Are you the coal man?


Chilly outside today with a biting wind, but the light remains good for photography.
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Coal men.
In the winter of 1957, my dad being a man whom liked to stay busy as much as possible, took on a job of selling coal. He had a good factory job, but on his weekends off, he wanted something else to do and make a few extra dollars. Of course, he thought that I should not watch cartoons on Saturday morning but instead help him with his new venture. I was used to it; the previous two years we sold kindling and slab wood using his old Dodge pickup truck for hauling. In those days, a ton of coal cost $12 or less but that was big money for poor urban families, especially for black people in our area whom had a tough time finding work anyway and for oldsters on fixed incomes. Generally, burning coal in a pot-bellied stove was all the heat they had. He found a small lot with a tiny office and attached shed on a corner in a middle-class neighborhood which had been used for coal sales in the past. He rented it and I was off my ass and on the job along with my uncle Roy whom, like myself, was more or less drafted to help. Dad ordered a few tons of stoker coal and within a few minutes it was delivered and dumped on the lot. From somewhere, he had procured a huge bunch of triple-ply heavy-duty paper sacks and each one was the perfect size to hold 50 pounds of coal. It was my job to fill the bags and he would weigh them on a set of coal scales that he bought at the livestock market. I would love to say he was generous and would put an extra few lumps in each bag, but he was more inclined to remove one or two; he was much like the butcher whom placed his finger on the sacles each time he weighed meat. It was cold, dirty work, but had its rewards and I will write about one of them in a moment. When we got several bags filled and the truck box loaded, we would drive off to the poorer parts of town and cruise the streets and alleys where we were soon noticed. Someone always came rushing out a door hollering “Are you the coal man?” They would look at the bags and ask how much he wanted for a bag and Dad would say “fifty cents” and they would then purchase as many bags as they could afford, usually no more than two. By the time we finished with the first customer, other people were out waving us down. We would usually get two pickup loads out each Saturday and Dad was able to make a decent profit. Now for my reward. Across the street from the coal lot lived a girl who appeared to be a couple of years younger than I, making her about 11 or 12 years old, and to me, she was the prettiest thing this side of heaven. Sometimes she would be in her front yard alone, and other times there was another girl with her. She knew I was perpetually looking at her, but she never once acted as if she cared, but I was very much infatuated and was coming down with a case of forlorn puppy love. Eventually the weather got bad enough that I hardly saw her and I no longer looked forward to helping out on the lot. What I didn’t know was that less than seven years later I would marry that pretty girl and we have been together ever since.
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Have a wondrous Wednesday, my friends.
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Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How long did a bag of coal last a family? a week? What is the benefit of using coal over wood (burns longer/hotter?). Such a sweet love story which started with a lump of coal. it is still warmish down here. I have the doors open and from my desk I can hear the squirrels squabbling over the few peanuts I put out. My great-grandfather worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines and was an Irish immigrant. My mother tells stories of him coming home from work with the other men covered in black from head to toe. That line of work killed him eventually from the black lung. I wish it were Friday.

    • In severe cold, bag of coal might last a few days with continuous burning. Usually the people who bought it just needed enough to tide them over until another truck load could be purchased, however some people had to get by on it. Sometimes my dad would give them an extra bag to help them out. Yep, coal burns hotter and lasts longer than wood, so a little would go a long way. Working in the deep mines for only a few years was the same as signing your own death certificate. Things got better for awhile, but the guts have been ripped out of the laws and unions are weak.

      Thanks, Tammy.

  2. So unexpected conclusion, and precious documentary details (i almost hear it: are you the coal man). Ken, your Dad knew how to be in business. Beautiful and moving story. Thanks for it. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jola. The girl says she doesn’t remember me leering from across the street in 1957 but she does remember the coal yard. The other girl was her cousin who lived one street back of her. They are still close friends. Thanks, Jola 🙂

  3. What a fantadtic story. How often do you get the girl who first stokes the flame in your heart.

    Can’t imagine ever working as a coal miner. Such a hard life. The real culture of the ccoal miner’s life is slowly drifting away. Machines taking the place of man.

    • Thanks, Mark.
      A coal miner’s life is an enigma; exhausting labor with little reward. Most would not trade it for a mansion. They live a simple life style in which we all should have to live for a full year.


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