Clyde Adams, 80, operated Adams Coal

May 31, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Clyde K. Adams, whose Gold Street coal yard supplied a dwindling number of area homes heated by coal, was found dead May 24 in his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 80.

Mr. Adams, who relatives said died of an apparent heart attack, made deliveries until he died, using a 1990 Chevrolet pickup truck that helpers filled with 80-pound nylon sacks of coal for delivery.

Since 1946, when he established Adams Coal Co. on Gold Street near Pennsylvania Avenue with a World War II surplus half-ton Army truck, Mr. Adams continued to deliver Reading anthracite, bituminous and fireplace coal to the fewer and fewer area homes relying on coal for heat.

A strong man who wore striped work gloves, Mr. Adams wore work pants, flannel shirts, heavy work boots and a baseball cap. He purchased his coal for years from the Underkoffler Coal Service in Lykens, Pa. He would slowly split the 23-ton load into 80-pound bags, which he sold for $5 each.

"He always said coal was a reliable and consistent heat source," said his son, Corey Adams, who worked with his father in the business and is now an Army staff sergeant at Fort Knox, Ky.

Adams Coal Co., believed to be the last independent coal dealer in the city, is a relic of the days when Oak Street, north of North Avenue, was known as Coalmen's Row because of the hopper cars standing on railroad sidings brimming with "black diamonds."

As natural gas and oil replaced coal as fuel for furnaces, the demand for coal declined and many coal yards closed or converted to fuel oil delivery.

"When I started in this business just after World War II, I bet there were about a hundred or more independents and full-size coal companies in the city. Now, there's just me still making deliveries," Mr. Adams said in "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," written by John Sherwood and published in 1994 by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mr. Adams' routine was to drive to the customer's home, where a helper received the heavy bags of coal, which were opened and emptied into basement coal bins.

In the noncoal months, Mr. Adams drove a tractor-trailer truck. He was driving a delivery truck for a local lumber yard at his death.

Born in Annapolis and one of 14 children, he attended public schools there and served in Virginia with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and was a heavy equipment operator and truck driver in the Pacific theater. He was discharged at war's end with the rank of technician five.

Mr. Adams drove to the Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup, where he purchased day-old vegetables that he distributed to the needy.

He was a longtime member of Sharon Baptist Church, 1373 N. Stricker St. in Baltimore, where services will be held at 6: 30 p.m. today.

In addition to his son, Mr. Adams is survived by a daughter, Wanda M. Braxton-Wooten of Randallstown; a brother, Robert M. Adams of Baltimore; three sisters, Thelma Adams, Marion Toney Bullock and Celestine Weathers, all of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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