COBWEB CORNERS: When most people heated with coal

By Mel McFarland

       This story came up as a result of my column about cabooses. There were two coal yards in Colorado City that used old cabooses as an office. First, what is a coal yard? Before most used gas for heat, the majority of houses in Colorado City used coal. There were several big coal dealers that would bring coal right to your house. Some houses have an iron door in the foundation of their house. Early houses often had a driveway even if they did not have a garage, because the coal truck needed to access the coal bin. Many other houses had a shed on the alley where the coal was delivered, Someone then had to haul it into the house.
       In the basement was a big old furnace which usually heated water in a boiler, but some heated air. Near it was the coal bin. Before retiring for the night, someone had to check the fire, and again first thing in the morning. The finer homes had automatic stokers which spit coal on the fire. These failed at the worst times if you were not careful. Perhaps your basement still bears reminders of the old days.
       I can remember some of the coal dealers into the 1950s, not far off Bott Street. These places had wood for sale too. One of them, over off Colorado up into the 1940s, had a caboose as its office. As is often the case, a fire brought its end, and nearly devastated the area. The fire almost got into the coal and wood in the yard. There was another with a caboose as its office down near Eighth street, and I have been told of others.
       The Midland Railway had a big building that held coal for the steam locomotives. When times were tight in the Depression they had to have people guarding it. At night thieves would come load up a scuttle or bucket with loose coal. I have heard a tale or two about how the guard might look the other way if they were kids, but even those got run off if they showed up too often.
       Colorado City did have one of the earliest natural gas services in the area. Several wells furnished gas as early as 1900 over on this side of town.