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By Samuel R. Avro on Nov 24, 2008 with no responses

Man’s Free Coal Easily Finds Takers

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Cleveland Heights – Have the kids been naughty this year?

Steve Hronek has just the Christmas present for that, and he’s giving it away.

But if Santa seeks stocking stuffers for miscreants, he had better hurry: Hronek’s stash of coal is disappearing fast.

Hronek has been saddled with a ton or so of black bricks of obsidian-like anthracite that have been sitting in the basement coal bin of his 90-year-old home. The knee-deep pile of chunks range in size from broken-coffee-saucer-sized shards to blocks as big as a gallon of milk.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been there 50 years or more,” said Hronek.

Coal bins were long ago swept into history’s dustbin, along with coal-fired heat in Cleveland Heights.

But Hronek, and the home’s previous owners, never got around to giving the boot to the carbon footprint under his basement steps.

Finally, on Monday – 11 years to the day after Hronek bought the Coleridge Road home – he decided to use a high-tech tool to purge the old-school fuel. He placed an online classified ad on an Internet site with a one-word headline: “Coal.” Free to whomever wants to haul it away.

High-grade, low-soot, odor-free coal goes for $220 or more per ton, said dealer Bob Bosler of Bosler Bros. Supply in Middlefield. But Hronek had no desire to become a seller.

“I just want it out of here,” he said.

Within 15 minutes, Hronek’s ad got its first e-mail response. The inquiries were still coming two days later, he said. He doesn’t need any more takers.

The free-stuff section of the Web site is usually filled with stuff that’s worth every penny: Broken televisions, rusty skates, papier-mache Peanuts-character heads, hangers, sippy cups that someone else’s occasionally sick kid used, et cetera.

Keith Knerem, an AT&T phone technician from Brecksville, said he combs the freebie ads “like a junkie,” usually looking for firewood for his forced-air-fed fireplace insert. He had been mining there for coal for months, he said, and when he finally saw a free-coal ad, he was stoked.

“My cousin’s been burning it for two years,” Knerem said. “I’ve been wanting to try it.”

He and LeRoy Thomas of South Euclid, a co-worker who also just bought a fireplace insert capable of burning coal, showed up with their trucks to get a portion of Hronek’s pile.

“Everybody I told about this said, ‘Coal? What the heck are you gonna do with that?’ ” Thomas said. “But if this works . . . I’m going to be rubbing it in.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer