Red dog covered back roads 60 years ago

Beiler's Run Trestle
A view from below the steel viaduct that carried the Pittsburgh Coal Co. railroad across Beiler's Run south of Negley. The bridge, 1,081 feet long and 90 feet high, was built in 1933 by Quinn & Reilly Co. of Youngstown and was demolished a few years ago. (Sam Moore photo)

How many of the old timers in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio recall when many of the rural roads were covered with something called “red dog?”

Although most of these roads are paved with asphalt today, that was not the case 60 or so years ago when they were predominantly dirt.

Most township trustees were dealing with tight budgets and demands from country dwellers to keep the roads passable, while the spring thaws and rains often turned dirt roads into sticky, muddy quagmires.

Limestone was available from Carbon Limestone, west of New Castle, and slag from local steel mills, but these products were relatively expensive.

Pennsylvania Coal Co. A cheaper alternative was a waste product of the Pennsylvania Coal Company’s Champion No. 6 coal washer just south of Negley, Ohio.

In 1933, the Pennsylvania Coal Co. built a 13-mile, single-track rail line from a coal unloading facility on Little Beaver Creek near where it flows into the Ohio River at Smith’s Ferry, Pennsylvania, north to Negley.

Here it connected with the Pittsburgh, Lisbon & Western RR, which hauled the coal cars west to Signal where they were picked up by the Youngstown and Suburban RR, which ran north through Columbiana and Boardman into Youngstown, where the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. steel mill was hungry for coal.


Run-of-mine bituminous coal contains impurities, such as slate and sulfur that steel mills don’t like, so Pennsylvania Coal Co. built the Negley coal washing facility.

The full coal cars from Smith’s Ferry were unloaded and the coal was put through the washing process.

The cleaned coal was reloaded into hopper cars which were picked up by a locomotive, taken to Negley and transferred to the PL&W and then to the Y&S which hauled them into Sheet and Tube at Youngstown.

The sulfur balls, slate and other debris removed from the coal was trucked to a nearby field where it was dumped and piled by a bulldozer.


Before long this mass of waste caught fire by spontaneous combustion and the piles burned for years, emitting a strong “rotten eggs” odor that could be smelled for miles around.

I recall when I was a child the west side of our farm was just a couple of miles from the burning dump and we could often smell it, and we could also, if the wind was right, hear the whistles of the Consolidation 2-8-0 steam locomotives that worked the plant.

But, to get back to “red dog.” As the big piles of waste burned, the heat and the pressure of the material above turned the residue into a fairly hard, shale-like substance that was orange-red with streaks of light tan or cream color.

After the fires had eventually burned out, this stuff, which broke apart when dug away from the pile, made a good surface material for dirt roads and, as nothing but cast-off waste material, it was fairly cheap.

When I was driving a dump truck for Tommy Ferguson in 1952 and 1953, I would sometimes be sent to pick up a load or two of red dog and then spread it on one of the township roads.

There was a man, whose name I don’t recall, who had leased some of the waste piles from PCC. He had a small power loading shovel and spent his days all alone out in this bleak area waiting for trucks to load.

I believe he was an independent operator and he seems to have made his living selling the red dog, which was considerably cheaper than slag or limestone.

The late Lindsey Gillis, who lived at Scenery Hill in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and who was active in the National Pike steam show, once wrote a little story about a red dog road that was recently sent to me by a friend, Dan Ramsier of Seville, Ohio.

Lindsey described a huge pile of slate and coal waste that was dumped and burned near his farm and then wrote, “About 1954, I was busy not only as a farmer but also as an insurance agent. I wrote all types of insurance, auto-fire-etc. One day we had an insurance claim and the field man, who was from New York State, was on the phone talking to my wife to get directions to the claimant’s residence. My wife said, ‘You go down the main road here at Beallsville about 2 miles and then you turn right onto a red dog road.’

“I guess he had been writing down the directions and said, ‘What the hell is a red dog road?’ We all had a good laugh.”

In its heyday, the eight-story-tall Negley coal washer was capable of washing 400 tons of coal per hour and employed 20 or more workers. The operation became less and less profitable, however, and the facility was closed in 1957.

No longer does the valley of Beaver Creek echo with the sound of steam locomotive whistles, nor is it redolent with the pungent smell of eggs past their prime. Let us know if you ever traveled a red dog road.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.


  1. We had a hunting camp at Kylertown near Philipsburg Clearfield Pa, most roads were Reddog they were smooth no pot holes. Wish I could make my driveway out of this.

  2. We lived on a farm just West of Neffs, Ohio in the mid-late 1950’s. The 1/4 mile lane up to the farm was red dog.

    I remember a story my father told about coming through Pittsburgh with a load of red dog on one of the farm trucks, The red dog was hot and ignited the wood sides of the truck. He drove on to a fire station, where the firefighters came out and hosed down the truck and put out the fire.

  3. In the late 1960s early 1970s many of the rural roads of south eastern PA were still covered in red dog I remember traveling to see my grandma we even crossed a creek in a covered bridge.

  4. Red dog! Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time! I grew up on the outskirts of a little village in Greene County and if you went up the side road past our field, then crossed over the state road you then were on a red dog road. I liked walking up there cause a donkey was in a field and I’d visit, use to pick up the red dog and break it apart. It did make for a pretty road.

  5. I too grew up in Greene County and for entertainment (not a lot of cash and not a lot to do anyhow :) in the summers after working in the garden all day, eating supper, and getting washed up my father would load us all up in the car to “go for a ride”. We covered miles and miles of little red dog roads connecting village to village (also know as “the back way” to get places). We’d never asked but silently sat in the back seat hoping we’d get to swing by the Tastee Freeze or Dairy Queen on the the way home. Wow…what great memories!

  6. From `1936-1944 I lived in Ellsworth , Washington County PA. Red dog side roads were the norm near my home. Covered bridges also. Once you have smelled the rotten egg odor of a burning “slate dump” you will never forget it. Weekends we visited my mother parents farm which was in Glyde. We went via the back way red dog roads and eventually were poured out onto “The Pike” which was US Route 40. For a small boy that was quite a trip. 60+ years later I returned to my old home town to see what it was like. No more red dog roads, no more covered bridges, and no more burning slate dump. I felt cheated.

  7. We lived on a very old family farm outside of Greensburg, PA, and I am grateful for anything that reminds me of those wonderful days. There is still 1 red dog road left on the farm; that stuff lasts forever. I was just trying to describe to my husband where something was located and mentioned that he’d have to go down the red dog road. He thought that was the name of the road! I came to find out that western PA had so many colloquialisms that people outside the area sometimes didn’t know what I was talking about ( and I didn’t know other people didn’t use them. I thought that people on TV just talked differently for TV! You know; fancy. ): worsh, youns, crick, jaggers, pop, etc., and now “red dog road”. I moved to Philadelphia and found out quickly that unless I wanted to be thought of as foreign or stupid, I had to drop the colloquialisms. And I did quite shortly because I didn’t like the stares. Now, my cover has been in place for so many years that I never slip, unless under extreme stress, and then I start talking like a hillbilly!😆 Well, one more phrase that I’ll have to eliminate! AND, one more stereotype to break! Just because a person talks differently doesn’t mean a thing other than they came from someplace else. I graduated with honors from a school in Philly. P.S. – they call pop Soo-da, here in Philly. Talk about stupid sounding… People didn’t know why when I said soda I sometimes would sarcastically exaggerate the Sooo…and the Dah. My private joke making fun of them (in good fun). Thank-you for your article on Red Dog, it meant a lot and I learned something about coal mining. As you can see in this long message, it also really triggered something! 😊 Thanks Again!

  8. I grew up in Greene County in a village called Mather, where the streets were made of Red Dog from the local coal mine. Once in the late 1960’s I was visiting family in Mather and stopped to pick up some Red Dog to show my kids….. my father was amazed that I would actually take the time to bend over and pick it up….

  9. I grew up in Pittsburgh just south of Mt. Washington. Our driveway in the ‘40s was of red dog. No holes,no wash outs, Lon lasting. And cheap!

  10. Brentwood, PA used Red Dog on their ally’s for trash collection, rear home parking, etc. Through the late 60’s these were always called “Red Dog Roads.” We all used them by that name and as the common term for issuing driving instructions (‘turn left at the next street just past the Red Dog Road’).

  11. I remember red dog well. I learned to drive on it. My grandfather, Thomas Finch, owned a small used car lot, Finch Motor Sales, in Waynesburg, Pa. Red dog was his parking lot material of choice. Probably because it was cheap and it would eventually pack down to a relatively solid surface. As a young boy I used to wash cars on his car lot was snuggled in the “v” where Greene and High streets merged heading east out of town. When I was twelve, going on thirteen, my grandfather decided it was time that I learned how to move the cars from the front line on Greene Street to the small spot of real asphalt, up near the office, where we washed the cars. Looking back on it now, he must of had a real sense of humor since he tossed me the keys to a 1960 ( my best guess) Ford Falcon with a “three on the tree” manual transmission. After several failed attempts at moving the car without stalling it out ( of course I wasn’t familiar with the art of feathering the clutch) he backed the car out of the line for me and positioned it facing up the hill, a straight shot, towards the car wash area. Again after several more failed attempts at getting the Falcon rolling, his sales guy, Walter, yelled “ Give it more gas!”. Out of shear frustration and embarrassment, I floored it and popped the clutch. I did it! With red dog flying everywhere, I flew up to the car washing spot and slammed on the brakes, barely missing the old blue Pepsi machine at the entrance to the office. I expect that it was the loose red dog that aided in my success that day. My grandfather also used it on his driveway at his house where he paid me to shovel it off the back of his old ‘48 Dodge pickup and spread it around on his parking area. One last memory is how red dog was very nasty stuff if you fell on it while playing! Some of the fragments could be razor sharp!

  12. Used to find small pieces of molten like metal in the red dog. Called it pig iron. We used it in our slingshots. Anyone know what this material was?

  13. I lived on a red dog road until I was 6. I would love to find that house again but don’t know where to begin looking.

  14. Yes I did when riding my dirt bikes in the 60s and 70s Southern West Virginia there were many Red dog roads in in fact our driveway was Red dog base

  15. I remember red dog! I was about 4 years old when I fell in a neighbors’ driveway and cut my knee on a piece of red dog. That was 58 years ago, and I STILL have the scar!! We lived in a tiny community called Crookham in Washington County, about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. There was a steep road that we called the red dog road….even though it had long since been paved. its now called Gearing Rd. Just doesn’t have the same ring to it!


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