Author Archive

Coal in Iowa — Part III: Of Local Interest

April 28, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover
(Part I is here. Part II is here.)

* * * * * * * *

.

From The Rolfe Arrow, April 24, 1924. (Click on image to magnify text.)

Several old Rolfe Arrows contain coal ads from J. T. Grant [Lumberyard].  On November 2, 1922, the ad played on the election theme with the headline, “We Are Candidates for Your Coal Business,” and said the company was selling several kinds of coal.  A 1924 ad [at right] identified J. T. Grant as “The Rolfe Coalumberman.”

The Pioneer History describes a coal famine from October 1880 to April 1881 when the temperatures were frigid and there were large amounts of snow.  Trains were sidetracked, and their coal unloaded.  Some schools were closed for the entire winter because they had no fuel.  The 1981 Pocahontas County History said coal was used in Rolfe as late as the 1930s and, “a fuel shortage in the severe winter of 1936 necessitated restricting hours and orders for coal.”  The February 20, 1936, Rolfe Arrow reported, “Mayor J. H. Brinkman commandeered part of a car of the M. & St. L. station coal to relieve fuel famine.”  “Two cars of coal came in Friday night and was rationed out in 500 lb. lots to those most in need.”  “Lou Bagley, en route home with a truckload of Missouri coal, was ‘held up’ in Audubon by authorities.  They took his coal – at one dollar a ton over the Rolfe market – and sent him back for more.”

Learning about the connections between coal mines and railroads made me think of how often in Omaha or during our drives in Iowa we see long coal trains delivering coal from Wyoming to power plants in the east.  Transporting coal seems to be a primary business of the Union Pacific Railroad.  In 2009, UPRR moved its 200,000th loaded coal train out of northeast Wyoming’s Powder River Basin—200,000th in 25 years.  That’s nearly 22 a day.  According to one Union Pacific web site, “Union Pacific’s 200,000 trains out of the SPRB have carried enough coal to power all the homes in the United States for 5 years.”

This April 6, 2010, photo is of coal being moved at a location immediately east of the Iowa State University Power Plant. (Click on image to enlarge.)

If we lived in Ames, we’d see coal trains every day.  The Iowa State University Power Plant has operated since the late 1880s.  Constructed in 1906-1909 and expanded several times, it uses 155,000 tons of coal from Illinois and Kentucky each year.  Does mention of the ISU Power Plant ring a bell?  Go to Louise’s 2010 posts on the plant, read her explanations, and look at Mother’s watercolor as well as the various photos (current and historic) of the plant.  Notice the large 1920s coal stockpile.

Our first house on the farm had a coal room connected to the basement.  I don’t recall anyone delivering coal or shoveling coal into the furnace.  By the early 1950s, a large oil tank in the east room of the basement supplied the fuel for our furnace.  I was only three when we moved to the farm in 1945 and don’t remember if we always had the oil tank or if we used coal for a while.

Hal remembers a coal room in the basement of his Sioux Falls house.  Coal was periodically delivered and deposited into the room from a ground level opening next to the driveway.  Hal’s father shoveled coal directly into the furnace and later into a stoker that carried the coal into the furnace.  One not-so-fun task was cleaning the clinkers out of the furnace and dumping them into a metal tub to be carried outdoors, where they were picked up by the garbage haulers.

In his book, Three to the Hill, John Wiegman listed the coal room as one of six rooms in the basement of the Rolfe house in which he grew up; however, he did not mention using coal.  I’ve asked friends what they remember about coal.  Several remember coal rooms but don’t remember using coal.  I’d like to hear from readers who remember having coal delivered and shoveling coal into the furnace—at home, in businesses or even at school.


* * * * * * * *

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area. mariongundersonart@gmail.com

A list of sources consulted for this three-part series about coal is here.

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Coal in Iowa — Part II: Coal Mining

April 21, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover
(Part I is here.)

* * * * * * * *

Coal mines in Iowa?  Yes, indeed!  The High Trestle Trail Bridge is located in the area where several mine shafts had been worked by Italian immigrants in the late 1880s and continuing to the 1920s.  In fact, 15 different coal mines are listed on the Madrid, Iowa, site.

From the July 12, 1923, Rolfe Arrow. (Click on image to magnify text.)

Coal mining itself occurred from Webster and Boone counties south and southeast as far as the Missouri border, with the most mining seeming to occur in Polk, Marion, Mahaska, Monroe and Wapello counties.  Many of these small mining towns, once bustling with people, no longer exist.  Railroads often owned the coal mines and the coal-mining towns, rented houses to miners, expected miners to shop exclusively in the company’s general store, and sometimes operated the company school.

Because wood was not available, Iowa’s early settlers used coal for cooking food and heating.  Coal mining began in Iowa in the 1840s with small mines on the sides of hills where coal was exposed.  In the 1860s and 1870s, railroads spread throughout the state.  They leased land and operated mines that produced coal for their own use, including fueling their trains.  Over time, more than 5,500 underground mines existed in Iowa.  Although a few were large, most were small, local operations.  In 1896 there were more than 20 coal mines in Boone County.  The Boone County town of Angus no longer exists, but in the 1880s, it supposedly had a population of 3,500 and was the largest coal-mining town in the state.  By the 1920s, coal mining had all but disappeared from the state.  By that time many Iowa mines had exhausted their coal supply.  Railroads began buying coal from other states.  Iowans sought cleaner-burning coal from other states and converted to other sources of fuel: electricity, natural gas and oil.

Coal developed in Iowa 250-300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian geological era when Iowa had an abundance of vegetation.  Gradually this plant material became peat, which after great pressure and heat became coal.  It has been estimated that 20 feet of plant material compresses into three feet of peat, three of peat compresses into one foot of bituminous coal, and all that occurs over 3,000 years.  (One source said ten feet of peat compress into one foot of bituminous coal.)  Coal seams in southern Iowa varied in thickness; most were thin and not nearly as deep or as consistently widespread as in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, for example.  Iowa coal was mostly bituminous—soft, easily breakable, and contained impurities such as sulfur.  Its carbon content is only 60-80%.  By contrast, anthracite coal found in the Appalachian Mountains is harder, cleaner and denser with a carbon content of more than 90%.  The 1904 Pioneer History of Pocahontas County, Iowa, referred to the “soft coal” found in Iowa’s roughly 20,000 square miles of coal fields and stated, “The coal in this belt is of excellent quality and the supply inexhaustible.”

* * * * * * * *

Part III will follow.

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area. mariongundersonart@gmail.com

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Coal in Iowa — Part I: The Bridge

April 17, 2012

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

Photo by Richard Thielen (Click on the image to magnify the detail of the bridge and reservoir.)

It all started one November Sunday morning as Hal and I drove from Ames to Omaha after an Iowa State football game.  We were talking so much that we missed the road to Luther.  We enjoy exploring different routes, so as we approached Madrid we decided to continue west on Highway 210 to Woodward.  Shortly after leaving Madrid, we could see a long bridge on tall pillars over the Des Moines River to the southwest.  From a distance, we also saw what appeared to be long metal pieces sticking up from the bridge at irregular intervals.  We had no idea about the purpose of the bridge or, because we’d never been on this road, how long the bridge had been there.  Our brother-in-law Bill Shimon said this was the recently completed High Trestle Trail Bridge that’s part of a paved recreation trail running through Polk, Dallas, Boone and Story counties.
.

Photo by Mary Pepper (Click on the photo to magnify the details, including the walkers on the bridge.)

I was so intrigued by the bridge that I Googled to learn more about it.  Indeed, the half-mile bridge is 130 feet above the wide Des Moines River Valley.  This new bridge opened in April 2011 and is built on top a former Milwaukee Road Railroad/Union Pacific Railroad trestle.  The tall concrete piers had been constructed in the 1970s to support the former trestle, originally built in 1912.  Two artistic features caught my eye.  Those metal pieces are actually 41 large, rectangular steel frames positioned at various angles to represent support cribs in an old coal mine.  At night these frames are outlined in blue light and from the end give one the impression of descending into a coal mine shaft.  In addition, at each entrance to the bridge are two 42-foot towers with black bands embedded to represent coal veins in the Madrid area.  The photos in the Raccoon River Valley Trail site show far more than I can explain.

A few weeks later as I talked with my dentist, who is familiar with Madrid because his mother had grown up in that area, I mentioned the High Trestle Trail Bridge.  He said one of his clients is from Rippey (about 20 miles west of Madrid), and the client’s father had worked in coal mines in the Rippey area.  I was hooked!  That night I e-mailed my dentist a web site for the High Trestle Trail Bridge along with other web sites about coal mining in Iowa.  In my research, I discovered Dorothy Schweider’s book on coal mining in Iowa.  I ordered two copies, kept one for myself and gave the other to my dentist who later told me his client’s father was mentioned in the book.

* * * * * * * *

Part II and Part III will follow.

If you have memories related to coal, but do not want to comment directly on this blog, you may email them to me (Louise). If you’d like, I can post them anonymously (i.e., not reveal your identity) in the “comment” area. mariongundersonart@gmail.com

(Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.)

Blue Hat and Iowa Corn (Part III)

July 12, 2009

(Click here to go to this blog’s home page.)

(To read “Part I” click here.)

(To read “Part II” click here.)

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

Iowa Corn watercolor by Mother (Marion Gunderson), 19--.

"Iowa Corn" watercolor by Mother (Marion Gunderson), 1956. (Click photo to enlarge.)

When I saw Bill and Judy Carmichael’s Ear of Iowa Corn, it seemed very similar to a painting Mother had given Sara (Olerich) and Dale Schoenefeld as a wedding present.  Mother painted that painting, Iowa Corn, in 1956.  Sara and Dale’s Iowa Corn was not in the small photo album Mother had created of most of her paintings, nor did I remember this painting until Sara mentioned it to me and, in 2006, sent me photographs of it. more…

Blue Hat and Iowa Corn (Part II)

July 10, 2009

(Click here to go to this blog’s home page.)

(If you haven’t yet read “Part I” and would like to do so before reading this post, click here.)

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

Ear of Iowa Corn, watercolor by Marion Gunderson, 1949

"Ear of Iowa Corn" watercolor by Mother (Marion Gunderson), 1949. Sizes/Pricing: Medium limited edition --- 11.75" W x 10" H, $25. Grand limited edition --- 22" W x 18.75" H, $50. Largest --- 24" x 20.5" (same size as the original, usually a special order), $70. (Click photo to enlarge.) *

In July 2008, Hal and I were back at Okoboji for our annual reading marathon.  I didn’t want to impose on the Carmichaels, but one day while on my walk I finally went to their house and knocked on their door.  They invited me inside and showed me Mother’s painting, Ear of Iowa Corn (1949).  They also showed me two paintings by Cathrine Barr.  I was excited to see all three paintings and asked if I could get my camera and come back to take photos.  They seemed glad to let me do this. more…

Blue Hat and Iowa Corn (Part I)

July 8, 2009

(Click here to go to this blog’s home page.)

Almost dusk after RAGBRAI bicyclers had passed through Rolfe, Iowa, on July 23, 2007.  (Click photo to enlarge.)

The view from Highway 15, looking east into Rolfe, Iowa, at almost dusk after RAGBRAI cyclists had passed through on July 23, 2007. (Click photo to enlarge.)

~ Submitted by Clara Gunderson Hoover

When RAGBRAI went through Rolfe on July 23, 2007, most of our family spent the day in town and enjoyed the many bicyclers and onlookers who talked with our father and visited his Cy sculpture on Garfield Street.  In fact, my husband Hal and I had just concluded our Okoboji vacation in time to be in Rolfe for RAGBRAI. more…