Beehive Coke Ovens

I gathered information on Beehive Coke ovens from several books thanks to Google Books:

Coke Manufacture

Coal is introduced from the top to produce an even layer of about 60–90 centimetres (24–35 in) deep. Air is supplied initially to ignite the coal. Carbonization starts and produces volatile matter, which burns inside the partially closed side door. Carbonization proceeds from top to bottom and is completed in two to three days. Heat is supplied by the burning volatile matter so no by-products are recovered. The exhaust gases are allowed to escape to the atmosphere. The hot coke is quenched with water and discharged, manually through the side door. The walls and roof retain enough heat to initiate carbonization of the next charge.

When coal was burned in a coke oven, the impurities of the coal not already driven off as gases accumulated to form slag, which was effectively a conglomeration of the removed impurities. Since it was not the desired coke product, slag was initially nothing more than an unwanted by-product and was discarded. Later, however, it was found to have many beneficial uses and has since been used as an ingredient in brick-making, mixed cement, granule-covered shingles, and even as a fertilizer.” 3


The photo to the left shows the construction of beehive coke ovens. In the back ground a completed coke oven bank can be seen.

Two things come immediately to mind when I look at this photo ..

  1. Such skills as they used here .. you have to wonder if they still exist outside of a museum
  2. I can’t help but think of the term .. “back breaking labor

Wharton Coke Oven

Two views of the Wharton Coke Oven .. a cross-section and a front view were invaluable for re-creating a coke oven in O scale. The dimensions are all there to work off of .. all in all .. a MOST excellent source. 4

In the book [4] it says “.. a modern plan of the beehive coke oven as it has been constructed in a plant of 300 ovens at the Joseph Wharton Coke Works at Coral, Indiana County Pennsylvania.”.

I think the point quickly gathered there is the immense size of these constructions. One thing I got from the drawing (and yes .. you need to take a drawing with a ‘grain of salt’ is the neat brickwork around the oven opening with stone around that. The larger stones up top and smaller down lower is puzzling o me (grain of salt).

Large Cross-section

Another cross-section was also very useful as it shows the oven, the wharf and the siding. Using some dimensions stated in the text I came up with this set of dimensions.

I didn’t the room for a wharf that wide .. but had to selectively compress it quite a bit. Still .. lots of good info there.

Model Railroaders almost always compress everything but it is nice to have a starting point to work from.

Here is a cross-section of a double-sided coke oven bank with the Larry track running down the center of the two rows of ovens. The Larry is of the double side-discharge type.

I can’t help but thinking  this would work great for a modular group with the coke ovens running down the center of a long module

Outside View

This photograph taken at Star Junction, PA, gives a good idea of the general design of these banks of coke ovens (“There were 999 coke ovens,” Star Junction native Connie Molchan recalled. “They couldn’t do 1,000, they would have been taxed.”) 5. Each beehive is buried within the mass of stone and earth. This acted as an insulator so the ovens would retain the heat over the coking period. While details varied this represents the general design pretty well.

  • Observations from the photo

  • The Wharf or Yard is very messy. Nothing like the nicely sloped and wide ones in the drawings
  • On the left is a wooden wheelbarrow I assume for carting the coke (here is a link to a similar one)
  • The ladder looks to be homemade .. and is twisted to boot
  • While there ARE some regularly shaped bricks around the oven opening there are either much larger bricks – possible slate or something similar above. Larger stones at the bottom with what could be either repairs in random stone – Note: “The face walls are built of a sandstone that will not spall when heated.6
  • There is a watering tube hooked to a hose leaning against the bank .. used for quenching. Note: “Water for quenching the coke is supplied by a main usually 4 in. in diameter laid in front of the ovens with a 1-in. connection for attaching a hose or every two ovens. If possible the main in front of ovens should have tank connections at both ends so as to maintain approximately uniform pressure for the whole line of ovens. These tanks should not be over 50 ft. above each oven seat, as high pressure in the hands of a careless or ignorant coke drawers may seriously injure the ovens.7
  • The other tool behind the man on the right appears to have a hook for pulling out chunks of coke
  • The guy on the right is holding a rake

Upper View

This Coke Oven Bank in Pennsylvania shows the larry track that sits on top of the ovens. The larrys .. basically self-propelled hopper cars would run under a coal tipple to be filled then deliver 5-6 tons of coal to an oven as needed through the charging ports on top. This is readily visible in the drawing of the Wharton coke oven.

Notice how little room they left for the workers. This wharf is much smaller than even what I created in O scale.

a Plan

From information in the books .. not just diagrams and photos but lots and lots of information in the text I came up with a plan for my model. I selectively compressed the width of the ovens by 75% .. and even then I still could only put 16 ovens in 40 inches.

  1. Coke: A treatise on the manufacture of coke and other prepared fuels and the saving of by-products, with special references to the methods and ovens best adapted to the production of good coke from the various American coals – By John Fulton A.M.E.M – Pub 1905[]
  2. Surface arrangements at bituminous mines: coal washing, principles of coking, coking in the beehive oven, by-product coking, surface arrangements at anthracite mines, preparation of anthracite – Instructional Correspondence School – Pub 1907[]
  3. Wikipedia – Beehive Oven: Coak Manufacture[]
  4. Coke: A treatise on the manufacture of coke and other prepared fuels and the saving of by-products, with special references to the methods and ovens best adapted to the production of good coke from the various American coals – By John Fulton A.M.E.M, Pub 1905 – page 152[]
  5. Small Town Life: Star Junction — Inconspicuous town once the site of 999 coke ovens – Herald-Standard[]
  6. The Engineering and Mining Journal 1906 – Page 878[]
  7. Chemical Engineer, Volume 5, Pub 1906-1907 – Page 134[]

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