Pat Shingleton: "Coal for Heat..."
Years ago, the fireplace was the primary heat source for residents of South Louisiana and other similar locales. In Northern territories and before the gas furnace, many relied on the coal furnace. Situated in the basement of the home the burning coal heated an iron “bell” that radiated heat into the rest of the home through a series of insulated ducts. The radiated heat ultimately made it into registers that warmed the rooms and the house. With that noted, before bedtime it was the duty of my father, grandfather and later us, to stoke the fire and layer coal to provide some overnight warmth. Eventually, the grate that held the coal ashes sifted into a chamber that was removed on a daily basis. Traditionally, my grandfather would “drop the grate” on Saturday afternoons to remove remaing ashes and to provide more heat than needed - while he took his bath. Many homes, built in the 1900s, had limited insulation. Even though the coal furnace was stoked for the overnight it still didn’t provide adequate heat when the temperature dipped to -5. Beds were kept warm with a brick, heated near the fireplace and wrapped in a towel while some used a traditional “bed warmer.” This device looked like a giant skillet with a long handle and lid. Coals, placed in the container, warmed the bed by passing the device between the sheets and the outer blankets. As an early-morning paperboy, it wasn’t unusual to “hit-the-sack,” fully dressed, to avoid the morning chill at 6:00 AM.