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How big is loco coal?


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I'm making some coal loads for wagons which carry loco coal.  I've got a system for grading crushed coal, using jars with different sized holes in their lids.  I can make 'big', 'small' or 'dust'.

 

The wagons below contain 'small' (left) and 'big' (right) and I wondered what size people thought would be suitable for loco coal (or it could be a mixture of the two)?

 

Thanks in advance!

 

 

IMG_3465.jpg.f59db9fcf1d7ee327cadfda2ca26521c.jpg

 

 

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Look carefully at period photos of your chosen locomotives in your selected location. You will find an amazing range of results. Keep a copy of the photo to disarm naysayers. My only rule is that particular tender load tends to be of similar size.

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1 minute ago, doilum said:

Look carefully at period photos of your chosen locomotives in your selected location. You will find an amazing range of results. Keep a copy of the photo to disarm naysayers. My only rule is that particular tender load tends to be of similar size.

 

Thanks, I've noticed that the bits were sometimes very big!  I think I've read somewhere that the GW used big lumps as the Welsh coal was soft and would disintegrate to dust if broken up?  This is for Eastern Region locos, if that makes a difference!  I've been looking at a lot of photos of loco depots but it's surprising how rarely you can see what's inside the wagons!

 

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Theoretically, the coal should be about the size of your fist. For a given weight on the grate that gave a large surface area available to the air to allow free combustion. As such, it burned quickly so something larger was often preferred.

 

Much depended on the area, the engine and the work to be done, as well as the period. A Stanier Pacific starting out on a 200, 300 or even 400 mile trip would fill the firebox up to the brick arch before leaving the shed, and the rule was, "If it will go through the firehole, it will do!" Pre-war, there was often a lot of large lumps on the tender; the coal pick was there to break them up into smaller lumps of about the right size. Alternatively, and especially on goods trips, the 'coal' might consist entirely of slack.

 

A lot depended on which colliery supplied the coal, and post war large lumps were at a premium because mining was mechanised, and small coal is what the machines produced.

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33 minutes ago, LMS2968 said:

Theoretically, the coal should be about the size of your fist. For a given weight on the grate that gave a large surface area available to the air to allow free combustion. As such, it burned quickly so something larger was often preferred.

 

Much depended on the area, the engine and the work to be done, as well as the period. A Stanier Pacific starting out on a 200, 300 or even 400 mile trip would fill the firebox up to the brick arch before leaving the shed, and the rule was, "If it will go through the firehole, it will do!" Pre-war, there was often a lot of large lumps on the tender; the coal pick was there to break them up into smaller lumps of about the right size. Alternatively, and especially on goods trips, the 'coal' might consist entirely of slack.

 

A lot depended on which colliery supplied the coal, and post war large lumps were at a premium because mining was mechanised, and small coal is what the machines produced.

 

Thanks for this.  Looking at pictures of real loco coal wagons I was surprised how big some lumps could be.  The bigger lumps in the wagon on the right have gone through holes made with a 5mm drill, which is 15 inches in 4mm, although they can be longer as long as they're thin enough to pass through the holes!

 

 

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Granted my experience is only on preserved railways but the big tombstones are always useful to stick in the back corners. It depended on where the coal from. Soft coal would disintegrate if put through something like the LMS/ LNER large coaling towers. Hence why the GWR which used predominantly Welsh coal was still sing hand loading techniques as to not break the coal into dust. 

 

A scale 15" is about right to fit on the blade of a shovel. The width would be no more than 12" simply to pick the thing up on the shovel. As LMS2968 alludes to, thats what coal picks are for. 

I know of a tale on the SVR when we were using Lady Windsor coal which was in 1 tonne lumps. It was a choice of one lump or two. 

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1 minute ago, Bulleidnutter said:

Granted my experience is only on preserved railways but the big tombstones are always useful to stick in the back corners. It depended on where the coal from. Soft coal would disintegrate if put through something like the LMS/ LNER large coaling towers. Hence why the GWR which used predominantly Welsh coal was still sing hand loading techniques as to not break the coal into dust. 

 

A scale 15" is about right to fit on the blade of a shovel. The width would be no more than 12" simply to pick the thing up on the shovel. As LMS2968 alludes to, thats what coal picks are for. 

I know of a tale on the SVR when we were using Lady Windsor coal which was in 1 tonne lumps. It was a choice of one lump or two. 

 

Thanks, that's useful info.  I'm inclined to go with the bigger size.

 

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As a kid I lived a few hundred yards from a railway station and small goods yard which was below road level so we could look down into the various trucks and locos.

 

The loco coal in the tenders and the household coal waiting in piles in the yard for distribution was quite different. The loco coal was in large, occasionally very large lumps but often mixed with dust, whereas customers were very choosy about their household coal, which had to be in lumps between say the size of a small apple and no bigger than a grapefruit.

 

I remember my mother checking each hundredweight bag of household coal as it was tipped into our bunker at home. Dust was her thing. If she thought there was too much dust in any sack she would demand, and get, an extra quarter sack at the end of the delivery!

 

No such quality control on most of the railway. Stories are told of unhappy firemen ending a journey with a tender full of coal-dust.

As for accurate modelling, outside the GWR, pretty much anything goes in the tender coal space..

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It became standard practice that the coaling tower at Exmouth Junction was kept pretty full. It had been found that if a wagon load of coal was dropped into a nearly empty bunker it would break up.

 

cheers

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A lot of locomotive tenders with coal rails had the latter subsequently plated in, which might suggest that even pre-War, run of mine coals were getting smaller - perhaps because of more mechanical handling, as well as mechanisation of the actual mining?

 

Pre-First War, you sometimes see pictures of locomotives where the tender seems to have been very carefully hand-coaled, with larger lumps used to build 'walls' to maximise the amount of coal in the tender - to the height of the cab roof even. Whether this was operationally common, or just staged for a better photo-opportunity, I'm not sure. (I have a vague recollection that 'Toram Beg' (Norman McKillop) talks about coaling before the Great War in one of his books, possibly 'Enginemen Elite', but I may be wrong).

 

And somewhere on this site there have been pictures of summer stockpiles of loco coal (at Stratford, March and elsewhere, from memory) - again, with very large lumps being used to create walls, containing smaller (but not all that small) coals. If coal is going to be stored in the open, there is a lot to be said for large lumps - it will tend to break down in the weather, and if you start small you'll end up with dust. 

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53 minutes ago, lanchester said:

A lot of locomotive tenders with coal rails had the latter subsequently plated in, which might suggest that even pre-War, run of mine coals were getting smaller - perhaps because of more mechanical handling, as well as mechanisation of the actual mining?

 

Pre-First War, you sometimes see pictures of locomotives where the tender seems to have been very carefully hand-coaled, with larger lumps used to build 'walls' to maximise the amount of coal in the tender - to the height of the cab roof even. Whether this was operationally common, or just staged for a better photo-opportunity, I'm not sure. (I have a vague recollection that 'Toram Beg' (Norman McKillop) talks about coaling before the Great War in one of his books, possibly 'Enginemen Elite', but I may be wrong).

 

And somewhere on this site there have been pictures of summer stockpiles of loco coal (at Stratford, March and elsewhere, from memory) - again, with very large lumps being used to create walls, containing smaller (but not all that small) coals. If coal is going to be stored in the open, there is a lot to be said for large lumps - it will tend to break down in the weather, and if you start small you'll end up with dust. 

 

Thank you; yes there are pictures in the "Great Eastern Locomotive Sheds" books for example of coal stacks at the places you mention and also including at Ipswich, for another one.  I have even read of the coal stacks being taken down and rebuilt as the coal on the outsides broke down (oxidised?) and became less useful if it was used.  I think all the pictures I have in mind were pre-grouping or at least predated the mechanical coaling plants.

 

 

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20 hours ago, Forester said:

As a kid I lived a few hundred yards from a railway station and small goods yard which was below road level so we could look down into the various trucks and locos.

 

The loco coal in the tenders and the household coal waiting in piles in the yard for distribution was quite different. The loco coal was in large, occasionally very large lumps but often mixed with dust, whereas customers were very choosy about their household coal, which had to be in lumps between say the size of a small apple and no bigger than a grapefruit.

 

I remember my mother checking each hundredweight bag of household coal as it was tipped into our bunker at home. Dust was her thing. If she thought there was too much dust in any sack she would demand, and get, an extra quarter sack at the end of the delivery!

 

No such quality control on most of the railway. Stories are told of unhappy firemen ending a journey with a tender full of coal-dust.

As for accurate modelling, outside the GWR, pretty much anything goes in the tender coal space..

My late grandfather told the tale of his first week at work in 1913. He was given the task of ticketing the wagons in the colliery yard. One day a whole train was returned loaded as the London merchant had, on emptying the first wagon, managed to fill a small ( 20 Kg?) sack with dust.

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4 hours ago, 31A said:

...  I have even read of the coal stacks being taken down and rebuilt as the coal on the outsides broke down (oxidised?) and became less useful if it was used.

Not because of oxidation, that leads to heat and soon enough the whole stack would be alight. It's loss of the volatiles in the coal that was the concern, as these are what promote rapid ignition of the coal on the firebed, and help maintain the combustion gas temperature in the firebox until the newly fired coal has heated to the point that the solids combust rapidly. (Heard a very interesting lecture long ago from a CEGB thermodynamicist on how closely they controlled the coal feed rate in attending to this.)

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A former signalling colleague tells of the time he cadged a bit of coal off a loco crew for his stove.

 

They left him what he descirbed as a filing cabinet sized lump in the cess for him.

 

Loco coal seemed to come in all sorts of random size lumps.

 

Andy

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Thanks for all the contributions, which have been interesting as well as useful!

 

Bearing in mind what's been said above, today I made some loads for 16T and 21T wagons.  I used foam board, with the top surface carved to produce humps, painted black and randomly-sized coal lumps of coal glued on top with PVA.  Underneath there are 'legs', also made from foam board, and I buried a piece of tin under the coal so that the wagons can be unloaded by waving a magnet over them.  This works OK for the smaller wagons but on the bigger ones the magnet isn't really strong enough to lift the loads out.

 

IMG_3468.jpg.80261becf3d2be756b9caa8d1713872a.jpgIMG_3470.jpg.bf979d6aefbf2a7fffa41546fd109dc6.jpg

 

 

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1 hour ago, SM42 said:

A former signalling colleague tells of the time he cadged a bit of coal off a loco crew for his stove.

 

They left him what he descirbed as a filing cabinet sized lump in the cess for him.

 

Loco coal seemed to come in all sorts of random size lumps.

 

Andy

Locomotive coal was normally supplied "as mined", ie ungraded, whereas most coal for domestic and industrial use was graded by size. At a guess, ungraded coal was probably cheaper, and given the amount that the railways used, that could amount to a significant cost saving. Depending on the plant they had, some industries, such as power generation might buy ungraded coal for the same reasons, but they used machinery to reduce the coal to specific sizes to suit their mechanically stoked boilers.

 

Jim 

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Plenty of informed comment here already.  

 

Top-link locos got - or should have got - the best coal.  Large clean lumps for the most part though smaller and dustier to fill the tender as required.  A fireman finding his trusty main-line steed filled with nuggets or dust would very probably have offered his opinion on that to the yard staff in language which would get me a holiday from this site.  

 

Quality and, to some extent, size reduced the lower down the ranks you came.  The humble yard shunter often had to cope with "slack" which was lumpy dust for want of a better description.  

 

Coal was delivered "as mined" but could still be sorted and graded in many locations.  Not everywhere had a coaling tower and not all locos would be coaled beneath one where it existed.  In addition to which coal from different mines could arrive at the same depot meaning they had stocks of differing sizes, quality and thermal efficiency.  

 

There are verified accounts of fires going out because of poor or dusty coal and of trains becoming in need of assistance.  Blaming the coal - however bad - wouldn't do when you were invited for tea with the gaffer and asked to explain.  

 

I have a handful of 16t coal wagons which are loaded with various grades.  They are not specifically locomotive coal but on the in-build layout they will be used for that purpose.  

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I remember being told by an old driver, of how when he was a fireman he got fed up with a group of Gypsies camped below a low embankment where Bedford Fire station now is. Apparently every time they went past these Gypsies were lined up along the fence begging for coal. One day just as they got near to Bedford a huge lump of coal came out of the tender, seeing the begging Gypsies ahead he dragged it across the foot plate and threw it out of the door. He said that it was only as he watched it fly over the wildly scattering Gypsies heads, and disappear through the roof of a caravan, that he realised that if you threw something off a loco doing 60MPH then it would also be doing 60MPH.

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I've seen photos of Pre grouping locos with 2ft or bigger lumps lining the rails, then the smaller stuff inside..

The Coal dust from the mines was often sold as "Culm" which was originally the American version of the meaning, the orginal British meaning being a type of anthracite.

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5 hours ago, TheQ said:

I've seen photos of Pre grouping locos with 2ft or bigger lumps lining the rails, then the smaller stuff inside..

The Coal dust from the mines was often sold as "Culm" which was originally the American version of the meaning, the orginal British meaning being a type of anthracite.

"Culm" to a geologist such as myself means something a little different - but not so far removed.  The Culm Supergroup (which was known as the Culm Measures when I studied) is found largely in Devon and north Cornwall and is of similar Carboniferous Period age to coal.  Typified by shales and sandstones it also includes a small area of lenticular sooty coal in the Bideford region.  

 

Culm according to Wikipedia may derive from the Welsh word cwlwm meaning knot and refers to the intensely-folded nature of the rocks when seen today.  As "Culm" is a river and occurs in Devon place names such as Culmstock I prefer the thought that the word - if it were Welsh at all - may have come from cwm meaning a valley.   

 

A slightly different understanding of the word "culm" is known from Northern England where it approximates to the American usage.  This refers to waste material from screening coal or fine pieces of anthracite.  The origin here is uncertain but may be from a Middle English word "culme" which in turn may have derived from Old English "col" which is known to refer to coal.  

 

What ever the origin it is not a word I have heard associated with poor quality coal in the commercial or industrial sense but I come from South of Watford Gap and know my way around British geology.  I know mining waste or poor quality coal as "slack" and sometimes a variety called "nutty slack" depending on the proportion of lumps to dust.  "Culm" in the sense of poor coal may have originated with the Bideford deposit a little of which may have been commercially shipped out from that port or could have been a term exported from the north of England with the product.  The present rendering of both as Culm might in fact be coincidental.  

 

 

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16 hours ago, jim.snowdon said:

Locomotive coal was normally supplied "as mined", ie ungraded, whereas most coal for domestic and industrial use was graded by size. At a guess, ungraded coal was probably cheaper, and given the amount that the railways used, that could amount to a significant cost saving. Depending on the plant they had, some industries, such as power generation might buy ungraded coal for the same reasons, but they used machinery to reduce the coal to specific sizes to suit their mechanically stoked boilers.

 

Jim 

But it depended on who was buying what when - the Ais Gill collision Report has some interesting comments about coal  which had been alleged as responsible for the first train having to stop in order for a blow.  if nothing else it indicates that pre 1914 there was a lot more to coal purchase (on some railways?) than simply buying whatever was cheapest.  Some railways - for example the GWR - at one time bought different grades of coal for different uses and in BR years lots of purchases seem to have been based on price with some totally unsuitable stuff being purchased (e.g the dreaded ovoids) probably because it was cheap or simply because it happened to be available.

 

Another interesting oddity. is that the LSWR/South Western section of the SR (both Railway and BR Region), like the GWR, used South Wales coal and in later years had mechanical coaling towers at several depots but was still using South Wales coal.  As the Southern stuff seems to have come from the Rhondda/Taff Valleys area it was not quite the same as the earlier GWR preference for coal from the Western Valley.  But equally plenty of GWR/WR sheds were using locally mined coal which did not come from the Western Valley with no apparent problems.   Depending on which seams were being worked the nature of the coal could have varied but equally all South Wales shipment coal, a lot of which went for overseas railway use, was mechanically loaded to ships holds with far higher drops than those in mechanical coaling.  I long tended to be suspicious of the claim that the GWR avoided mechanical coaling plants because of its use of soft coal and suspected that an equally valid reason for not using them was avoiding capita expenditure when the money had plenty of other uses and labour was very cheap.

 

https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_AisGill1913.pdf

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2 hours ago, Gwiwer said:

"Culm" to a geologist such as myself means something a little different - but not so far removed.  The Culm Supergroup (which was known as the Culm Measures when I studied) is found largely in Devon and north Cornwall and is of similar Carboniferous Period age to coal.  Typified by shales and sandstones it also includes a small area of lenticular sooty coal in the Bideford region.  

 

Culm according to Wikipedia may derive from the Welsh word cwlwm meaning knot and refers to the intensely-folded nature of the rocks when seen today.  As "Culm" is a river and occurs in Devon place names such as Culmstock I prefer the thought that the word - if it were Welsh at all - may have come from cwm meaning a valley.   

 

A slightly different understanding of the word "culm" is known from Northern England where it approximates to the American usage.  This refers to waste material from screening coal or fine pieces of anthracite.  The origin here is uncertain but may be from a Middle English word "culme" which in turn may have derived from Old English "col" which is known to refer to coal.  

 

What ever the origin it is not a word I have heard associated with poor quality coal in the commercial or industrial sense but I come from South of Watford Gap and know my way around British geology.  I know mining waste or poor quality coal as "slack" and sometimes a variety called "nutty slack" depending on the proportion of lumps to dust.  "Culm" in the sense of poor coal may have originated with the Bideford deposit a little of which may have been commercially shipped out from that port or could have been a term exported from the north of England with the product.  The present rendering of both as Culm might in fact be coincidental.  

 

 

Much of the coal "waste" was in fact the shales separating the seams. Whilst most would be left underground, the smaller pieces would be separated out in the screens. This was always a good source of plant fossils for school boy geologists. In particular, Lepidodendron was a prized find. Loose tipping and a high coal dust content in the 19th century resulted in spontaneous combustion and some of the giant muck stacks burned well into the 1970s. Once burned out, the shale took on a salmon pink / brick colour and was used to lay paths and loose surface roads. A key detail for anyone modelling a mining area location.

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1 hour ago, doilum said:

Once burned out, the shale took on a salmon pink / brick colour and was used to lay paths and loose surface roads. A key detail for anyone modelling a mining area location.


Also, in the west of Scotland, used for surfacing football pitches! A definite disincentive to slide tackles.

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5 minutes ago, pH said:


Also, in the west of Scotland, used for surfacing football pitches! A definite disincentive to slide tackles.

I had forgotten our 1960s " all weather surface"!

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