The 4 basic types of coal are

  • Anthracite
  • Bituminous
  • Sub-Bituminous
  • Lignite

About 90 percent of the coal in this country falls in the bituminous and subbituminous categories. Bituminous coal predominates in the Eastern and Mid-continent coal fields, while subbituminous coal is generally found in the Western states and Alaska. Coal is shipped in open hoppers, 2,3 or 4 bay. These can be unloaded from the bottom or by rotary dumpers.

Lignite ranks the lowest and is the youngest of the coals. Most lignite is mined in Texas, but large deposits also are found in Montana, North Dakota, and some Gulf Coast states.


Anthracite is coal with the highest carbon content, between 86 and 98 percent, and a heat value of nearly 15,000 BTUs-per-pound. Most frequently associated with home heating, anthracite is a very small segment of the U.S. coal market. There are 7.3 billion tons of anthracite reserves in the United States, found mostly in 11 northeastern counties in Pennsylvania.


The most plentiful form of coal in the United States, bituminous coal is used primarily to generate electricity and make coke for the steel industry. The fastest growing market for coal, though still a small one, is supplying heat for industrial processes. Bituminous coal has a carbon content ranging from 45 to 86 percent carbon and a heat value of 10,500 to 15,500 BTUs-per-pound.


Ranking below bituminous is subbituminous coal with 35-45 percent carbon content and a heat value between 8,300 and 13,000 BTUs-per-pound. Reserves are located mainly in a half-dozen Western states and Alaska. Although its heat value is lower, this coal generally has a lower sulfur content than other types, which makes it attractive for use because it is cleaner burning.


Lignite is a geologically young coal which has the lowest carbon content, 25-35 percent, and a heat value ranging between 4,000 and 8,300 BTUs-per-pound. Sometimes called brown coal, it is mainly used for electric power generation.

Coal is sorted at the loading point(tipple)into these sizes

Modeling and sizing Coal

Name of coal Size in inches
Broken or lump 4" x 6"
Egg 3-1/4" x 2-7/16"
Stove 2-7/16" x 1-5/8"
Nut 1-5/8" x 13/16"
Pea 13/16" x 9/16"
Buckwheat 9/16" x 3/16"
Rice 3/16" x 3/16"(Buckwheat #2)
Barley 3/16" x 3/32"(Buckwheat #3)
#4 3/32" x 3/64"
#5 3/64" x 100 mesh

What are these sizes used for?

The broken or lump is usually shipped to large consumers such as Steel Mills, large Electric Power plants, and coal yards which crush into smaller sizes for smaller consumers. Lump is used for conversion to COKE in the steel industry. Large Power Plants have crushers on sit to resize the coal for burning in the boilers. Coal yards sell lump to smaller industrial consumers as well as domestic consumers. This was common in the 50-70 period.

The egg, stove and nut is shipped to coal yard distributors or resellers to domestic use in stoker fed furnaces. Smaller consumers such as office buildings and centralized cogeneration plants had coal fired furnaces and would have coal delivered weekly or more often as they had no storage facilities. Cogeneration plants in the 50-70 period were suppliers of steam for heat in many downtown areas. Coal yards supplied the storage needed.

Pea and smaller is shipped to industrial users which have no crushing facilities and use this coal in their furnaces/boilers. All sizes are shipped to deepwater ports on the East Coast for transport to overseas customers. Ports in Baltimore, MD., Newport News, Va. and Norfolk, Va account for most of the overseas coal traffic as well as coal shipped up the coast to Northeastern ports.

Where does the coal come from in the Southeast?

The coal mines are under the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, central Tennessee and north central Alabama.

What roads shipped this coal?

The major carriers were the B&O, C&O, N&W, & VGN in the Southeast. Other carriers were the L&N, Southern, Clinchfield, Western Maryland etc....All SE roads carried some coal but it was not a primary cargo.

Here are some products made from coal

  • Perfumes
  • Fingernail polish
  • Briquets
  • Insecticides
  • Disinfectant
  • Antiseptics
  • Dyes
  • Detergents
  • Herbicides
  • Varnish
  • Plastic
  • Paving
  • Roofing
  • Fertilizers
  • Ammonia
  • TNT
  • Explosives
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Smelling salts

S.A. McCall