At this point in our project, we have been through the breaker at least a dozen times and have interviewed at least as many people. Heck, we even rambled around inside another old breaker near Mahanoy City for comparison.
We thought we had seen it all — almost veterans of coal breaker exploration. Except, it’s pretty challenging to envision how, exactly, the breaker operated in its heyday from looking at three decades of ruin.
So when Huber Breaker Preservation Society President Bill Best — who has been an invaluable resource throughout our exploration and research — offered to give us his “tour” of the breaker, we jumped at the opportunity.
And, yes, there was some literal jumping involved, as well as climbing, straddling, crouching, balancing, and holding one’s breath as the floor moved beneath our feet. You see, Bill took us inside the breaker — not just inside the walls that serve as a shell for the machine, but inside the machine itself.
And, we realized how little we had previously understood.
The four-hour tour took us along the same path traveled daily by close to 7,000 tons of coal during the breaker’s peak operation. We started at an outdoor station where mine cars were unloaded, traveled up the main conveyor to the very top of breaker, and then back down again through a series of screens, grinders and other equipment that sized, sorted, and prepared the coal for retail.
We even saw the finishing station where anthracite was “transformed” into Blue Coal, evidenced by the paint still found on the support beams and surrounding areas.
As we toured the guts of the breaker, Bill painted a vivid picture of what occurred in each area: how the machines worked, what the workers did, and where the coal went next, along with the sights, sounds and smells most likely experienced by employees. His explanations made the breaker come alive for us in ways we previously didn’t think possible.
For the first time, we were able to see past the ruins and neglect to truly appreciate the industrial genius of the machine.