To distill oil shales, cannel coals, and other carbonaceous materials for the extraction therefrom of hydrocarbons and volatile nitrogenous compounds, hard non-condensable gases from the condensers and scrubbers are withdrawn by blowers and admixed with burnt gases, obtained through conduits from the flues of heaters, and forced downwardly through horizontal chambers, connected by vertical conduits, of the heaters and delivered into the retort beneath the grate. Passing upwardly through the charge they vaporize the volatile substances in the shale, and a suction pump removes the vapors from the top of the retort. Immediately they are produced and at substantially the same temperature as that at which they emanate, thus preventing cracking of the oil vapors and condensation of the oil at the top of the retort. The amount of burnt flue gas admixed with the hard gases is regulated by two valves until a required uniform temperature is obtained. A generator supplies producer gas to a heater at the commencement of the retorting operation for circulation through the shale charge to initially produce oil vapors. The generator is connected by a pipe to the gas conduit leading to blowers.