Coal-fired furnaces

Inspired by A Christmas Story.

Are coal-fired home furnaces prone to inducing bouts of profanity? Why? I’ve never seen one, but isn’t the concept pretty much ‘burn coal in a box’? What could go wrong, that would have people routinely rushing down to the basement to do battle with the furnace?

This is a PDF about the trouble that clinkers cause in coal-fired trains; I image they were an equivalent problem in a home furnace.

Gravity feeds were rare and mechanical feeds pretty much non-existent. This meant that the furnace had to be fed by hand/shovel on a regular basis. If the fire got too low, one had to restart the fire and coal is not quite as easy to ignite as wood. (If one accidentally got commercial anthracite instead of the homeowner grade bituminous, it might be almost imposible to get the fire going.)

Then, if the fire was powering a steam system, one had to make sure that the “boiler” was adjusted correctly. I don’t recall ever hearing about an in-home steam system blowing up, but there were issues with pressure release valves and air in the pipes and related problems.

In the context of the film (which this thread isn’t about, Mods) it seemed like whatever was happening was more of an emergency and not routine shoveling.

ISTR hearing somewhere about ‘clinkers’ in furnaces. Can they be heard, perhaps cracking and dropping through the grate, and this signals the homeowner that the airflow is in danger of becoming restricted?

(I grew up with gas heat, and rarely used my heater in L.A. Now I have propane, which is still gas.)

In utility power plants, you can certainly hear “clinkers” as they fall from the walls and hit the bottom of the furnace. Sometimes they’re large enough to damage the tubes, and sometimes they’re large enough to punch a hole completely through the furnace, mandating expensive and nasty repairs.

We had a converted coal stoker in the basement when I was young. The coal bin still had coal in it, but the stoker was replaced with an oil burner. (the furnace took up a very large area of the cellar and the oil gun was bolted to the coal feed door of the old furnace) .The problem with the coal stoker (automated coal feed device) was it would jam up and when one would have to attend to it one would not come back up from the cellar as clean as they had been before. So yes there was some bouts of profanity:o

Oh yeah, when I was a kid in one house we lived in, there was a huge, asbestos-covered monstrosity of a coal furnace down cellar. It ran a hot-water system rather than steam, but you still had to “bleed” the radiators once in a while to get the air out of the pipes.

The thing had to be stoked with fresh coal about twice a day. Also each night, there was a big lever to shake the grate so the ashes dropped down into a bin at the bottom. Once a week, had to shovel out the ashes into a big can and haul it out to roadside for the trash guy to pick up.

We would get clinkers once in a while, and if they would not break up when shaking the grate, In a day or so we would have to let the fire go out, cool off, break up the damned things with an iron rod, and haul out all the ashes (not the usual meaning of “getting your ashes hauled”).

Then, of course, had to start a wood fire, let it cool down to red-hot coals, and put in a small amount of coal, until that got started, then a little, more, etc. If you put in too much coal, the fire would be smothered, and had to start all over again. That caused some swearing to ensue. At the beginning, the stove pipe damper had to be opended fully, then gradually closed down part way to conserve heat.

Also, had to keep running down to add more coal until the thing was burning at a good rate.

Lots of fun, makes one appreciate the current era.

Looking over “A Christmas Story” I believe one battle with the furnace was simply because the wife had closed the damper and left it closed before, which was one rush down the stairs. ** Another instance was a clinker**, and some** others were just generic episodes of the ‘old man’ down stairs cursing the furnace**, and he could have been doing anything from shoveling to stoking.