Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ashley Coal Breaker

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The Huber Coal Breaker, often just called the Ashley breaker, is a popular spot for NEPA explorers. Is it hard to see why? Thirteen stories of tar-coated steel, tons of machinery, and more insight into coal mining than you can hope to absorb in a single trip.

Rather than trespass, we arranged a tour with Bill Best, president of the Huber Breaker Preservation Society -- he's in the bottom right in the pic below. With an old hard hat and a pistol-gripped lantern, he was better prepared for an urbex trip than we ever were.

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We entered through an auxilliary building, then climbed through the cart shaft that connected it to the main building. Bill made us keep ten feet apart going up; I had a feeling this wasn't the only risky part of the tour. Looking up the shaft:

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As we went from floor to floor, Bill told us about each piece of machinery; here, workers picked stones, wood and metal from coal on sorting tables. The coal then fell into a chute for further processing.

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Miners' homes used to surround the Huber.

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Storage for the dynamite. It was designed so that, if an accident occurred, the explosion would be directed away from Ashley and towards the breaker.

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The view was incredible.

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Looking down. On the top floor, we came across a half-full Turkey Hill iced tea bottle left by some visitor. Bill picked it up and tossed it over the side of the catwalk. For two full seconds there was silence, broken with a sickening thud as the bottle finally landed. We found it later in the tour; Bill offered it to me. "Thirsty? It's just a little shaken up."

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Another sorting table, farther down.

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This tank held water tainted with coal dust -- it was bright yellow inside from the acid solution.

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The office door. There used to be furniture inside, but that's all been smashed and burned.

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Looking down at the office from a floor up.

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Despite the arsonists, a few work papers remained.

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Miracle of miracles -- there was an intact light bulb in that hanging lamp.

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There was quite a bit of damage to the building -- not only were there holes in the concrete, but steel steps were cracked and sunken, and yes, we walked across that sheet of metal -- you could see a long way down on every side of it, and it was "a little squishy," as Bill put it.

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The sheet of metal in that last picture was how coal was sorted by size -- they were shaken by offset cams, and smaller pieces fell through, while larger ones stayed on top. The biggest pieces were called "steamers," as they were used on steam ships.

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This was basically a whirlpool, shooting jets of water around so that dense rock sunk to the bottom, but lighter anthracite coal floated to the top.

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A few from the laboratory, where coal was tested for purity before shipping. Every order was tested, so if a customer complained about the quality, the company could reply with lab tests.

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A bit of trivia -- Huber's coal was dyed blue, mainly for identification, but consumers thought it was of better quality than plain anthracite.

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When the Preservation Society formed in 2000, they cleared away all the trees and weeds that had intruded onto the site. All that growth is only seven years old.

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A few somewhat ominous pictures of the outside, and we were on our way.

I want to thank Bill Best for showing us the breaker -- on a Sunday morning, no less. We're donating the pictures to the Preservation Society's collection; hopefully the group will find them useful.

11 comments:

giL said...

Spectacular. I hope you saw Stalker (1979 film by Andrei Tarkovsky). It looks like a photo extension of the movie :)

Urbanist said...

Great collection - showing the lighter and more legal side of urbex ;)

Nora Bee said...

Awesome, strangely fills me with nostalgia for my home state of PA now that I live far away. Have you gotten to Bethlehem Steel yet? Thanks for a great site!

Eric S. said...

Very nice! Your photography is definitely improving every time.

My wife and I just went to Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton.
You can see the pics here.
It's not hardly an abandoned/forgotten place, but it fits your theme :)

Al Ebaster said...

Eric, those are some amazing shots! Hopefully I can learn a thing or two from you.

I forgot to mention it in the post, but Brian shot most of the pictures for this set. He's got an excellent eye, and he's probably going to be our main photographer for now.

Nora, we haven't done Bethlehem yet but we're planning a trip shortly. It looks exciting!

And giL, it's on my to-watch list :)

Chrissy said...

great shots!
how do you find these places? do you just explore yourself?
I know of some very cool places in philly, if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather used to work in this mine and I have learned that the mine originally produced an unusual blue tinted coal that was highly desired by affluent society in NY City. Thus the name Blue Coal Co. When the vein gave out, the company took to dying the black coal in order to keep charging the same amount. They would do this by 'showering' the coal as it left the yard on train cars, so only the top layers got coated. Additionally, many kids in the area used to climb onto these cars as they made their way up the mountain to kick off a layer or two of the coal which they would later collect to use in their own homes.

annie said...

My Dad was killed in that mine in May of 1953. I was born 4 months later. My Grandfather, My Dad's Father also worked in that mine.The only thing I regret is, I never got to know what kind of a gentle giant He was. I was told so many great stories about him. Even from people who worked with Him. My Brother was just 2 when our Father lost his life. To me the Mine is Golden.

Cheri Sundra said...

One of my favorite places to explore! Great pictures!

ClarkeGroganNealon said...

Great photos, thank you! Like so many others have history here, you have preserved 3 generations of my family history in just one shot. In the photo taken from inside the breaker looking on to Main Street, you captured the home were my great grand parents lived and my grandmother was born...her grandfather, her father, and her husband worked for the CNJ Coal Company in Ashley. I also had another grt grandfather who was a manager there along several uncles working for them. So thank you for putting yourself in danger to preserve this history that will soon be just a memory!

ClarkeGroganNealon said...

Sorry I should have said Blue Coal...I was doing more than one thing at once...but I am sure you knew what I meant :)

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Created by Al Ebaster in 2007 after a trip to Centralia, ForgottenPA has become one of Pennsylvania's most popular urban-exploration websites. Brian is our photographer, and we're happy to have Ethan Smith, aka Bluecapriethan in the comment sections, on board as an author and photographer as well.

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