of Coke at
Salem No. 1 Mine
Keystone Coal & Coke Company
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
|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.|
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.|
|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|
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.
|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
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|
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"
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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
|Reference Sources: Reference Sources used in the History of Salemville, Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania can be found here.|
|Links to Salemville, Pennsylvania
The Carpatho-Rusyn Miners of Salemville Patch
If you have additional pictures or information on Salemville
Visit these sites, for more local history
|The Pennsylvania Iron Furnace Sourcebook|