Out and about during this recent cold snap, conversations with neighbors and friends tend to start out with a comment on the extremely cold weather.
As most of my friends are retired and on fixed incomes the topic of the day at the diner turned to how we deal with the rising costs of fuel oil, propane and electric heat.
Sadly, I listened to comments ranging from turning down the thermostat, reducing the number of times they go out to their favorite restaurants and, the most disturbing, cutting back on their medication.
I listened patiently until it was my turn to respond. I felt a knot in my throat and a bit guilty when I responded. I keep the thermostat at 74 degrees and, if it gets too warm, we crack open a window. We burn coal.
The look of disbelief on their faces made me feel like I was from another planet.
You burn dirty coal? No, I burn clean coal!
Most of my friends have been in our home but very few were aware that anthracite coal has been our main source of heat since it was built in 1973.
The next fun-filled hour was spent answering the barrage of questions like:
Q. Isn’t it dusty and dirty ?
A. My stoker has more filters than any of you have. I would bet in a contest our home would come out in the top 10% cleanest in the country. My fully restored 1886 Antique Coal Base Burner is more efficient and cleaner than any stove built today.
Q. How much does it cost to heat per year?
A. Our house is about 4,000 square feet and we burn about 6 ton a year, on average $1,100 from October to May. Most of my friends are paying over twice that for houses half the size and sit around with sweaters on.
Q. It must be a lot of work.
A. If I pick up my own coal during the summer. I can save another $200 but that takes time and work. When I have it delivered, the stoker takes less than three minutes a day. My coal is transferred from the coal bin to the hopper with a vac system. I remove my ash tub once a day or every other day. I am working on a vac system to remove the ash.
My antique base burner takes 4 to 5 minutes a day — that I enjoy!
Q. What do you do with the ashes?
A. I save some for the garden, and let the neighbors fight for the rest.
Q. Where did you get the antique stove?
A. That is my full time hobby now that I’m retired. I find them on Craigslist or Ebay all rusted up. Completely disassemble, sandblast, paint, seal, assemble, fit doors, and replate the nickel trim.
Q. Looks like a lot of work.
A. It’s my hobby I have about 20 of my own and am in the process of restoring seven for friends and family.
Q. What are they worth?
A. They are like classic cars. Some are common, some are rare, some are plain, some are really ornate, some are large and some are small. Once restored, they can sell anywhere from $500 to $20,000.
Q. How did you get into restoring these ?
A. I was born and raised with coal heat. Over the past 40 years, I was asked to reline the firepots for some of these stoves. As part of my business, I replaced refractory in ovens and high temperature boilers and did the firepots when we weren’t busy. A few years ago while researching the type refractory that was originally in a particular stove, I ran across a forum on the internet dedicated to coal.
The name of this forum was NEPA Crossroads. It turns out this amazing forum was created by Richard S., a local coal hauler from right up the road in Harding.
Richard did a remarkable job putting this internet website together and, in the last 10 years or so, it has grown to over 8,000 members. There are members from all over the world and thousands of coal -related subjects all in one convenient place. I joined this forum a few years ago and am proud to be part of what I consider my extended family.
There is a wealth of coal-related information and it’s amazing the number of talented members who go out of their way to help.
One section of the forum is dedicated to these antique stoves that I consider lost works of art.
After spending hundreds of hours admiring some of the stoves that were being restored and discussed on the site, I decided this was the hobby for me.
Richard has spent an enormous amount of time creating this site for the world to enjoy and it would be nice to see a local boy receive some recognition. A few months ago, he updated the site and renamed it Coal Pail. The website address is https://coalpail.com/coal-forum/
Paul J. Kendzor is a resident of Pittston. Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.