ASHLEY — The demolition of the Huber Breaker that began in January is erasing one of the last remaining significant structures of mining history in the Wyoming Valley.
The Huber was built in 1938, and began processing anthracite coal in February 1939. At the time, the Huber had the most modern design and operations of any coal breaker in the United States.
Chester Kulesa, site administrator for the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, said the breaker was named in honor of Glen Alden Coal Co. chairman Charles F. Huber. Huber attained his position as the chairman at age 30, and was no stranger to the business — he started out as a mine laborer as a teenager.
Function of a breaker
Kulesa said a breaker processes anthracite coal for the market by crushing, sizing and cleaning the coal for the consumer to use. The Huber went through up to 7,000 tons of anthracite coal per day, and featured a washing plant circulating water at a rate of 8,200 gallons per minute.
“The coal in mine cars was dumped into a pit at the foot of a conveyor line outside the breaker and taken to the top of the structure,” Kulesa said. “It was then passed over ‘bull shakers,’ which are screens having larger perforations to remove the pieces larger than ‘grate’ size. These larger pieces are conveyed to the main rolls where they are broken into sizes grate and smaller.”
Some of that coal would then roll along chutes to smaller rollers, where it would broken into even smaller sizes.
Kulesa said those rollers were provided so a certain percentage of smaller sizes could be broken down to be used in stoves as per the market demand. Materials would roll over shaking screens under strong jets of water to separate larger-size material from the smaller sizes.
The coal would then pass into so-called Menzies cones, which would separate rock from coal.
“The rock and slate, being heavier than the anthracite, sank to the bottom and were conveyed to the refuse banks outside of the breaker,” Kulesa said. “After the clean anthracite leaves the Menzies cones, any adhering waste particles are removed with cascades of water.”
Screens then separated the sizes of coal into loading pockets at the bottom of the breaker, where they would be loaded into railroad cars for delivery.
The Glen Alden Co. wanted to do something different to help distinguish its coal from the competition. To do so, Kulesa said the company began to spray the coal with a blue dye and encourage the consumer to ask for “Blue Coal” when ordering.
Fall from grace
The Huber Breaker continued breaking and sorting coal well into the 1970s before it was finally closed to due to the declining use of coal in 1976. The structure, which was easily seen by motorists driving northbound on Interstate 81, was finally silent.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
The Ashley Huber Breaker Preservation Society was founded in 1990. Its mission: to preserve the Huber Breaker site “for its adaptive reuse as a historical site and park.” The organization also works to aid other organizations to preserve and reuse other historical sites in the Wyoming Valley.
Ray Clarke, chairman and treasurer of the society, had a personal interest in preserving the old site. Clark, 80, was born and raised in the Wyoming Valley. He used to pass by the old site every day.
Now, what was once a part of Clarke’s daily life is gone.
“It’s part of our history and culture here,” he said. “It’s just sad to see it go.”
The property had been owned by No. 1 Contracting of South Main Street, Ashley, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2010 and converted to Chapter 7 in November of that year, requiring the business to liquidate its assets, equipment and property. The Huber Breaker had an estimated 900 tons of steel.
Demolition of the building began in January, but was halted. Colleen Connolly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the Philadelphia-based Paselo Logistics LLC failed to file a 10-day notice of demolition.
“That’s required for anyone tearing down a structure,” Connolly said.
The 10-day notice informs DEP how demolition crews will control the dust that’s flying around, as well as how they have handled any asbestos that could potentially be found. Demolition initially stopped, and Connolly said paperwork was provided showing that the building housing a conveyor belt was in danger of collapsing.
As a result, work was allowed to continue. Connolly also said an asbestos abatement inspector will be on site to handle any further asbestos discoveries. No timetable has been given on when the project will be complete.
Clark said the initial goal was to turn the hulking structure into a tool to educate students about the area’s history in the anthracite coal industry. Instead, the Preservation Society is building a Miners Memorial Park on 3.1 acres along Main Street, within the shadow of the Huber.
Nevertheless, Clark called the end of the breaker a “signature moment” and a loss of a gem representing the area’s history and culture.