Manufacture
of Coke at
Salem No. 1 Mine
Coke Works

Keystone Coal & Coke Company
Salemville,
Salem Township,
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

History of Salemville, Salem Township,
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
and the Carpatho-Rusyn Miners who worked the
Coal Mines: Salem No. 1 Mine, Salem No. 2 Mine,
and Huron Mine.

Compiled & Edited by
Raymond A. Washlaski

Raymond A. Washlaski, Historian, Editor,
Ryan P. Washlaski, Technical Editor,

Updated Sept. 18, 2008

Links to Salem No. 1 Mine pages
Coal Miners of Salem No. 1 Mine
Salemville, Salem Twp., Westmoreland
Fire Ravages Salem No. 1 Mine Tipple
Salem No. 1 Mine in Ruins
The Tipple at Salem No. 1 Mine
History of Salem No. 1 Mine
Back to Salem No. 1 Mine Index Page

    The music on this page is "Stwa-Brodka-Oberek"
"The Old Miner" tells how they manufactured Coke at Salem No. 1 Mine
Coke Works, Salemville, PA.
The Manufacture of Coke
Coke was, and still is, used as an important fuel in the manufacture of iron in smelters, blast furnaces, and foundries.
Making Coke
Coke is made by heating coal in a controlled atmosphere, driving off most of the impurities, and leaving a porous structure strong enough to support the iron ore that coke is often used to heat.  Most grades of coke are from 86 to 93 percent pure carbon and produce a clean, intense heat when burned.
The Beehive Coke Oven
Beehive coke ovens were called that because they were built in a beehive-like hemispherical shape, and then covered with earth. Drawing of a Beehive Coke Oven
       Cross section of a Hand-drawn Beehive Coke Oven
The Beehive Ovens were built in banks of ovens, called a battery, with a strong retaining wall in front, and then covered with earth.  The ovens were usually built into a hillside. The earth cover helped insulate the ovens so that they would retain the heat after firing to help fire the next batch or charge of coal.
Beehive Coke Ovens are found throughout the Western Pennsylvania coal region, wherever a good coking coal was found.  In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania we have many surviving examples of banks of beehive coke ovens although most are in a sad state of abandonment.  Most of these ovens were built before 1918 and abandoned fifty to seventy years ago or more. To locate these coke ovens, you have to travel the back roads in the vicinity of the old mining towns. If you see a row of holes sticking out of a hillside, these are, in all probability, a bank of coke ovens. Or you can go to Westmoreland County's Mammoth County Park to see a bank of coke ovens which have been preserved.
The Coke Oven Battery
Coke oven battery A Coke Oven Battery consisted of a great many ovens, sometimes hundreds of ovens, in a row. Some mines also employed parallel batteries as in the illustration.
Salem Mine No.1 Coke Works, Salemville, PA, used three banks of single ovens, containing 280 bee-hive coke ovens.
Coke Ovens at Salem Coke Works
     The Coke Oven Battery at Salem No. 1 Mine, after abandonment (ca.1960's).
Firing the Ovens
To heat a coke oven, a wood fire was first started and then gradually increased in intensity.  Lump coal was added within 2 to 4 days to gradually heat a cold oven. Heating the ovens too quickly would crack them. Once the ovens were heated, they would burn continuously seven days a week until the fire brick in them burned out. Then they would have to be rebuilt with new brick, and the heating process would begin again.

As the next step in the process, a small charge of coal was dumped in through the "trunnel head" (the hole at the top of the oven), and the front door was partially bricked up, leaving a gap for draft.  The product of this first small charge, used to finish heating the oven, was called "black jack;" and it could be used to start other ovens.

Charging the Ovens
Larry charging the coke ovensBy about the fourth or fifth day, the oven was heated sufficiently.  The "black jack" was removed, about two-thirds of the front door was closed off with firebrick, and the oven was ready for a full charge of coal.  The "Charger," running a "Larry," would bring the washer coal to the ovens. An average charge for a 12-1/2 foot diameter beehive oven was 5 to 5-1/2 tons of fine coal.  About 1-1/2 tons of coal would yield about 1 ton of coke.

The electric "Larry"
The picture at right shows the "Charger" running a "Larry," a small electric-powered coal car used to transport coal to the coke ovens.  It was powered from the small trolley pole offset to one side from an overhead wire containing 250 volts DC power from the company's generator unit.  The "Larry" contained a traction motor, a controller, and a hand brake. The operator, the "Charger," stood on a small wooden platform with a wooden roof over the operator. This gave him a small measure of protection from the elements and falling coal lumps when the car was filled with coal at the tipple. It is certain that today OSHA would never have approved this vehicle for operation. The "Larry" ran on the tracks which were on top of the coke ovens, charging the coke ovens with coal through the "trunnel head" (the hole on top of the oven).  This "Larry" was filling the bee-hive coke ovens at the Jamison Coke Works. Note the oven door is partially bricked up.

Leveling the Charge
The "Leveler" leveled the charge with a tool which resembled a large, toothless rake.  A typical leveler consisted of a 3" x 16" iron bar welded at right angles to a 15 foot long pipe with a loop handle at the end. The loop handle enabled the "Leveler" to pull the charge from side to side in the oven. Once the first oven was leveled, the "Leveler" would move on to the next oven and so on.

Once the charge was leveled by the "Leveler," the door was bricked up by the "Mason" up to within 1-1/2 inches of the top and the brick was daubed with clay to make it airtight.

Salem Coke Works, ca.1917 Coke ovens at Salem No. 1 Mine Coke Works with the doors bricked-up ready for firing (ca.1917).
Coking the Coal
An oven attendant regulated the small opening.  The burning time varied from 44 to 72 hours, depending upon the size of the charge and the oven temperature. It was common practice to operate 6 days a week, alternating the ovens to keep both ovens and crews productively employed.  Larger charges would often be loaded on Friday and Saturday, allowinng for an extra burning day.

The gases generated by the intense heat of the ovens ignited and burned slowly downward, lighting up the sky at night and emitting the pungent smell of rotten eggs.  When sufficient burning had taken place, the door was closed tightly, and the trunnel head was closed either partially or completely.

Pulling the ovens
Once the controlled burning was complete, the "Puller" would open the door and insert a spray pipe connected to a water hose. About 800 gallons of water would quench the finished coke.  Too much water would excessively cool the oven, and it would take longer to start it up again. Keystone Lake supplied the water for Salem No. 1 Mine Coke Works, the water ran through a wooden pipe banded with iron rings, seven miles from the dam to the coke works.

The coke "Puller" then used a slash bar to break up the coke and a "beaver" to draw it out through the door onto the wharf.  A typical beaver was similar to the T-shaped leveler but had a larger 5" x 20" head and a long handle made of 3/4" iron rod about 18 feet long.

Salem Coke Works, ca.1917 Pulling the coke ovens at Salem No.1 Mine Coke Works. After the coke is pulled by hand from the bee-hive coke ovens, it is piled on the wharf ready for loading into railroad cars, ca.1917.
Loading the coke

Workers loaded the drawn coke into wheelbarrows or wagons, using large fork-like coke shovels and took it to a loading wharf or loaded it directly into railroad cars.  Special coke cars were often used; but so were gondolas, hoppers, and boxcars.  The men shoveled the coke with forks to sift out small impurities and to keep from crushing the coke.

Picture at right shows some of the tools used by the miners and coke workers at Salemville, the large fork like shovel is a coke shovel.

Salem Coke Works, ca.1917 Railroad cars being loaded by hand with coke at Salem No. 1 Mine Coke Works (ca.1917).

For more pictures of the Coke Works at Salem Mine No.1
Click Here

Reference Sources: Reference Sources used in the History of Salemville, Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania can be found here.
Links to Salemville, Pennsylvania History
The Carpatho-Rusyn Miners of Salemville Patch
Their Town Their Mines The Company Their Roots
The Old Miner Their Church Salem Mines References
Return to "Coal Mines of Westmoreland County, PA Index"
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Copyright 1999, All rights reserved, by Raymond A. Washlaski, Ryan P. Washlaski & The 20th Century Society.

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The Pennsylvania Iron Furnace Sourcebook


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