Night Train

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Reading Kym Gordon Moore’s post about the *Little Red Caboose got my nostalgia going for another train post. The painting above is one I did almost ten years ago. The photo of the painting came out a little blurry, which I thought made the painting have an almost ghostly quality. The night train roaring through the blackness is a sight to behold.

Night Train

Black smoke blends with the foggy night

Night train roars on through mist

Full moon hides from the fury of fire and smoke

Fireman shovels coal into the bottomless pit

as the fire dragon swallows and snorts

Whistle pierces the darkness at each crossing

Midnight hour draws near as the engine roars on

through coal patches,

past coke ovens

lighting up hillsides like Jack-o-lanterns

Windows rattle as the old man snores

Kids hide beneath their cozy blankets

Birds huddle close in the branches

Ground shakes as cars rumble by

River gleams just over the bank as it races

the Pennsylvania Dragon to Pittsburgh

Night Train heads into the darkness

pulling a hundred coke cars behind

Warning light twinkles like the evening star

a Red Dwarf

on the back of the little red caboose


Painting of the Night Train: Dwight L. Roth

*Read Kym’s poem here:

Chillin’ on the Wall


Guineas are odd looking birds. I understand they are very good security guards and will make quite a racquet if strangers come around. I saw this pair on the wall of the Martin, Pa. Post Office when I was there last September. Martin is what is left of the coal mining era when coke was king. Coke ovens burned all along the railroad tracks. This is tiny post office for this small coal patch. Only a few of the original houses are still there.

A pair of Guineas

Chillin’ on Post Office wall

Walking in the rain




Photos: Dwight L. Roth



How important is a brick? Guest host Q-bit asked us to do an exercise in murmuration. We were instructed  choose a collection of any item we choose and then examine how an individual part fits into the larger collection. I decided to choose the  bricks in the ceiling of an old Pennsylvania coke oven. Coke ovens were used, from the late 1800s to the late 1950s, to change coal into coke by burning off the gasses leaving pure carbon, which burned hotter than coal in the blast furnaces of Pittsburgh Steel Mills.

Today, I am focusing on the bricks used to construct this coke oven that my two brothers and I found, when we went back to our hometown for a visit a few weeks ago. The photo above show the hole in the top of the bee hive oven where a coal charge was dropped into the oven to be partially burned. As it burned, this was the chimney hole where the smoke poured out into the atmosphere around us.

Notice how the bricks were laid in a defined pattern gradually coming in more and more until all that was left was the hole. The bricks in the hole were placed in such a way that the pressure of the dome held them all in place. Each brick was very important. As you can see in the photos, the door collapsed long ago, but the dome and the hole remains in place now for almost a hundred years. Remove any brick in the circle and the roof will eventually collapse.

Bricks laid with great care

Burned coke one hundred winters

Each brick important



My younger brother standing inside the oven.


Every brick makes a difference, These bricks were made on site!

Photos: Dwight L. Roth

Join us at d’Verse:

Coke Ovens on the Mononghela

My Coke Ovens painting as they might have been,

along the Mononghela River, in the early 1900s

Coke ovens burning at night

Photo of Coke Ovens burning provided by Ed West


Hometown Smokin’

Coke ovens painting

Rows of beehive coke ovens dotted the hillside belching out black smoke. At night they looked like rows of jack-o-lanterns glowing orange on the hillsides above the mines. Coke is coal that is half burned to get the gasses out. When it is reburned in the steel mills, it burns much hotter than coal. Ovens burned day and night when I was a small boy, growing up in Masontown.

Masontown, Pennsylvania, nestled in the Pennsylvania Mountains, is about an hour from Pittsburgh and almost that far from Morgantown, WVA. The region around Masontown had rich bituminous coal deposits, with some veins up to nine feet thick. The town lay just above the Monongahela River, which transported the coal and coke on flat barges to the steel mills in Pittsburgh.

Around the town and along the river, were rows and rows of houses called patches. They were built by the coal company, along with a company store that sold just about everything. It was a very hard life and many people literally owed their soul to the company store.  Each patch had a coal mine and rows of block and brick ovens, where the coal was converted to coke and loaded on barges or train cars. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song, Sixteen Tons, was about this kind of life.

Coke ovens // long gone

Black lungs residuals stay

Clean air // still they choke


Painting of Coke Ovens: Dwight L. Roth

Today we were asked by Mish, at d’Verse Poetry Pub, to write a Hai bun about our hometown. This includes up to three paragraphs of pros followed by a Haiku that compliments the pros. This is my story.

You can look up the song Sixteen Tons on YouTube.

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: