them “clinkers.”

Clinker is the common name for the unburnable residue or slag that remains in the bottom of a coal burning furnace. We had such a fiery beast in our basement. It was big, round, and had large pipes protruding from its body which resembled the arms of a giant octopus running along the ceiling in all directions and disappearing into holes cut in the floor above.

Burning coal was the way we heated our home in the 1950s. In that era there were two choices when it came to staying warm during the winter months; burning coal or wood. Coal was cheaper and more readily available from mines located in southern Illinois and Kentucky.

Many reading this column may not be familiar with coal unless they happened to find a lump of it in their Christmas stocking. Discovering coal on Christmas morning indicated that the recipient had not been a good little girl or boy.

Santa left the unfortunate youngster a lump of coal in their stocking instead of a toy or doll. I remember warning a rowdy child that he would find coal in his stocking on Christmas morning if he didn’t behave. His response to my threat was, “What’s coal?” No longer impactful, the time-honored threat was retired.

Periodically, dad had to pull the accumulation of clinkers out of the furnace. He used a giant pair of iron tongs to grasp the clumps and then deposited them into a coal scuttle, a metal bucket-like container. After the clinkers cooled, he drafted me to carry them outside and dump them in the unpaved alley behind our home.

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