In the early 1950s, St. Marys photographer Frank Robinson saw William Elliott going past the window of his Queen Street studio. He invited him to pose — cap, pipe, work clothes and all — for this exceptional portrait. He called it “Bill, the Coal Man” and displayed it in his studio window where it received considerable attention. It was used by Elliott’s employer, T. G. Hammond Ltd., as the photograph for one of the company’s promotional wall calendars. The tag line “Experience Counts” conveyed a strong, positive message.
Bill Elliott was approximately 80 years old when the picture was taken. Born in 1872 on a farm in Downie Township, he married Barbara McLean in 1898. In 1903, the couple came to St. Marys where Bill found work as a teamster, delivering for a succession of coal yard owners. His final employer was the young Telford (Chum) Hammond who in 1949 had purchased a coal supply business, the start of his St. Marys-area fuel company. When Bill died in 1956, age 83, his obituary described him as “a well-known figure about the town, having probably handled more coal than any other man who has lived here.”
In 1913, the Elliott family moved to a frame house at 517 Queen Street East, situated on a spacious property stretching from Queen Street down to Trout Creek. In 1936, Bill turned over the property to his son Clifford. Today it is the home of Dorothy Elliott, the third generation of the family to live there. Her home is notable for the beautiful flowers that she grows every summer.
A house owned and occupied by the same family for more than a century shows remarkable continuity — a contrast to the many changes that have occurred since Bill, the Coal Man made his delivery rounds. Although heating is certainly on the minds of many as this cold winter keeps us in its grips, terms such as anthracite, coal cellar and chute, scuttle and ash pile, once part of every household’s vocabulary, are now rarely heard in day-to-day use.
Within a few years of this photograph, Hammond Fuel had expanded using the slogan: “Large enough to serve you! Small enough to know you!” The company merged with the Graham Oil Company in 1997. Today, Gra Ham Energy operates a complex fuel delivery network that William Elliott would not have imagined.