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COBWEB CORNERS: Coal used for cooking here into the ‘60s

By Mel McFarland

       I was recently reminded about coal. There were several yards here up into the 1960s where people could buy coal; then they became “wood yards” after people started burning wood.
       When my family lived in a little house on Pikes Peak Avenue, it had gas heat, but the stove was still coal. My mother hated cooking on it, anytime it was more than just basic frying and boiling something. I remember also that there was an "ash pit" out by the alley.
       We'd buy our coal from different local yards. My dad liked the one by the old Midland School. A dump truck brought it in, and customers could buy as little as a "coal bucket" load. As I remember, we had a box that held maybe 20 pounds of the black stuff. Dad would put the box in the trunk and drive over to get a load that would last about a week.
       I did a story here years ago about houses with coal doors, which could receive a ton or so for the furnace. You can still see doors like that on many of the houses around town. Made of iron, they are usually next to a driveway, near the ground, about a foot tall and a bit wider. In the basement below the door, there would be a bin, usually next to the big. hulking furnace, that could hold a ton or so of coal. Some houses had automatic stokers, but others did it the hard way.
       I was told there was a big coal yard on Cucharras near 26th Street that used an old caboose as the office, but I do not remember it. A yard in that spot could have gotten its coal by railroad car.
       Colorado City had natural gas as early as the 1890s, so coal was rarely used after the turn of the century by many who were close to the gas lines. I have thought it was interesting that coal was still used for cooking into the 1960s.
       Up in Manitou, the cog railway tore down its old coal shed when its preserved steam engine finally stopped using coal. The shed was replaced by a "look-alike" building with some needed space for the employees.
       I mentioned the ash pit out back, which may cause some to cringe. Believe it or not, many of these spots have become really good gardens. In walking the old railroad grades years ago I noticed some of the best wildflowers grow right along where the trains dumped their ashes!

McFarland’s Cobweb Corners column has appeared in the Westside Pioneer since 2004.