Friday, July 15, 2011

Coke Ovens

Yellowstone National Park: April 17, 2011
Once again the weather reports were for winter storm warnings. We slept in and stayed in until almost noon. Some spits of snow. Decided to play it safe and stay at a low elevation. A gravel road heads west from Gardiner, following the Yellowstone River. The first several miles are part of the park. Dale hates washboard roads, but driven slowly enough, they smooth out.
We putz along hoping for a mountain bluebird. We soon realized they are out here but perches are few and far between unless you like buffalo patties – they do.

We eat our sandwiches just beyond the western edge of the park at a U. S. Forest Service trailhead. Still spits of snow. Five mule deer come along, nibbling on bits of grass. I also picked grass, for Lucy (Lucy the goose – see blog post for April/ “We’ve Arrived.” ) Dale has become quite the worrier over Lucy’s care. Deer hop right in her pen and gobble up her grain as soon as she is fed. She seems to love green grass as much as her grain. Unfortunately I learned the painful way how tough a goose’s bill is. She likes to cut bites of grass when I hold it for her. My finger got in the way and I’m still sore three days later.

After lunch we park near a small log shed just outside the park. I get to paint a cabin while Dale walks.
Farther west we drive past old coke ovens. A very different historical era lies half hidden by tall sage. I wish I knew more about how they worked. There are a lot of openings and a lot of short chimneys. Some have had rock harvested from their openings and I can see the interiors are quite large. I decided to draw a couple that are still in good shape – there are actually way more ovens in the row.

Note: The internet is wonderful! After I got home I found a complete edition of “The Official Northern Pacific Railroad Guide,” 1893, published online. These ovens are part of the 36 coke ovens built at Horr, Montana. At that time the town had 300 people and was the end of the line for people traveling to Yellowstone. From there they took a stage to the Mammoth Hotel. Now I just see the old ovens, pastures and sage, and a scattered modern house or two. Perhaps the little shed I painted is the last remaining building from the town of Horr.

I dug deeper to find out about coke ovens. Coal was mined nearby and brought to the ovens. According to Wikipedia: baking coal in an airless furnace drives out volatile parts of coal, leaving behind coke. Coke is used in smelting iron ore and as fuel in stoves and furnaces where a cleaner burning fuel is needed. The coal from this area was as high a quality as that found in Pennsylvania.


  1. Your art work is awesome and your story telling is fun and informative. I sure enjoy coming here to visit. I hope it was the other hand you dont draw with that Lucy got. Ouch.

  2. Hi, Elva,
    Beautiful art work and an interesting may try archaeology?! Thank you so much! Brrr, cold!! Sydney, we celebrate 'Christmas in July' this weekend.

  3. I don't think I ever knew they mined coal out west...or maybe it just never registered. Probably the latter.

    It would be cool to know more about your little cabin. I figured it was an old hunter's cabin.

  4. Absolutely fascinating, both art and history. I learn something every time I come here.
    I have seen a mountain bluebird in yellowstone and their color is such a beautiful blue.
    LOVE that little cabin.
    I am so happy you travel there every year...and then share it with us.