In the background of a 1951 photo of the New Woodstock LVRR depot (above) is a view of the trackside face of the coal elevator located there. Clearly seen are several parallel vertical structures. The question is "What is that?"
In the 1940s the largest commercial/industrial complex alongside the Lehigh Valley Cortland Branch line, at the village of New Woodstock (Madison County, NY), was G.M.Thompson Coal & Lumber. The red buildings in the 1980 view at the top of this page represented the surviving buildings of that complex, with the coal elevator at the center.
By this date only the lumber yard was in business, the trains that once served this complex had been terminated since 1967, the tracks had been ripped up, and the depot had been taken over by the Historical Society. Everything in the 1980 picture above survives, except for the coal elevator, which was demolished soon after this picture was taken.
The aerial photo, augmented by a large collection of rare pre-demolition field photos preserved in the Historical Society archives, became the basis for my model (above).
A detailed 1912 railroad map (above, left) of the locale shows the location of the under-track pit on the team track where hoppers dumped the coal that was then augered into the elevator. There it was distributed to bins serving the trucks that loaded on the back side of the building. At the north (left) end of the building was a pass-through freight bay.
Two horizontal structural features break up the large vertical expanse of the trackside face of the building. The lower one appears to be a sill or rubbing timber, function uncertain, and the upper one is a wooden or metal "water table" (see below).
The above c.1980 photo shows the building abandoned yet still relatively intact. Again, the lower horizontal appears to be like the bumper timbers one sees at truck loading docks, but it would not seem that was needed here, as hoppers did not rub against buildings along the track. The upper horizontal appears to be the "water table" mentioned above.
A later photo (below), when the building is in a more advance state of decay, shows a similar view. It appears that the original novelty siding had been covered with plywood, which here is starting to peel away (or being removed).
(Note: Apparently I mis-read the snow on these features as paint, so I had to repaint my model to make this side all red.)
The 1920 photo above shows a flat face on the track-side wall of the building, with no obvious protruding structures. An even better angle on this face of the building shows in the 1940s photo below.
There is a suggestion of some vertical planking below the water table, but nothing that appears to stick out as far as that shown in the 1951 photo. Perhaps these were moveable?
Why was the building covered in plywood at some point? Is weather a factor? Is snow a factor? We can find evidence of severe snow impact at this location by examining the "snow fence" that existed here. A presentation on this snow fence was located here, but has been split off to its own page at this link.
The point here is does this concern for severe snow blasting against the coal elevator's west face prompt the owner's cladding it in plywood at some point after 1951 (photo below), when it still had its original siding?
And it brings us back to the original question....
Based on all the input and further examination, it is clear these are sliding doors providing access to the coal storage bays. There are five coal chutes on the opposite side serving local trucks, and it appears there would be five of these doors on this side. So my model has been amended to reflect this new information (below).
Some folks thought it would be easier to figure out the function of the sliding doors (which seems to be the best answer for what these are) if they could see the entire building. So I am posting my collection of photos, copied from the New Woodstock Historical Society archives, with a reference photo angle map for each.
These photos also provide a nice "walk-around" of the coal dealer from the 1940s that still operated into the 60s in case someone wants to model it. I can provide larger images if you need them.
The most interesting pre-demolition photo was the one below, taken along the street side of the building. It shows the chutes for loading trucks, which entered a below-grade ramp to fit under the chutes - driving in at one end and out the other. It also shows below those chutes an access door for each bay with sliding boards that could be slid into place to raise or lower the level as the level of coal changed inside.
Even though this side of the building cannot be seen by anyone, I wanted to model it as carefully as I could (below).
It is OK, but I mistook the number of bays. Maybe it is fortunate nobody can see it? ;-)
Coal Elevator Signs?
In a 1950s picture of the office end of the coal elevator (above), two signs are seen mounted on the building. One is a quite large light colored rectangular sign on the upper part of the elevator building, and the other is a smaller rectangular sign fastened to the office wall.
It seems to read "Corenco", and an internet search discovered two nearly identical metal signs (below).
This sign on the left is three feet wide, and the one on the right is two feet wide. Details on the company have not been compiled yet, so not sure what time period it covers. But a product book, with the same name and logo, dates to the late 1940s (below).
While the 1950s picture is not very distinct, it is possible to determine which sign was mounted on the coal building. First, the width of the sign is equal to the width of the office doorway (below), which would be about three feet.
Also, the bottom line of text runs all the way across the bottom of both signs, unlike the shorter text on the two foot wide sign, and in the 1950s photo the text appears to be made up of five to seven discreet words or text groups, which matches the longer sign (below).
The second sign is much larger and it located on the upper wall of the coal elevator. Other than being a large white rectangle, little appears clear (below). Using the other Corenco sign as a measure, and given it is further away and higher up on the building, this sign measures about three feet tall by five feet wide. That is on the large side for a tin advertising sign, so I thought at first it was just the coal operator's sign, painted on the building.
However, one of the color photos taken in the 1970s or 80s, as the coal building was nearing demolition, reveals a bit more. At this stage the building's added plywood sheathing was falling away, and one lost sheet reveals half of this sign (below).
The sign, which is light colored, carries a large dark circular logo with the light colored center in the upper left corner, and what appears to be a dark band with light lettering across the bottom. Could the circle be the Corenco logo (below)?
Another possibility is the logo of the "Old Company's Lehigh Coal" enterprise, which was the official agency for transfer of mined and processed coal to local dealers. While no sign of the large scale of the one in this case, there are smaller ones that sort of match (below).
And the owner could also have just added a smaller metal logo to a larger painted sign (below).
But these signs have a dark center with a light ring, and the Thompson sign has a dark ring and light center.
So the age of using buildings as billboards was well established here by the late 1940s. It is interesting that the owners of this coal and lumber complex marked his buildings with advertising for a product that may have just passed through his buildings, brought by the railroad and on the way to local farmers.
The 1937 photograph...
A dated 1937 photograph was re-examined. Previously it had not been looked at as in general terms it did not present any different details. But now it was noted that it shows very clearly the sliding doors on the coal elevator. At first glance it appears the doors cover the entire side of the building and are not the same narrow doors seen in the 1951. But in an enlarged and enhanced image (below) it is possible to see very subtle differences in color density that reveal the narrow outline of the doors.
Also, if you look at the top of the side wall in the image above, just below the window at the peak, you can see part of the large light-colored sign being discussed further up on this page, proving that it was there from at least 1937 to 1980.
A new 1912 map...
Thanks to Bruce Tracy I have another railroad map of New Woodstock to examine for clues. Turns out this is a very critical piece of evidence. This map was shared from his collection and represents an important dimension to the discussion.
So.... apparently... this coal elevator, with working mechanism for raising and distributing coal into the five bins INTERNALLY, was leased to the private operator at least 25 years before the five sliding doors first show up? Could that mean that the elevating mechanism ceased working at some point, and the owner resorted to using a more primitive form of coal transfer?
With no longer a mechanism to take in coal at one drop point and distributing it into the five bins, each bin would need its own entry point. Thus the five doors?
On the street side, where delivery out of the five bins was required, we see (above) that full access doors exist at each of the five bins, below the coal chutes. Is it possible that these chutes would have been used when the elevator system was in full operation, but when the system broke down, they had to resort to hand shoveled coal into trucks? (More about this toward the end...)
New 1940s photograph
Again, thanks to Bruce Tracy, and this photo from his collection, we have another glimpse at New Woodstock, and in this picture we can see, among other things, the light colored large sign mounted on the side of Thompson's coal elevator (below).
While the image is still indistinct, it does seem to show a dark logo that is similar to that seen in the 1950s picture, and less circular than what we saw on the 1970s pre-demolition image.
A couple people have suggested the five vertical doors on the track side of the building were to allow unloading of bagged coal.
"Towards the end of the 'Anthracite Era', late 1940's through 1950's, the use of coal as a fuel was decreasing rapidly. Hence, former coal dealers had less need of large deliveries of coal in hopper cars. Consequently, many of the coal breakers began bagging coal in 25 to 50 pound bags, sorted by size, and then shipped out in box cars to the local customers.
"What those doors were for was to accept this bagged coal from the boxcars. I came across this when investigating the former P&R Locust summit breaker. Sometime in the late 1940's they added a new loading area to the breaker where bagged coal was processed and loaded into boxcars. I don't know what era you are trying to reproduce but the earlier it is the less likely those doors were present. In the 1920's to 1930's and through WW2 coal would have been delivered only in hopper cars. And I suspect if you look at some of the earlier photos you have of that structure, the doors will not be present." (Thanks to Bob McGlone for this comment.)
The puzzle is this.....
Is this the sequence of events here?
1. The elevator and chutes system worked as originally built around 1900 up to about 1930, as the doors show up as early as 1937.
2. The arrival of coal in hoppers was replaced by bagged coal, so the elevator system was abandoned and the hopper pit replaced with five sliding doors on the track side of the building?
3. At that point, the five metal chutes on the street side would have been useless as there was no way to elevate the coal to the upper part of the building for redistribution into the five bins?
But................ on the street side, where coal had to be loaded out of the building into trucks, the only exit ports were the five small doors located at the very bottom level of the floor of the building. Based on the man examining the structure (below) these doors were about four feet square, much too small to easily allow bagged coal to be passed out to trucks.
Plus it looks like these doors are equipt with sliding panels to allow higher levels of loose coal to be held back. So this evidence suggests the bagged coal hypothesis may be in doubt.
So the more we answer questions, the more questions we uncover.
By the time anyone living remembers the coal company operation, it had a below grade dugway or ramp along the coal chutes, where trucks would drive down into it to load up. This can be clearly seen in the c.1980 pre-demolition photo (below).
Consider this scenario. There was no dugway originally. The chutes were about 6 feet above grade and so provided adequate clearance to fill the small local coal delivery trucks (see below). When the elevator and chutes system was abandoned, or ceased to work, the below grade ramp was created to still allow trucks to receive coal through portable chutes, of the type used to deliver it to households???
This 1940s photo shows the south end of Thompson's Coal, the covered loading area
and dugway and one of the company coal delivery trucks.
The level of the dugway below the sills of the new coal doors was about 5 feet, so enough clearance to allow coal to flow, and if the chutes were raised on higher sills, this clearance was even more. Proof? Well, who would intentionally build a building in such a way that trucks would have to go below grade to be filled. And the lower level was not needed when the permanent chutes were used. Also, the foundation wall along this dugway is poured concrete, sloped outward, more like a retaining wall, as if it was created to shore up the original foundation as it was exposed.
Again, the dugway might be only necessitated if coal is no longer being off-loaded by the permanent chutes, and instead is being loaded off the floor of the building.
But there is another explanation:
Jim Wright, resident, states: "On the east side there is no doubt in my mind that you are correct about the original building having been high enough for the trucks in use at the time to be loaded from grade level. I suspect that was still the condition for your modeling time as I don't think they had the larger truck until late 40s or early 50s; as I recall it was a "snub nose" Ford with the cab over the engine (as a youngster I would sometimes get to ride along on a delivery). For it to get under the loading chutes they needed to excavate to below grade for sufficient clearance. When they did that they also put in a concrete retaining wall which included some wooden supporting members to help hold the overhanging roof."
So the 4x4 ports or doors undert the metal chutes were not about loading trucks.
As it happens there are two surviving coal companies from this era within an easy drive.
One is located in Cobleskill, about an hour southwest of Albany (above, left) and the other is in Danby, VT., about 90 minutes northeast of Albany (above, right). Both exhibit structural features similar to those we are discussing and both were re-created as HO-scale model kits. While I wait to get some good pre-decay prototype pictures, we may assume that the models were created with care to represent the actual prototypes of each building, and so will use some pictures of these as well.
COBLESKILL COAL COMPANY
The track-side has an exposed exterior elevator that carried coal from the under-track pit to the top of the building. At New Woodstock, this machinery was located inside the building, which was immediately next to the tracks.
The surviving building exhibits five or so rectangular doors at the lowest level on the track side, in various stages of decay and alteration (above). It also has a higher gallery of smaller doors reached by a staircase, as well as a door at the peak, also reached from this stairway.
These features are faithfully recreated on the scale model above. In their location, size and shape, these doors mimic the ones at New Woodstock (below), although it is clear these are not sliding doors on a track system as they are in New Woodstock.
But clearly these trackside doors are all about access.
CROSBY AND SONS COAL COMPANY
On the track side, Crosby's also exhibits a rectangular door (below).
This is easier to see on the model (below).
The model casts this as a sliding door, and we must assume with some reason, even though it is not immediately obvious on the prototype photo. There are also three other access doors at higher levels on the building. Why so much access was needed may be expalined by this blogger's comments about this building:
"There was a single slot collector with an auger between the rails on the back side and a bucket and chain lift inside the building. Apparently one bay of the hopper was opened at a time. The auger and lift were powered by a flat belt from a tractor (Crosbys' was an International Harvester dealer for years). At the top of the gable the coal was directed into one of several chutes that fed the hoppers. The problem was that the chutes did not slope enough and someone had to be up there pushing the coal along. In the later years that job fell to the younger generation of Crosby, the current owner, Elbert Crosby. He said it was hot dirty work and you had to be small."
Note that the Crosby track-side door's lower edge rides to the outside of the sill, just like the ones on the New Woodstock coal company.
On the truck side of the building we see a very familiar configuration, matching that of the Thompson Coal Company.
Here we have the remains of five metal and wood coal chutes for filling trucks, just like at Thompson's, and at least on the near end two c. 4x4 open ports or doors; one under each chute (below. left). Compare this to the New Woodstock example (below, right).
At the far end it looks like there were the same doors, but the siding above floor level has been removed, so it just shows a large open area. In the middle was the middle chute with exposed bin base (below).
In the model the conguration of these chutes and doors is easier to see (below).
This shows the sloping bin sides, as decribed below, and the open walk-in areas would appear to be the same open areas below the floor of each bin where access is had by the same square doors (as at far right, above). When asked to comment on whether an auger system or a gravity feed system got coal to the trucks from the bins, the answer was:
"... both, with the sloped sheet at the bottom feeding down the chute to the waiting truck or wagon predominating. A slope sheet and chute are much less cost to maintain than an auger system. The buckets on chains was by far the prevalent system to raise coal to the top of the storage structure where it dropped into a distribution bin. From there to the desired storage bin it was either sloped chutes with "gates", conveyor belts or an auger. The type system was selected according to the size of the storage facility. The chutes were confined to small operations as it required a steeper angle between the distribution bin and the storage bins, conveyors and auger systems were no so limited.
"A childhood friend's family operated a retail coal dealership that used both wooden and concrete silo to handle Anthracite and Bituminous coals. The ancient wooden structure had the slope sheet with a chute that gravity feed into trucks. This had a swiveling chute on the output of the distribution bin that was moved by hand to one of the four storage bin chutes... This operation by the way was very noisy and very dusty, it took only one experience of watching this work as the later discomfort of itching from the coal fines was enough for anyone. There were fans running during this loading process but do not remember how they were configured."
It seems a lot of access to the interior of these buildings was required, both on the track side and the truck side, and the various ports or doors merely provided that access. Exactly what the interior spaces were like to which access was provided is still a question. More to be learned.......
The owner, who worked in this building, indicated he was not sure what the small doors under the chutes were used for except possibly to store portable chutes and shovels.
I was able to examine the Cobleskill Coal Company building, recording some exterior features in more detail. The following photos are mine.
The street side doors are at ground level and provide access to the five coal bays. These are mounted on hinges, not tracks as in the Thompson Coal Company situation. Note also, this building is covered with red novelty siding, as in the Thompson case.
A puzzle here is, if this is the truck loading face of the building, where are the loading chutes? And what is the function of the the horizontal heavy timbers that run the length of the building? Noting the bolts fastening each, these may be extra structural support to compensate for the weight of the coal stored inside.
On the track side, we can see the bottom of the elevator mechanism that lifted coal from the under-track pit tio the peak of the building. Note the same heavy bolted horizontal timbers. And two of the five access doors, rigged the same way as the ones street side, can be seen. "Thanks" to vandalism, one of the doors had been forced open, so I had the rare opportunity to see and photograph the interior of one of the coal bays (below).
The right and left hand walls of the bin can be seen, as well as the sloping floor of the overhead bin - sloped to facilitate flow of coal downward in the bin (?). On the left is an interior door to the other side of the building interior, and the door on the street side can be seen with light shining through from outside. On the right is another "door", but with slots to hold boards to act as an adjustable bulkhead to hold back coal (?), several still in place.
One is struck with the amount of open space inside, and the question arises as to why each bay had to have its own pair of doors? Perhaps when filled with coal, the center area was not as empty as it seems here? But if it was full of coal, none of the doors would allow entry anyway?
In these enlarged views above one can see the sloping bin floors (A), the "front" door on the opposite wall (B), and two downward sloping interior chutes (C) that appear to be mounted on a wood-planked vertical silo structure - perhaps feeding coal from the top of the building where the elevator raised it. (?)
Hard to argue with archeological facts.....but equally hard to see exactly how all this worked.
A man who worked in this building explained that the reason there are no external coal chutes on the truck-loading side is the trucks drove through the inside, the length of the building. So the inside chutes shown above were to load trucks.
Coal hoppers parked over the pocket and coal was lifted to the top in the elevator, then down a moveable chute to fill the bins, which were on the second floor. He indicated he never saw those large first floor doors being used, and never saw coal inside the lower doors.
He suggested the smaller doors on the first floor might be to clean out "junk" that fell out of the screens that sorted the coal coming down from the elevator and bins.