Between my father, grandfather, and myself I have had all the aforementioned experiences plus the added experience of using a high tech electric thermal storage heating system using resistive charging. The ETS system just prior to the oil spike two years ago was running about the same cost as oil to heat my home. It was virtually maintenance free (one substantial repair and two service calls in 14 years. System obsolescence and total lack of parts availability caused me to plan (prior to its demise) a new heating system for my 22 year old split entry house. Mind you the system probably would have lasted another 2 years or more but one of six units was compromised in its ability to heat in extreme cold.
Then oil spiked and it prompted me to examine all alternatives: Natural gas is unavailable here though it would have been relatively cheap and convenient. Plenty of wood around at 165 per cord delivered but tending the fire and moving wood is a pain and in our suburban neighborhood the neighbors might complain of smoke. Oil was outrageous and would actually cost more than my night rate-fired ETS was at the time (no amortization there on the equip). Propane was the highest cost of all-no way to justify it over oil. Pellets were in consideration but at the time there were shortages driving the price quite high. Coal sounded dirty to me but I saw the cheap heat value of it so I researched further.
I wanted totally controlled indoor central heating and something I didn't have to tend daily. I thought fifty years since the heyday of coal might have prompted some new technologies in coal burning. Well, yes and no. I found out that there were several stoker boilers available by several reputable manufacturers which pleased me. I settled on the Axeman-Anderson Anthratube Boiler which is not the highest tech available for residential burning but perhaps the best combination of reliability, simplicity and durability. For me it represented the best available technology for residential central heating at the least cost. The claims from its brochure were all valid. It's operation is dustless, automatic, convenient, efficient, powerful, and inexpensive. The $6000 price tag for a 130-m was about the same as many were paying for outdoor boilers and about 2000 more than top of the line automated stoker stoves.
I had planned to install the Anthratube with a back up boiler next to it. After having used it for nearly three months I can say with confidence that I have no need for a backup. It will run days without tending and tending takes only a few minutes to change ash pails and cover the pick up tube with coal. Ashes I dump at the local landfill. I consider the work a small price to pay for the savings. I am very happy with it.