Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last Coal Yard Extinguished

May 1966
  Warren Diselrod’s retirement marks the end of an era in Rochester. As owner of Gebert Coal Company on Diversion Street, Warren has decided to call it quits.
His tiny office, located next to the old Grand Trunk Western depot, will soon disappear— and so will the last coal yard in Rochester.
  Age has crept up on Warren and shoveling coal is not as easy as it used to be for him. So Warren placed an ad in The Clarion the other week to sell the building off the railroad property so he can retire. Once there were five coal yards in Rochester. When Warren and his brother-in-law, Walt Gebert, bought the Metz and Buchanan yard nearly 20 years ago, there were only two yards left.    And when Dillman & Upton quit the coal business few years back, it left only one.
  Warren reports that there are perhaps only a half dozen homes in the entire Rochester area still using coal for fuel. They are in rural areas. “I probably could get a few thousand dollars a year business out of Rochester,” Walt estimates, “but my doctor said I should take it easy.” He had taken over his brother-in-law’s interest in the coal yard a few years ago and just last week Walt Gebert too, closed up his hardware business for retirement.
  If you saw an aging truck bearing a load of coal traveling down Main Street during recent years, chances are that it was Warren. Attached to the side of the truck was the chute. No coal truck could leave without a chute. If a coal delivery man was lucky, he could back the truck up close enough to a basement window to run the chute from the truck through the open window. If the snow was deep or the lawn was muddy, it meant trouble— usually for the homeowner. Many home dwellers found their coal dumped at the curb because of the inability of the coal truck to get close enough to the coal bin window. Many husbands found themselves coming home from a hard day’s work with a ton of coal at the curb ready to move to the basement window in a wheelbarrow.
  Many housewives hit the ceiling too when they found that hubby forgot to close the coal bin door before the delivery was made. It meant the basement— and eventually the whole house— was filled with coal dust.
  Of course, hauling in coal was not the end of it for poor old dad. He had to shovel the coal into the furnace, shake down the ashes, clean the ashes out of the furnace at least once a week, wrestle them out of the basement by the bushel basket.
  If the fire went out during the night, dad got blamed for that too. It took several hours to start a new fire and get enough heat up to warm up a frigid house.
  During Depression years, many people couldn’t afford to buy coal by the truck-load. They would journey to the coal yard and haul it home by the box-full or pull it in a wagon. It was not unusual to see children scavenging for coal along railroad tracks that had fallen off railroad cars.
  The last hard times for coal furnace users came during World War II when the black stuff was often in short supply. In fact, The Clarion files have several stories about Rochester’s coal yards being nearly depleted and people nearly raiding those yards that had received a carload.
  Gas and oil furnaces have replaced coal in most Rochester homes and buildings. These days, it would be tough even to find anyone willing to accept a load of coal— even if you were giving it away.