When coal oil lit the village
Pat Powell's memories
By Pat Powell
Before electricity was installed in the rural areas, coal oil was the common fuel that lit the lamps and lanterns in every farmhouse and barn. Coal oil was at best oily and dirty to handle, as well as smelly — the odour clung to hands and clothes.
We sold hundreds of gallons every month from a tank in the basement of the store. The tank had a pump which measured out one gallon per operation, and any overfill ran back down into the tank.
Imperial Oil was the supplier. Our local dealer was Jim Henderson who lived in Brussels where the oil depot was located. Jim drove a team of horses 12 miles to Blyth with a huge tank wagon twice a month to deliver gasoline and coal oil.
During the winter he used a sleigh with a large tank for coal oil; little or no gasoline was needed in the winter months.
Jim had a team of beautiful Percheron horses. Because of the size and weight of the tank wagons, the horses were Jim’s first concern. The horses were fed and watered before Jim uncovered the oil.
In summer months, the horses had fly nets to keep flies off them and in winter heavy blankets kept them warm as they waited for the tank to be unloaded. Unloading the tank was not accomplished by attaching a hose to the tank, but by filling two 10-gallon containers, carrying them down the basement steps and emptying them into our oil tank.
Jim then put an X on a piece of cardboard to denote each trip, and thus could calculate the number of gallons he put into our tank.
The tanker sleigh had a seat for the driver with a roof overhead, but the front was open. Many times I have seen Jim start out for Brussels at five or six o’clock on a stormy winter night, all wrapped up in buffalo robes for a three-hour trip home. All of this just so that people would have fuel for their lamps and lanterns.