The process for turning coal into coke was simple, yet sophisticated. About 1890, when this photo was taken, coal was dumped from wooden larry wagons pulled by a horse or mule onto the tops of the ovens. The coal was taken directly from the coal tipple and was not washed, sorted or prepared in any way. Once the ovens became hot from repeated chargings, the coal was ignited by spontaneous combustion by the heat retained in the brick oven walls. The coke was then baked for 48 to 72 hours to remove all gases and impurities, leaving nearly pure carbon. Thus, coke is often referred to as “the bones of coal.”
Introduced as the “world’s greatest fan”, this fan is thought to be located in Edenborn, Pa. The only clue comes from the postmark on the back of this card dating December 1909. According to the reports for 1908, the shaft slope at the Edenborn mine was listed as being ventilated by a Clifford fan, with the ability of forcing 355,560 cubic feet of air per minute into the mine below. This was approximately three times the capability of the average mine fan at the time. The fan was powered by steam and operated at 120 revolutions per minute.
Coal was transported from the mine tipple to the coke ovens in a larry or lorry wagon, pictured here. The beehive ovens were filled with coal from the larry through an opening at the top of the oven known as the trunnel head. Here a man known as a “charger” fills the ovens at the York Run Works. Each oven held anywhere from four to six tons of coal. Working on the ovens was a hot and dangerous job, since the temperature inside the dome shaped ovens often rose to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Education was a top priority for many families who lived in the patch towns. Public schools, like this one taken at Tarrs West Ward #2, near Mt. Pleasant, Pa., on March 27, 1918, were often located near the villages. Parochial schools affiliated with various Roman Catholic parishes were also well attended. It was often through their children that immigrants, working in the coal and coke fields, became assimilated to American culture. “One needs only to look over the list of those who are to graduate from township schools this year,” wrote the editor of the Latrobe Bulletin in 1913, “to get a glimpse of what the foreign born may do with a chance.”