Taylor built two ovens on his own farm and Campbell & McCormick built two boats to transport the product to Cincinnati. The stones of these ovens have long since been torn asunder and scattered. The mortar of their old joints has crumbled away and mingled with the earth. But the fire hit that day with a chink from the blacksmith's forge burns now in 8,000 ovens, multiplying millions of capital, loading thousands of miles of cars yearly, and supporting one of the chief of Pennsylvania’s excelling industries.
The first burning was about 80 tons. They loaded it in two boats, about 800 bushels in each, and floated it down to Cincinnati. But, as Mr. McCormick says, slow as they were, they were in advance of their market. The foundrymen looked suspiciously at their light, grey fuel, and were slow to buy it. With much peddling, about half of their cargo was sold at an averaged price of 8 cents per bushel. That would be a very fair price as coke rates now. If Mr. McCormick could get half that figure now he could have the agency for all the coke in the region at a good percentage.
The balance of their coke they traded for a patent grist mill, which, by the way, wouldn’t go. The three men who had ventured their money in the speculation lost considerably, and they plastered up the doors of their ovens and quit the coke business in disgust. Mr. McCormick has been Justice of the Peace for many years, and was Associate Judge of Fayette County for a term. He is a hale, hearty, cheerful old gentleman, in full possession of his faculties, with as shrewd a head for business yet as he had in l84l.
From the oldest living coke operator, who didn't make a fortune out of it, let us turn to one of the younger, who did. Eleven year ago H.C. Frick, a quiet, rather delicate young man, was clerking in A.O. Tinstman’s distillery at Broadford for a moderate salary. He had command of a little money, got control of the stock of a little l2-mile branch road leading up into the coke country from Broadford to Mt. Pleasant, and made a neat stake by selling it to the Baltimore and Ohio. Then he and Mr. Tinstman bought a track of coal land near Broadford and put up 100 coke ovens. Another hundred soon followed. Tinstman failed, his young partner got the firm property, allied himself with capital wherever he could get it and kept on building and buying ovens. When he couldn’t buy he leased. The panic had knocked the courage out of speculation, and left many a firm in a corner. While unwilling to sell, through hope of better times, they leased their works to Frick. Old men wagged their beards solemnly and pitied the young man; he had been lucky, and if he had any sense, or would listen to the advice of older men, he might live in comfort all the rest of his life. But he was making a fool of himself, and one of these days we would see what we would see.
Well, the boom came in coke. The yearly profit on his leased works were more than the value of the works themselves. And those who prophesied his ruin can see him any of these days; still young—only 36; the head of the Frick Coke Company, which owns one-third of the 10,000 ovens in the region; rated as worth $1,500,000 now, this distiller's clerk of ’74.
There are three distinct systems of coal mining in the Connellsville region; in other words, the holes in the ground enter the bowels of Mother Earth at three distinct and separate angles. The drift mine is the simplest and the cheapest to operate. It is the primitive method. The mine is started at an outcrop on the face of a hill and driven horizontally inward. In most cases such mines drain themselves, the coal vein pitching upward from the outcrop. The expenses for pumps and pipes are avoided. This is one of the principal items of expense in the operation of a mine. They cost a round sum in the start, and have to be constantly renewed, the sulphur-impregnated water eating them out. The pit wagons are hauled into a drift mine by mule power, and are brought out by gravity at a pace usually by no means slow. Most of the mines along the Yough river and up the Mt. Pleasant branch, are drift mines, and some of them are among the first opened. The coal is somewhat softer than in the deeper mines, and is, therefor, easier to mine. Fire-damp is also known in a drift mine, they being, as a rule, self-ventilating, while the shaft and many of the slope mines are obliged to use fans of greater or less magnitude.