Sunday, December 9, 2018

Two Cambria County Coke Plants

Late last week I got an email from a guy, who hunts the state game lands near Fallentimber, PA, about some coke ovens he had found in the woods while deer hunting. Thanks John for the tip! Today Lou and I headed up there to check out the site. Afterward, we went up the road a little way towards Glasgow, PA to check out another old coke plant that John Qualley had stumbled across a few years ago. The latter has been on my list for a long time, so it was nice to get a chance to cross it off. 


Both of these coke plants date back to the initial opening of the coal fields in northern Cambria County. These were both major operations in Reade Township and lasted for nearly 40 years. Information on each of these sites is very limited, so I spent last week digging through the mining reports trying to piece together a history of each of these places.  The mines and coke plants were known, for pretty much their entire existence, as Dean No. 8 and Beccaria No. 1. Dean No. 8 was by far the most impressive of the two, and is probably in the top five of all the coke oven sites I have been to. The ovens themselves were not in the greatest condition, none of the fronts were intact, but what was left gave us so much information on how the works operated and how coke ovens in general were constructed. The whole site was so pristine and clean, allowing a great opportunity to spend the day in the woods. 



Dean No. 8


This mine and coke works began operating in 1887 under the name Rubino Coke Works. The first year that they are listed in the mining reports (1887) they are labeled as Rubus, but this was most likely a misprint. They are listed as having 88 ovens and being operated by the Cresson and Clearfield Coal and Coke Company. Cresson and Clearfield would operate these ovens for pretty much the extent of their existence. The coke plant would be known as Rubino until 1891, and that's when the Dean label would be attached. The following years would be relatively sporadic, a few years would appear on the reports with no mention of these ovens at all. 88 ovens were mostly what was found in these reports, but in 1923 they were reported as having 99. Anyway, back to the history. Cresson and Clearfield Coal and Coke would operate these ovens until 1899, when they were listed as being controlled by the Frugality Coal and Coke Company. This arrangement would only last for one year however, as 1900 saw them being operated by Cresson and Clearfield once again..



Dean No. 8 is listed as a new mine in 1897 and this is what the coke plant would be known as until the ovens went cold in 1925. Dean No. 8 Mine would appear until 1929 but no ovens were reported for the previous four years. Cresson and Clearfield Coal and Coke Company is listed as the operators until 1910, when the mine and coke works were sold to the Eastern Bituminous Coal Company. 1913 lists them under F.P. McFarland. From 1914 to 1927 the operators were the Reorganization Committee Eastern Bituminous Coal Mining Bonds. From 1914 on, there are 99 ovens listed. 1928 sees the owners as McFarland and Brothers, and 1929 announces the abandonment of Dean No. 8. However, no ovens were listed since 1924. 



Remaining today is one block of intact ovens and one bank of collapsed ovens. The block itself appears to have had some of the ovens removed or destroyed on the western end. All of the ovens in the bank are collapsed, but the piers and sleeper stones for the larry cars are still intact. It's a very unique site.



The Dean No. 8 Coke Works are shown in this 1939 aerial. It's obvious that the ovens were long cold by the time this photo was taken. 

After parking and while walking back to the coke oven site, we came across these piers. We decided that these were most likely related to the haulage from the mine to the coke works. Dean No. 8 was a slope mine and mined the Middle Kittanning seam which averaged 2.8 feet thick in this area.


One of the piers.


Approaching the block of ovens. This is the side that appeared to have some ovens destroyed.


This is the general extent of the condition of the Dean No. 8 coke ovens.







Very well defined coke yard, with the ovens on the right, yard in the center, and the railroad loadout on the left. 



Portions of stone retaining walls are still extent on the block. Along the bank there is a lot of impressive stone work remaining. 






Part of the stonework I was talking about. This is the end (or beginning) of the row of bank ovens.


Also impressive on the bank ovens is the very intact pier walls that still run along the loadout. The pier walls on the block side have pretty much all collapsed. 


A few more of the block.



This is looking over at the bank from the block. Notice how retaining walls remain but most of the ovens have collapsed. 


Block ovens.


Notice the larry piers behind the retaining walls. The sleepers are still attached to most of these piers.



More block. We're heading to the bank soon. I promise. 





Scattered throughout the site were the blocks that formed the front of the ovens. 



The end of the block of ovens. From the extent of the rubble above here, we think there may have been another ten or twelve ovens in this block. This could probably be figured out by counting ovens but that's no fun. 


Scattered coke oven blocks.



A close up of one of the sleeper stones on the bank ovens. The rails for the larry cars that charged the ovens would sit right in the center of the carved stone. You can easily see the slot.


Words can not describe my love of huge cut stone. It's a lost art. 


Looking over at the block. Sleeper stone in the foreground. 


This is on top of the bank with the block on the left.



In this photo you can follow the sleeper stones through the trees. The piers on the right are almost all intact. The piers that held the other section of track, closer to the ovens themselves, have mostly fallen in with the ovens. 


Some more random coke oven block.


This and the following photo show a great example of these piers and sleeper stones. When the coke works were constructed, these piers would have been built between the ovens and then buried with clay and soil along with the ovens. 


The slots for the tracks are easily visible in these stones.


This is view of how the piers were constructed between ovens. This is a block but the bank ovens would have used a similar design. The ovens in this photo are in Tyler, PA.



The large stone wall at the end of the bank.



Below the ovens it is easy to see how the trains approached this site. The cut on the left would serve one side of the block and the bank. The cut on the right would lead to the other side of the block. 


Below that is another switch. The main railroad branch is on the right and the left leads up to the previous switch to serve the ovens. The main branch only went as far as the mine loadout. 


Two topographic maps sewn together showing how the railroad came up to Dean No. 8. This map also shows that there was some sort of company housing near the site. 



Part of the old railroad grade heading towards Clearfield Creek. 


Bridge piers and abutments that would have carried the railroad over the creek. The railroad that served these ovens started out as the Cresson & Clearfield County & NY Short Route Railroad and opened on July 1, 1886. It initially operated from Cresson to Ansonville. On January 2, 1893 the C&CC&NY was leased to the Pennsylvania Railroad. On June 30, 1894 the short route became the Cresson and Irvona (C&I) Railroad, operated by the PRR. On August 1, 1903 the C&I became part of the Cambria & Clearfield Railway Company. The Pennsylvania Railroad eventually absorbed everything and gave it a designated branch. 






Coming into this site, we noticed some huge piles of old burned mine refuse. There were trenches dug around each pile and we think they were dug out to isolate the burning slate from the forest, allowing the fires to burn themselves out while protecting the woods. That's our theory. Who knows how this really played out?


Lou standing in front of the largest pile. Before successfully reaching this point, he slid on the loose rock and allowed me to witness the slowest and softest fall in the history of people falling down. I'm still laughing about it today.


That's a big pile of red dog.



Another shot of the haulage or tipple piers on the way out. 

On the way over to the Beccaria No. 1 ovens, we passed by this, what we believe to be, old boarding house in Fisk, PA. 

 

Beccaria No. 1


Beccaria No. 1 started off as the Smittie Mine in 1884 and was operated by Smittie and Company, owned and operated by Joseph Smittie. 25 ovens would appear in 1887. By 1888 Smittie was operating this plant with 40 ovens. In 1889 the mine and coke works switched hands and were renamed Bear Ridge Mine and Coke Works, operated by the Bear Ridge Coal and Coke Company. From 1890 to 1900, Bear Ridge would operate this plant as Mountaindale Mine and Coke Works. Most years 40 ovens would be listed, but occasionally 50 ovens would be noted. In 1900 (50 ovens) W.J. Nichols purchased this plant and ran it until 1902 when the Beccaria Coke Company took over. At this point it is still listed as Mountaindale Coke Works. In 1904, W.J. Nichols is back on board and in 1905 J. Blair Kennerly is running the show. I think Nichols and Kennerly were probably the Beccaria Coke Company because that's the way these things usually play out.


1906 is the year things started changing. 80 ovens are listed and the plant had been renamed to Beccaria, operated by the Clearfield Coal Company. This was also short lived because J. Blair Kennerly jumped back in in 1905 and ran it as Beccaria No. 1 from 1908 to 1913. 1914 and 1915 would see this plant operated under the Franklin National Bank (80 ovens at this point), with J.B. Kennerly listed as the agent. In 1916, Beccaria No. 1 is listed as idle but Beccaria No. 2 is listed as having 80 ovens, and being operated by J.R. McAllister. The reports would flip flop between Beccaria No. 1 and No. 2, containing 80 ovens, until 1921, when the Navy Standard Coal Company took over. Navy Standard ran it as Beccaria No. 1, 70 ovens listed at this point, until 1924, when the mine was exhausted. In 1924 the mine only operated for 21 days with 10 employees. No ovens were listed for that year. One would think the fate of Beccaria No. 1 would be sealed at this point, but boy, do I have a surprise for you! In 1925, the Glasgow Fuel Company must have gotten a good deal on an exhausted coal mine. They were probably mining the pillars and whatever reserves were left, but they managed to stretch this out over the next three years. 1925 would be the last year that any ovens were listed (70) and Glasgow Fuel Company only operated for 92 days with 17 employees that year. For the last three years Glasgow operated the mine as either Glasgow No. 1 or Glasgow No. 2, and in 1929  Smittie/Mountaindale/Beccaria No. 1/ Glasgow No. 2 would be nothing but a memory. 



This site was the roughest of the two. The layout was quite interesting because of the way the ovens curved through the valley. There was a bank on each side. The land has been severely altered over the years so it was more difficult to get a grasp of how this site was originally laid out. It was interesting nonetheless.


You can see Beccaria in this 1939 aerial, located at the bottom, center. It is difficult to even figure out the layout from this old photo.


A first look at Beccaria No. 1


These two photos do allow you to see a little bit of the layout. The railroad came in right up the middle and the yards and ovens are located on either side. 



This is also the general condition of the ovens here. There were coyote and bobcat tracks all through here and leading up to some of the ovens. We didn't go in those ovens.




Here you can see how the ovens curved around the hillside.



The inside of this oven is completely fried.






It's always interesting to see how the trees grow around the ovens.








And that's it for our Saturday adventure.