Choking on Coke Smoke

Coke ovens painting

Coke Ovens

This is my painting of Pennsylvania Coke Ovens that I finished today. When I was young, in the 1950s, coke ovens burned all across the surrounding hills near Masontown. Smoke poured out without filters of any kind, as coal was partially burned to make coke for the Steel Mill in Pittsburgh. Coke was shoveled into train cars or loaded onto barges in the river for transport to the mill. During the depression some desperate people lived in the abandoned coke ovens for a period of time.

Along the Mononghela River there were many coal mines, each with small “Patches” of houses built by the coal company and rented to the workers firing the ovens. They were pretty much all the same and looked like a patchwork quilt when viewed from the sky. A company store, owned by the coal company, provided basic needs. This is where the song Sixteen Tons, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford came from. Behind each of these patches were rows of coke ovens like those in the painting. It was an extremely hard life for those people.

Coke smoke fills my lungs

Ovens fired and belching soot

Amazed I’m still alive


Painting of Coke Ovens: Dwight L. Roth

Listen to the song:

9 thoughts on “Choking on Coke Smoke

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