Way We Were: It covered the town
Parkites once relied on coal to heat homes, businesses
Park City Museum researcher
Coal was an important resource for mining communities. Not only for the mines and their machines, but for everyone in town. Natural gas did not arrive in town until 1964. Before that, stoves used for cooking and heat in the homes and businesses relied on coal and sometimes oil.
Below are a few excerpts from a Park City Museum oral history with the Sundstrom children: Doris, Albert and Patricia, plus Patricia’s husband Robert — all of whom grew up in Park City during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Coal was a big part of their daily lives.
On starting the stove in the morning:
Albert: My dad would get up in the morning, build a fire and get the heat going in the house. Back in my room, the bedroom, I remember occasionally having a little frost on the wall. No heat all night long and the temperature might be down to zero or ten or twenty below and no heat. It could get cold. My job was to make sure we had wood — kindling wood — and I would get the coal into the house. We had a coal bucket to get the coal into the house. Dad had coal delivered to the coal shed and we’d have to keep it locked because there was [sic] neighbors that liked to borrow your coal during the night. It would stay padlocked all the time.
On using the stoves every day:
Robert: We lived up high up on Woodside so we could look out over the city. Everybody is cooking or heating their home with coal. Coal puts off a heavy black soot. In the winter this town would have a layer of coal soot and all black hanging over it. If there wasn’t a storm, it would just hang over the city.
Patricia: With the coal-burning stove in the kitchen that was the way that Mom did all of her baking and cooking… She had to keep that stove at a fairly even temperature. She knew how much wood or how much coal to put in the stove to get her bread baked.
And yes, every day means in the summer too:
Robert: Keep in mind, talking about heating the home and cooking on these coal stoves. In the summertime when it’s 70-75 degrees, they still had to have those stoves going to cook. No central air conditioning.
Albert: I remember converting that old coal stove so it would burn oil. [Dad] built a tray so the oil — fuel oil — would run down this tray to heat the hot water during the summer months. I don’t know if that worked very long. I remember him doing that to heat oil, so we didn’t have to burn coal during the summer.
But never mind the heat, coal is a dirty source of fuel:
Doris: I was thinking about the stove. There were leftover remnants from the burning of the coal in the hood. The stove underneath had an area where the soot, the ashes, and Dad would have to put newspaper underneath the stove, and out in front of the stove a bit. He had a little tool that had maybe a three-foot handle on it. He’d reach to the back and scoop the soot out onto the newspaper and hopefully get wrapped up and put into the garbage can. This had to be done to so the air could withdraw. That was a black, dirty project.
Patricia: [Mom] would wash all the walls down in the house twice a year. She had to due to the [stove]. She was very meticulous about not allowing the walls to get bad.
Albert: Where the wallpaper was [sic] they used a wallpaper paste. Do you remember that? Instead of water and rags, it was a paste and the dirty paste would just come off the walls and hit the floor.
Patricia: It was like silly putty.
Albert: Then the train would come up and it would blow out black smoke because they used coal in that. It would blow out little pieces. You couldn’t look up or you would get like a little sand piece in your eye.
The coal gave, but it was also a burden. In its pre-skiing days, Park City was a dirty town between the mine tailings and the coal soot from homes, mines, and trains.
Learn more about coal’s importance to the mining industry in a virtual Park City Museum lecture given by Donovan Symonds on Wednesday, February 10 at 5 p.m. To see the Sundstrom oral history and other history resources, visit the Museum’s Hal Compton Research Library.
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Daniel Lewis, an Old Town resident who unsuccessfully sought a spot on the Park City Council in 2019, said this week he will mount another campaign this year.