June 30, 2017

From Heating with Coal to Oil Heat

Always wearing a three-piece suit, Gordon’s keen sense of attire was less about the latest fashion and more just about looking his best. To Gordon, looking sharp was more than prerequisite for a good businessman. Long after the vest of a suit was typically set aside for formal business occasions, Gordon could be seen on any given day, and on any occasion, in his three-piece suit, always with a rose bud in his left lapel.

While Gordon considered himself solid middle class, he preferred quality over quantity. He eyed the best of the best, and preferred to wait for it, rather than settle for less. If buying chocolates, it had to be See’s. When he afforded a new car, it had to be Cadillac. And not just any Cadillac, but the top of the line, the newest, biggest, and best Cadillac available.

A humble, Christian man, Gordon believed in treating all people with respect. His customers ranged from the upper crust of the Mount Baker, to barely able to pay the bills. But to Gordon, a customer was a customer. Regardless of status, every house call received Gordon in his three-piece suit.

By 1940, coal as a source of heat began going out of style. The trend had started before the war. Heating oil companies sprung up right and left, picking off Genesee Coal & Stoker customers one by one. Coal was now regarded as the old, dirty fuel. Oil campaigns promised the modern clean fuel would not leave a thin layer of soot requiring constant dusting or beating out rugs.

Gordon and his brother/business partner, Russ recognized the trend but couldn’t agree on how to meet the competition. Russ, the skeptical, cautious one wanted to stick it out with coal. It was what they knew. Who knew what kind of problems adding oil to the business would bring, thought Russ. Gordon, on the other hand, liked the idea of the newest and the best. If oil is now the best, it’s what we should be providing our customers, thought Gordon. The two brothers argued and hesitated just long enough for their window of opportunity to close. The onset of war brought a scarcity of both coal and oil that allowed no room for change.

But since heated homes was a basic need, Genesee Coal & Stoker maintained steady albeit slow despite the rationing brought on by the war. People endured thin layers of frozen condensation on the insides of their windows before turning on the heat. The post war spending spree promised a better heating season, but Genesee was still only serving up coal. The common folk’s quest for the American dream included the most modern of amenities, which included clean burning modern oil furnaces. Finally, in the spring of 1946, Gordon succeeded in convincing Russ to buy an oil truck and a supply contract with Time Oil Company.

This is a 1946 customer mailer sent out to announce the addition of heating oil.

Stay tuned for more of the story! Read a short but broad history here.