URBAN SETTING


MISSION #9 – ST NICHOLAS COAL BREAKER

LOCATION: Mahanoy, PA

WELCOME TO MAHANOY PENNSYLVANIA! THE HOME OF CABLE TELEVISION!

….AND THE HOME OF ST NICHOLAS COAL BREAKER!

This massive facility was once the largest coal breaker in the world, at one time producing 12,500 tons of coal per day. Here is a brief history of the facility courtesy of wikipedia.

The Old St. Nicholas Breaker, located just outside of Mahanoy City, was constructed in 1930 and began operating in 1932. Half of the village of Suffolk was relocated in order to create room for Reading Anthracite’s Old St. Nicholas Breaker, the largest coal breaker in the world. 20 miles (32 km) of railroad track were laid, 3,800 tons of steel and more than 10,000 cubic yards (7,600 m3) of concrete were used. A mile and a half of conveyor lines, 25 miles (40 km) of conduit, 26,241 square feet (2,437.9 m2) of rubber belting, 118 miles (190 km) of wire and cable and 20 miles (32 km) of pipe were installed. When the breaker was constructed it was divided into two sides. Each side could be operated independently, producing 12,500 tons of coal a day. Once the raw coal enters the production process within the breaker it took just 12 minutes to pass through the entire breaker. For 31 years, the Old St. Nicholas Breaker prepared all sizes of famous Reading Anthracite for the markets of the world.

If you would like to learn more you can read further at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Nicholas_coal_breakers).

NOW ON TO MY STORY…..

As I recently moved out of Brooklyn, NY…to take a pit stop in Reading, PA….before my big move to San Diego, Ca I was looking for ways to pass the time. I had lil over a month at home to spend with family, friends and to explore eastern Pennsylvania. I constantly browse sites on urban ruins and explorations. I would constantly come across pictures of St Nicholas Breaker and always become incredibly excited. For some reason though it just kept being put off. I would plan a day to go explore, and for some reason cancel. When I finally got the courage to take the trip  was on a day I didn’t even plan on doing anything. I was going to take the day to relax and lay around the house. Something just gave me that lil itch to get my ass out of the house and get myself possibly in over my head.

I fought the urge but I finally gave in….

I looked up directions….gathered up my gear….and before I knew it I was doing 90 down the highway towards Mahanoy, PA. A good hour or some minutes later the exit for Mahanoy emerged and I was in the thick of coal country. The rolling hills of trees and small one stop light towns were all I saw.

I arrived at St Nicholas Breaker and found a spot to park the car.

The first building I came across seemed to be what supplied the power for St Nicholas Breaker. It was a building slightly bigger then a normal size suburban house and was hidden within trees and over grown brush.

I took a second and did my usual survey of the grounds and chose a decent entrance into the building. I brush past a few bushes and out of nowhere a bobcat leaps out by my feet! The animal stops and stares me in the face and then instantly leaps away. In my mind we stared at each other for a good minute. In actuality the cat gave me a once over and was gone in a hot second. Even though the bobcat was long gone I was still stuck in place. I could not believe what has just happened, and was glad I wasn’t attacked. A part of me wanted to chase the creature…the other part was glad it was gone. I  have been waiting to encounter something in my explorations other than decaying walls. I never expected it would be a bobcat! I always thought I would find a disgruntled homeless person, racoons, etc….I never expected a bobcat.

I shook off the fear and excitement and pushed into the building. The building appeared massive  from the inside…layer upon layer of rusted metal and piping. I climbed through the pipes as if it were a jungle gym. Here are a some photos….

I climbed through the first building and avoided any injuries….I then made my way down a long path to the main building. Half way down the path a structure appeared from the brush, it was whatever was made to carry the coal to the main building.

I was still a decent distance from the main building…so from the shoot I could already get an idea about what I am getting myself in too. I continued down the path with my excitement growing.

Finally…..I arrived….

St Nicholas Breaker was immense…..the sight sent chills down my spine. I hurt my neck looking towards the sky to view the entire building. The colors of rust and broken windows excited me….the smell of old made me curious, it also said I should dawn my mask. I reached into my backpack and pulled out my oxygen mask. It was fairly new so I snapped a photo to see how I looked.

I thought I looked pretty bad ass, but I knew if anyone saw me they would be scared shitless. Not only does the mask give me this sinister look it also ads a nice Darth Vader breathing effect. I like my mask.

I take a few good jumps in the air to knock out the nerves….I stretch my arms and legs. I focus on the pitch black entrance and head inside.

….and instantly I am stuck in thick wet coal soot.

After freeing myself from the mass amounts of coal quick sand…I continue through a long dark hallway.

The presence of the building was cold,wet,  with still air that made me uneasy and afraid to see what was around each corner. I felt like I was in the movie saw…about to enter a trap around each bend.

The interior was sadistic and hostile. There were walkways which have completely fell apart and covered with weeds and brush. I found myself climbing along walls to avoid falling to my death.

…..eventually my nerves began to subside and I found amazing beauty in this mess. There were rooms in which artifacts laid untouched for years.

….it was as if the workers at St Nicholas instantly left after realizing they were losing their jobs.

Coal was scattered all over the ground and across machinery. Kardexs littered rooms. Cans that were half full of a mystery liquid rest on tables waiting to be used. Boots, shovels, brooms, and chairs were propped against walls. I can usually look at a building and picture people at work, I walked around St Nicholas and only pictured abandonment.

Sadly…..the feeling of abandonment did not end with St Nicholas Coal Breaker.

I spent a few hours exploring St Nicholas and using the facility as my own personal playground. I walked out of the building feeling as if it were mine. I had a factory of my own and as I walked away I felt as though I had the ghosts of past employees waving me goodbye.

On my way home I decided to drive through Mahanoy City, which is about a mile from St Nicholas. As I drove through the town I instantly noticed the impact the closing of St Nicholas had on the residents. Countless number of businesses were abandoned; grocery stores, gas stations, pubs and diners.

I feel I can understand when the  worlds largest coal breaking factory closes, then the money goes with it….and then the lively hood of those that worked there. The reminance of what I assume to be a beautiful town with plenty of promise is now a town looking to build again.

This exploration was most likely my most intense…and I barely scratched the surface of St Nicholas Coal Breaker. I went to Mahanoy  PA looking to explore a building, but instead had my eyes open to the side affects of abandonment.

Til next time…..once again….thanks for reading.

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5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That was a great exploration! Mask looks sick. Were you rocking those palladium boots when you got stuck in the mud? Wish I was there!!!

Comment by Aaron

This is a grat story and wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing this!

Comment by A McG

You did an amazing job on this story! We really want to go and visit this site. Another explorer gave me directions. Just not sure where to park. Love your Photos!

Comment by A McGovern

Great story, i live in Mahanoy and pass by the breaker almost on a daily basis. Have always wondered what it was like in there and have wanted to go in there for a long time….so i think it was a wonderful story and great pix

Comment by Jennifer McMichael

i recently drove through this town by accident with my family on an 8 hour drive from Ny state to dc.I had to detour off 81. I was amazed at what I saw, this was a town stuck in 1971 but knew there had to a story behind it. Thanks for your story and explaining what we saw.

Comment by justin luciani




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