Anthracite as a locomotive fuel

181

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(Starting a new thread because it's off-topic for the one where the subject arose).

Anthracite (and trust me , I know a bit about it with a father who did 44 years down an anthracite mine , (and ended up as Duty Manager) , is not loco fuel - slow burning and pure carbon almost. Great for brewing and slow combustion.

Apparently some of the American railroads used anthracite in locomotives, and at least one made much of it in their publicity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_Snow_(character).

There's an article on the subject (published in 1940) here; if you don't have institutional access to JSTOR, you have to register in order to read it, but it's free. (Currently the later pages are refusing to load for me, but hopefully this is only temporary).

It seems that the slow combustion rate requires a large firebox, which was one reason for the development of camelback locomotives. I'd guess that the large size of American locomotives made large fireboxes more feasible than here.

Does anyone know if anything similar was done elsewhere in the world? Wikipedia indicates that Russia and the Ukraine have significant stocks of anthracite (as does China, although my impression is that their domestic steam locomotive industry built a few designs in large numbers rather than experimenting with anything out of the ordinary).
 
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Committee man

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I seem to recall that the locomotives of the Metropolitan and District railways in London both burnt anthracite in the years prior to electrification, c1905.
Anthracite was used (previously it was coke) simply because of the underground running on the Circle line, and branches, and a 'clean' burning fuel was essential. There is an account of a footplate ride on the Circle line in Victorian days, which was reproduced on the forum a few years back, on the subject of underground steam railways. The 'atmosphere' sounded ghastly!
Underground Steam Engine Ventilation in the Victorian Era | RailUK Forums (railforums.co.uk)
 

Tomos y Tanc

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Why would anyone use anthracite except in very specific circumstances such as the one pointed out by Committee Man? It's a less suitable fuel than steam coal and generally more expensive to mine.

In the UK the only anthracite coalfield of any real significance was in the western portion of the south Wales coalfield and it's produce was almost always in short supply and sold at a premium price to steam coal. I'd be very susprised if there are many UK examples of its use other than Committee Man's. As 181 suggests though, things might be different elsewhere.

Thank you for raising an interesting subject.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Why would anyone use anthracite except in very specific circumstances such as the one pointed out by Committee Man? It's a less suitable fuel than steam coal and generally more expensive to mine.

In the UK the only anthracite coalfield of any real significance was in the western portion of the south Wales coalfield and it's produce was almost always in short supply and sold at a premium price to steam coal. I'd be very susprised if there are many UK examples of its use other than Committee Man's. As 181 suggests though, things might be different elsewhere.

Thank you for raising an interesting subject.

Yes - good point about premium prices - anthracite was about twice the price of "steam coal" - and mines west of the Neath Valley towards LLanelli , with small , extremely good quality deposits in Pembroke around Saundersfoot. So good was the latter that the Bass brewing company intended to buy the mine to guarantee supply to them only !.

Despite my assurance it was not "loco coal" - the New York elevated system when steam operated by dinky little Forney 0-4-4 tank engines and pre 1904 , tried Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen anthracite on it's fleet in preference to"local" Pennsylvania coal. Electrification was the real answer in that case for other reasons like multiple car operation.
 

Taunton

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Apparently some of the American railroads used anthracite in locomotives, and at least one made much of it in their publicity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_Snow_(character).


It seems that the slow combustion rate requires a large firebox, which was one reason for the development of camelback locomotives. I'd guess that the large size of American locomotives made large fireboxes more feasible than here.
The DL&W (and then near-neighbours) used anthracite because that was what was mined in its territory, but it wasn't the expensive base product. In preparing it to a specific size there was a lot of waste, being dumped in pit heaps, and the DL&W locos with extremely wide fireboxes were devised to use this residual material. The "route of Phoebe Snow" was not unique in this, but the only one to make publicity out of it, particularly against competitor New York Central on the New York City-Buffalo run, who ran to the north and did not serve the anthracite fields so used regular steam coal.

Halfway down the page here :

Camelback Steam Locomotives
 

Czesziafan

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Interesting. My parents had solid fuel central heating installed in 1965, that burned anthracite grains in a gravity-feed boiler. It had to be cleaned daily, using a pair of special steel tongs to lift the white-hot horseshoe shaped piece of clinker from the bottom of the furnace. The fuel was almost smokeless but had a tendency to "blow back" shortly after ignition, creating a strong sulphur smell. The anthracite was very expensive and often difficult to obtain. The local coal merchant would sometimes ask if we would accept steam or coking coal grains instead if supplies were short, and on occasions the anthracite had to be imported from Katowice, Upper Silesia in Poland, which was the only place in Europe outside South Wales where it was mined.
 

Peter C

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O.S. Nock, in his book "The GWR Stars, Castles & Kings (Omnibus Edition)" describes 6000 King George V's journey over to the USA in 1927 to celebrate 100 years of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He writes quite positively about the engine's performance, stating:
Instead of the familiar soft Welsh coal, the engine was burning hard gas coal, which formed large quantities of clinker, and was better suited to grates of twice the size of that of King George V.
[...]
King George V and its crew ably maintained the honour not only of Swindon but of British locomotive engineering generally.
I know nothing about the different types of coal, but a quick search online for "hard gas coal" brings up the Wikipedia page for anthracite.
So whilst not within the UK, it was* used on a British engine, with seemingly good results? I'd be very grateful if anyone could confirm/deny/add to any of what I've just said!

-Peter

*(assuming that what Nock is describing is actually anthracite)
 

ChiefPlanner

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Interesting. My parents had solid fuel central heating installed in 1965, that burned anthracite grains in a gravity-feed boiler. It had to be cleaned daily, using a pair of special steel tongs to lift the white-hot horseshoe shaped piece of clinker from the bottom of the furnace. The fuel was almost smokeless but had a tendency to "blow back" shortly after ignition, creating a strong sulphur smell. The anthracite was very expensive and often difficult to obtain. The local coal merchant would sometimes ask if we would accept steam or coking coal grains instead if supplies were short, and on occasions the anthracite had to be imported from Katowice, Upper Silesia in Poland, which was the only place in Europe outside South Wales where it was mined.


There were very valuable flows of anthracite for domestic heating and water heating from Wales - I used to enjoy going round the trains at Gwaun Cae Gurwen and helping the guard do a tally of destinations like Beckenham Junction , Neasden , Enfield Chase , Chessington ,West Drayton etc , - all wonderfully exotic places to me then which became very familiar to me as railway manager in later years . (the most evocative name was "Lent Rise Sidings , Taplow"

The coal was very carefully graded - grains , peas , stove nuts , stovesse , small cobbles . large cobbles and large. Brand names of the day - and many of the 21T hopper wagons were vacuum braked and marked "House Coal Concentration" Good traffic - the local Assistant Area Manager at Pantyffynon got quite excited one day when they managed to get a block load of anthracite house coal for Scotland (via Severn Tunnel Junction alas not via the Central Wales line) , such that he came to see it off himself. Destinations like Ratho , Leith , Muir of Ord etc.

Digression - but a good one.

O.S. Nock, in his book "The GWR Stars, Castles & Kings (Omnibus Edition)" describes 6000 King George V's journey over to the USA in 1927 to celebrate 100 years of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He writes quite positively about the engine's performance, stating:

I know nothing about the different types of coal, but a quick search online for "hard gas coal" brings up the Wikipedia page for anthracite.
So whilst not within the UK, it was* used on a British engine, with seemingly good results? I'd be very grateful if anyone could confirm/deny/add to any of what I've just said!

-Peter

*(assuming that what Nock is describing is actually anthracite)

Yes - anthracite was sold as "gas coal" - via suction plants and so on -and marketing was geared for that , as well as for brewing etc. The key thing was anthracite had high carbon , and very low arsenic.
 

Taunton

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O.S. Nock, in his book "The GWR Stars, Castles & Kings (Omnibus Edition)" describes 6000 King George V's journey over to the USA in 1927 to celebrate 100 years of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He writes quite positively about the engine's performance, stating:

I know nothing about the different types of coal, but a quick search online for "hard gas coal" brings up the Wikipedia page for anthracite.
So whilst not within the UK, it was* used on a British engine, with seemingly good results? I'd be very grateful if anyone could confirm/deny/add to any of what I've just said!

-Peter

*(assuming that what Nock is describing is actually anthracite)
The Baltimore & Ohio was KGV's host for the US visit, who ran through the anthracite area and had some of the very wide firebox locos suited for this. I suspect for their "honoured guest" they supplied proper coals and not the residual stuff.

There's a lot of variation in coal types and qualities. That from the Somerset field around Radstock was regarded as pretty poor stuff, only fit for Portishead power station. A classic was when 4079 Pendennis Castle was going to recreate City of Truro's run on the 60th anniversary in 1964. Great preparation, and the very best of coal. They got up to 96mph by Westbury and the firebars burned through and fell out; end of trip for Pendennis. Tenderful of the best, hand-picked from Ogilvie Colliery (@chief Planner - where's that?). Other inspectors said that the trouble with Ogilvie was it was TOO hot, and if you were going for a high-performance run you should leaven it with some other brands.
 

Peter C

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Yes - anthracite was sold as "gas coal" - via suction plants and so on -and marketing was geared for that , as well as for brewing etc. The key thing was anthracite had high carbon , and very low arsenic.
Super - thanks for confirming. :)

The Baltimore & Ohio was KGV's host for the US visit, who ran through the anthracite area and had some of the very wide firebox locos suited for this. I suspect for their "honoured guest" they supplied proper coals and not the residual stuff.
Ah OK - again, thanks.

There's a lot of variation in coal types and qualities. That from the Somerset field around Radstock was regarded as pretty poor stuff, only fit for Portishead power station. A classic was when 4079 Pendennis Castle was going to recreate City of Truro's run on the 60th anniversary in 1964. Great preparation, and the very best of coal. They got up to 96mph by Westbury and the firebars burned through and fell out; end of trip for Pendennis. Tenderful of the best, hand-picked from Ogilvie Colliery (@chief Planner - where's that?). Other inspectors said that the trouble with Ogilvie was it was TOO hot, and if you were going for a high-performance run you should leaven it with some other brands.
As I said, I know nothing about different types of coal (apart from that the GWR used Welsh coal, but that's the end of my knowledge on the subject). That story of Pendennis Castle is interesting: thanks again for sharing :D

-Peter
 

ChiefPlanner

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The Baltimore & Ohio was KGV's host for the US visit, who ran through the anthracite area and had some of the very wide firebox locos suited for this. I suspect for their "honoured guest" they supplied proper coals and not the residual stuff.

There's a lot of variation in coal types and qualities. That from the Somerset field around Radstock was regarded as pretty poor stuff, only fit for Portishead power station. A classic was when 4079 Pendennis Castle was going to recreate City of Truro's run on the 60th anniversary in 1964. Great preparation, and the very best of coal. They got up to 96mph by Westbury and the firebars burned through and fell out; end of trip for Pendennis. Tenderful of the best, hand-picked from Ogilvie Colliery (@chief Planner - where's that?). Other inspectors said that the trouble with Ogilvie was it was TOO hot, and if you were going for a high-performance run you should leaven it with some other brands.

I do enjoy a debate on coal - particularly Welsh coal. Ogilvie was up in the Rhymney area - a Powell Duffryn mine who were bad employers to say the least with a history of bad relations with the workforce- anyway , we were always told in my school days up to 1974 that the best loco coal was "Garw Cobbles" from up the Maesteg area. Excellent stuff. Premium steam coal.

A much appreciated Cardiff Area Manager was Roy White , but a loco man who had previous charge of Landore in the more or less last days before dieselisation and dispersal and he prepped up the morale by instigating proper loco cleaning (white buffers for class 1 trains !) and careful coal selection rather than taking whatever dross was sent his way. Worked well apparently. His crews worked through to Paddington (and lodged overnight) , so he put a lot of effort into giving them the best possible "tools for the job" ..

Too good coal can, as you say , knacker the fire bars.

The poor old Southern was minded to use Kent Coal for obvious logistic reasons , but it was both dusty and a bit indifferent - best for run of the mill power station / industrial use. Anthracite was very big in the Kent area for malting purposes , often moved by coastal shipping from Swansea to Rochester and then by rail to places like Paddock Wood. The quality was checked very carefully and I found some files in the Ammanford Area Office way back confirming the quality checks done on the product.
 

Taunton

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That story of Pendennis Castle is interesting: thanks again for sharing :D

-Peter
Part of the arrangements was that Taunton shed was to have a fully prepared Castle standing in reserve - just in case. It was cleaned to mirror finish and stood on the shed outlet road for all to see as they hurtled through. But after the incident, it was urgently needed.

It was their finest hour, just a few months before the shed closed. Bit more detail :

Ian Allen Castle Special May 9 1964 | Castle 4079 Pendennis … | Flickr
 

Rescars

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Not locomotives, but anthracite was used to fuel kitchen car cooking ranges in the days before propane gas. Splendidly smoke free, but the furnaces needed electric fans to provide sufficient draught.
 

Gloster

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I believe that the Scots whisky industry used coal from the mines reached through Pantyffynnon due to their low arsenic levels.
 

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