Family Home in Chinook

Coal Furnace

Mother used to hate coal delivery days (only twice a year normally) because of the black dust which rose up out of the basement like a cloud of locusts to settle not only on the main floor, but our second floor bedrooms as well. She covered the living room furnace grate with two blankets as well as sealing off the basement door, but to little avail. When Jack Cornell backed up to our house and started hurling coal, everything shook and the dust rose. It was always a black day.

Let me explain our furnace to you. It was no doubt one of the biggest and best central heating systems in the town. There were better (some had a heat register in every room) but most had coal burning space heating pot-bellied stoves in every second room, with a coal pail standing by.

Yes, we were all proud of our furnace. It too stood from floor to ceiling with its big cast grate emanating out of the living room floor, and it's one-foot-square cast iron door waiting to be fed.

The starter wood supply was trucked in each fall and carefully stacked under the stairs, to be split as needed (another source of rising dust). Since trees grew only in the foothills some two hundred miles west we were never allowed to put wood in the furnace.

In fact if we told Dad, when he came home from work, that Mother had used wood in the kitchen stove that day, we were sure of getting a small lecture about the value of wood (Dad never lectured Mother).

Dad always got up at six every morning. He would stoke the furnace (which hopefully was still going) and set a match to the kitchen stove, which he had laid the night before. He then headed over to the garage to start the power plant and stoke the steam boiler which heated that big building.

Our bedrooms were upstairs as I have said, and were heated by warm air rising up through two one-foot-square registers set into the upstairs floor and flush with the ceiling below. The theory for this arrangement was no doubt sound, and I have no doubt it worked well in places like Texas, but in Chinook it was just a theory.

After Dad had stoked the fires and left for work, we boys used to lie under the heavy covers, snuggled and warm, listening to the creak and crack of the house timbers as heat slowly seeped it's way upward through that one-foot little register.

Each of us with our legs crossed holding our full bladders as long as we could, prolonging the moment when our feet would meet the cold floor. Perhaps if we could hold out long enough it would be warm.

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