Sunday, October 2, 2011

Life In A Gritty City . . .

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In the heart of the old Pennsylvania coal country, there stands a gritty town by the name of Mahanoy City. I must say at the outset that it is highly unlikely I would have ever visited Mahanoy City, were it not for the kind and generous counsel of TomB., who has been mentioned before in these pages, and will no doubt be mentioned again. It was exactly a year ago today that I went to Mahanoy City after Tom pointed the way by whispering that there was a large abandoned coal breaker factory there, a site which could be visited if one were to tip toe quietly and not make too much of a ruckus. And so I went, setting out early one Saturday morning, and it became clear very quickly that Mahanoy City was a place which one could sincerely say had . . . True Grit. If you click the link to visit TomB.'s page, please scroll down to his post on September 7th, where he published one of his photos from the Saint Nicholas coal breaker at Mahanoy City.
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It took me a little while to find the site, as in fact it is just outside Mahanoy City, but I caught a glimpse of it while going down a road out of town, and realized immediately that this must be the place.
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Years ago when the site was active this little red building must have been a sort gatehouse, keeping track of who came in and who left, carrying what. Today it just stands in red ruin.
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Heading into the larger buildings area, one very quickly finds oneself in the dark underbelly of the beast. The ground is still covered with the black dust and grit of Pennsylvania coal.
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Vandals had not yet stolen this handle, though rust is working on the job.
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A gaping hole in a wall, as though some structure had been ripped away by a frightfully angry dinosaur, leaving innards hanging out in the sun.
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A facade rising eleven floors up toward the sky, windows broken out on every level. Such is the fate of abandoned factories. Windows are easy targets for thrown stones. We live in a world where it is easier to simply walk away from a building, a factory, a living entity, leaving it to rust, rot, and ruin, rather than trying to invest in refurbishing it to prevent such scenes of total desolation. Note the structure which joins the main building high up at the upper right : the coal conveyor.
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Stepping back a bit to try to put it in perspective, the coal conveyor arrives about ten floors up from the ground level.
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Having walked a few hundred yards away from the main coal breaker building, the coal conveyor goes by high above this outlying shack.
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Even farther away, a small building still stands near the starting point of the coal conveyor, an ancient desk refuses to give in to gravity, standing, still standing.
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Here you get a better idea of the length and height of the coal conveyor, which carried raw coal ten floors up to fling it into the maw of the monstrous machines that would break it down into different sized grades.
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You may call me crazy, you may call me an idiot, you may wonder about my sanity, but the call of that conveyor tunnel was too strong for me to resist, I remember thinking : what better way to get up to the top floor of the factory ? I found a way in, and began the long, arduous climb up the entire length of that cramped shaft. It seemed to go on forever.
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From the conveyor shaft windows I could see people working at the still active coal mine on the hill across the way. I kept a low profile by the windows so as not to draw unwanted attention. The conveyor bed was still littered with crumbled bits of coal.
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Funny, from near the top there was a great view, and power generating wind turbines dotted the hills around, overlooking another abandoned coal building. The times they are a'changing.
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These gears give you some idea of the size of the motors required to drive such a conveyor belt, I can't imagine how many tons of coal it could carry at one time up to the top of the breaker, where it would work its way back down to ground level while undergoing considerable bashing and thrashing in all sorts of ungodly machines.
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The interior of the building was an incredible labyrinth of catwalks and stairs, platforms around the massive machinery required for the gritty work of breaking coal.
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Cryptic messages denoting some sense of past order, now meaningless, yet enchanting. Number eight, number eight, number eight. What dost thou mean, great yellow eight ?
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There were some machines it was obvious you would not want to fall into them while they were turning. They had a decidedly unfriendly air about them.
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The senseless sense of past order gone awry, the cone feeders are no longer needed, the sizing screens are no longer seen, the silence is overwhelming. I cannot imagine the awful din that must have reigned within those walls when the coal came thundering down the chutes into the brutal beating bars of the berserk breaking machines.
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The Agitator control. Turn the wheel and a gas is realeased causing all who breathe it to become extremely agitated, to the point where straight jackets may be required. I think someone left the valve open these past few years. A frightening thought.
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Bob Dylan wrote a song named, "Everything is Broken". The evidence was plain to see here.
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An office which had obviously seen better days. I guess the white marks all over the place were bird droppings. A final indignity, to finish its days covered deeper and deeper in bird excrement. Maybe someday someone will go and mine for guano there.
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I took one last look back as I drove off. Perhaps one day we shall return here, even if only virtually, these photos are just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say the tip of the slag heap) of what was taken there that day one year ago. Thanks again Tom for the tip that led to this trip !
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41 comments:

marlu said...

Absolutely amazing. Your photos find beauty in the ruins.

Arija said...

A genius of a post! I wonder what health & safety would have to say about you not wearing a hard hat??
Beautiful photos, just outstanding, such entrancing things like the entrails hanging out of the brutal wound,
the missing teeth of the broken windows . . .

I do wish you would link this marvel of a post to Our World Tuesday. You can find the Logo and link on my sidebar.

Thank you, I love crumbling history and thoroughly enjoyed this.

Owen said...

Thanks Marlu, one finds beauty in the strangest places, including the ruins of civilisation.

Owen said...

Hi Arija, some people say my head is so hard I don't need a hard hat. But the OSHA people should definitely pay that place a visit, even the ghost workers are at risk there. Some of the catwalks have missing floor plates, if one is not careful falls of two floors or more are quite possible in there. I should probably have my head examined for having gone up that conveyor tunnel and then having descended through the building on my own... if I'd broken a leg in there help might have been a long time coming.

Are there any abandoned buildings in your neck of the woods ?

Oakland Daily Photo said...

I have an affinity for broken down rusted stuff too. Though I'd be much more timid about crawling around in it. After watching one too many decorating, antiques picking, repurposed junk design shows on cable tv, I couldn't help but wonder what it would take to get some of those cool, rusted gears out of there. People actually pay serious money to have rusted industrial stuff hanging on their walls. If this abandoned factory were around here, they'd have to put a barbed wire fence around it, otherwise metal recyclers would pick it clean in no time. There wouldn't be anything left except broken glass and lumps of coal.

I'm really glad you took us on this tour.

louciao said...

I'm surprised La Grenouille lets you out of her sight. She must have some very good insurance on you.
I'm amazed that it's already a year ago that you set out on that trip. Time flies...though probably not when you're working in a coal mine.
You really did get down to the nitty gritty of the place. I would never have suspected so much colour and humour lurked behind that massively impressive 11 storey facade, if you hadn't "drug" the proof back to the blog. Thanks for finally coughing it up for us all.

Pat Tillett said...

Old is good, new is not always as much. These are beautifu photos of our history. LOVE them! Thank the photos and words.

Stickup Artist said...

Hmmm. A part of me says good riddance. I cannot imagine working in such a place. I know some men that travel the country putting up the windmills and they love their job which was not true of the PA coal miners. Not to mention the impact on the environment. I guess it depends on how you look at it, like anything. The number 8 is my favorite image, and I shudder to think of you crawling so high above the ground thru that shaft!

Le Journal de Chrys said...

Je me régale toujours autant de tes explorations!!!!!!

Voilà un lien qui pourra peut-être t'intéresser:

http://www.urbex.me/

Bon dimanche!!!!

Steve said...

Oddly haunting. Proof, if any were needed, that buildings become their own ghosts when they fall into disuse.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Coal is King. And all kingdoms must come to an end.

Nature will reclaim though, doesn't she?

Owen said...

Hi Oakland, ah, the temptation for a little larceny is strong in such places, but I adhere to the philosophy of leaving only footprints, and taking only photos... Though you are no doubt right, that sooner or later burglars with blowtorches will remove most everything they are able to cart away. Although they would have to be pretty burly burglars, for a lot of those pieces must weigh hundreds of pounds. Guess I'll just have to settle for having a gear photo on my wall, in place of the real thing... In any case, you are very welcome, it is a pleasure giving virtual tours like this...

Owen said...

Dear Lynne, yup, this got coughed up along with all the coal dust breathed in that place, a guy could catch black lung disease in a place like that ! As for la Grenouille, she knows you can't keep a jumping toad tied down, and as she's not too crazy about crawling up coal conveyors herself, she's happy enough to let me out from time to time. She knows this soul needs to be off down the road when the wanderlust strikes, no use trying to fight it, it's a force of nature. The inside of that place was a total trip. Many of the machines looked like they had been conceived for a Nightmare on Elm Street type movie. It would make a great set for an awful horror movie. Ah yes, she often says to me when I get back from such galivanting around in dusty, gritty, dirty places : Well look what the cat drug in...

Owen said...

Hi Pat, old is definitely good, in my book too. New, a lot of it anyway, seems to have lost the soul that was so evident in "old". Am happy then if you enjoyed this little visit to the coal factory...

Owen said...

PS For any music lovers out there, there is one song particularly that comes to mind in relation to coal mines and workers in such places :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-ZIgHblIac&feature=related

Although this one could also do :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxPwoXghz9E

Owen said...

Dear Stickup,
I cannot imagine the lives over the decades of the men who lived and worked in such places. So close to us there in PA... just an hour or two drive from Philadelphia. The last time I looked the underground coal seam fire in Centralia, PA was still burning... did you ever get there ? A surreal place if there ever was one. A whole town driven away, abandoned. The things we do to this earth of ours...

Fortunately, the coal conveyor shaft was still pretty sturdy, there weren't too many holes in the floor plates, just a few that could be stepped over... :-) Although it was sort of a long way down. But the adrenaline rush was worth it... :-) I could feel my heart beating up there, I'm not particularly fond of heights, one steps very carefully in such places.

Owen said...

Chère Chrys, mille fois merci pour ce lien vers urbex.me, j'irai regarder encore plus ce soir, ça a l'air bien...

Connais-tu le site Opacity ? Il y a un lien dans mon sidebar, sinon, en Googlant (verbe valable ?) "opacity", tu tomberas dessus. C'est un passionné d'urbex...

Bon dimanche soir à toi aussi...

Owen said...

Steve, there was no shortage of ghosts in there. I can only imagine that such places were incredibly dangerous to work in. If I'd had more time I would have looked up the local cemetery, there must be some interesting inscriptions... This place had what is called serious "atmosphere"...

Owen said...

Dear Distracted, I'm sure nature will reclaim her own, sooner or later. Rust is the great reducing factor in forgotten factories. Places like this should be visited annually to document the changes and the slow disintegration...

ρομπερτ said...

a place craving aloud if one is able to hear - impressive noiseful pictures of the struggle humankind faced to make a living.
should be turned into a museum in my opinion, to honour their sweat, pain and strength to bring out the innerst within.
please have a good new week ahead.

Owen said...

Tag Robert, I can only agree, it could be a rather fabulous museum, but I fear it may be too far gone at this point. However, maybe some of the pieces in it could be recovered to go into a museum... some of the machines there are priceless.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Phew, what a trip! I wasn't aware of these coal-breakers even though we have active coal mining a few hours drive from where I live in NZ. Dark Satanic mills are every bit as enthralling as crumbling castles aren't they. Couldn't help noticing the shack with the patch work cladding - not so different from my possum-trappers hut - but my favourite photo is the view of the windmills, taking over from (hopefully) coal-fired power stations.
By the way, I've already gathered that you are one of Life's experimental risk-takers!

Owen said...

Dear Lady M.,
Ah, where there is coal, there must be a breaker about. Perhaps if you go take a look around the mines you may find something similar ? But you don't have to climb up the conveyor belts...

Funny, one of my favorite old movies, made by an Australian production company is named "Breaker Morant". But it has nothing to do with coal, it was about a man who'd been a horse breaker, before he ended up in the army in South Africa, during the Boer War.

And yes, you are right, trepidation, which should prevent me from undertaking some risk prone endeavors, usually takes a back seat to : you only live once... If I hadn't climbed up to the top of that place I would have regretted it for years to come...

A fine first week of October to you...

louciao said...

"Look what the cat drug in" ?!! I see La Grenouille has picked up some fine Americanisms in her life with the toad. It must sound extremely charming said with a French accent. Perhaps that's part of why you head off on such toad-brained adventures, just to hear those words when you come limping back home.

louciao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clytie said...

I have missed visiting you, Owen. Now that I'm back from my absence (and feeling MUCH better!) - yours is one of the first places I had to visit. I'm so glad I did!!! I've just spent the most wonderful half hour visiting an abandoned coal factory, admiring beautiful butterflies, and taking the most amazing trek around Paris.

Thank you!!!

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

Another epic post by Owen. Impressive work, sir, and your love of old things and old places shines through. What an eye for detail you do have. i particularly liked the shot of the window overlooking the wind turbines... the present and the past (the future?) captured in one shot. Like you, I have no idea what that number 8 means... but it was fun to wonder for a few minutes. A bientôt, Owen. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Nathalie said...

Owen I can't believe you made your way inside that conveyor shaft and walked through it. I find you amazingly brave. I would have been dead scared of it falling to the ground under my weight (well, perhaps I'm heavier than you :-)))

But I can imagine your excitement at the prospect of all the photos to be made! What a fun adventure ground :-)

shansenn9603q said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Dear Owen,
Breaker Morant is one of the old films that I keep promising myself I must watch.
I do understand that feeling of regret that comes with not making an effort... Just occasionally I have done things on the edge of reason too, but now my arthritis and diminished reaction time say "Don't be silly,"
But hey, I can still visit some old mine workings the next time I'm on the West Coast.

-K- said...

Owen - This is a really great project. So many of these photos are astounding. Great work.

shansenn9603q said...

Hello Owen. I am very fascinated with your photos of abandoned locations. I have a..thing for that myself. I recall linking you to another photo album on Opacity.us a while ago about an abandoned factory you photographed (excellently, I might add) and well, you've done it again. Saint Nicholas Coal Breaker was also featured on Opacity. It has some more information if you want to read up on it, but he too has some nice pictures of the beautiful abandonment. Here's a link: http://www.opacity.us/site89_old_saint_nicholas_coal_breaker.htm

There is a connection to the photo album at the bottom of that page to his photos of the location.

James said...

I remember being amazed when you posted photos of this place last year. I was sure I would go and see it myself. Sadly I never made it but your photos and stories still amaze me. Great stuff!

Follow the link to a post that I dedicated to you.

http://somethingsighted.blogspot.com/2011/10/interesting-coincidences.html

The Sagittarian said...

I never cease to be amazed at how your photos make everything so interesting, even crusty old buildings! Sorry I'm late here again, I got sidetracked at some of your earlier posts (no, didn't stop to comment...just hurried over here) - all absolutely magical!
Phew, thirsty work all this running about - what have you got there, a cider perhaps??

Peter said...

Knowing your taste for odd, old, abandoned things and places, you must have had a fabulous day! ... and you are right; somehow there is some kind of different beauty to be found here, not mentioning all the stories that could be told...

Owen said...

Ah, good people, it is sometimes difficult for me to get back here during a work-a-day week and respond individually to everyone, but I always read with the keenest interest and fascination your ever thoughtful messages.

Saj, I know you're thirsty, how about some fresh all natural grape juice just pressed from the grapes that grow right outside our back windows ? It's not fermented though, is that a problem ?

James, tons and tons, 16 tons of thanks for your excellent post with tree legs and sunken bikes. Who'd-a thunk you could have found another bike that had sunk, down under the waves...

Hey Shansenn, many thanks for the link to Opacity, he's been linked in my sidebar for years now, but I certainly have not yet seen everything on the good Mr Mott's site, it is vast and wonderful...

Hi Kevin, Appreciate that, am always happy when you can make it over here... I know it's not easy, there was an old cartoon in which a dog was looking forlornly at a long line of fire hydrants disappearing into the distance ; so many blogs, so little time...
:-)

Lady M., I'll be curious to hear what you think of Breaker Morant when you can find it... I first saw it back around 1980, and it has stayed with me ever since, just oodles of excellent lines in that film, and performances of intense power.

Hi Nathalie, I'm not sure that you are heavier than I, I rather think not, not by a long shot... but then I would never mention a woman's weight, that's an invitation to trouble. Actually, the flooring in that conveyor shaft was still pretty solid, my foot only went through it once or twice... :-)

Hi Vero (if I may abbreviate ?) I'm thrilled if you enjoyed the trip into the coalbreaker vicariously. I was quite surprised to see the wind turbines on the hills around, I hadn't seen any until I got up to the top and started looking out the windows from up there. It's good to see that coal is not the only energy option in those parts...

Hi Clytie ! It's been a while...I'm glad to hear you are feeling better, and very glad if you came back here and found some things you liked, that is music to my ears... be well, see you round soon...

Lynne, you are so perceptive it scares me sometimes... uncanny, as though you can read my toady mind... :-)

Significant Snail said...

This reminded me of a poem:

FACTORY windows are always broken.
Somebody's always throwing bricks,
Somebody's always heaving cinders,
Playing ugly Yahoo tricks.

Factory windows are always broken.
Other windows are let alone.
No one throws through the chapel-window
The bitter, snarling, derisive stone.

Factory windows are always broken.
Something or other is going wrong.
Something is rotten--I think, in Denmark.
End of factory-window song.

by Vachel Lindsay

Jenny Woolf said...

Astonishing place, and I like the photos .I have a great fondness for abandoned industrial and commercial buildings but they're becoming few and far between. Found a stunning one in Malta (of all places) a few years ago and wish I'd photographed it.

:: Karine :: said...

eh bien tu en prends des risques toi ! mais quel bonheur pour nous !
j'imagine qu'il y avait autant un grand silence qu'il pouvait y avoir énormément de bruit avant !
sublimes photos as usual
je suis allée chez tomb et ai voulu voir ses photos sur ton tumblr mais je n'y suis pas arrivée !
bisou bisou

Pastelle said...

Original, improbable, surréaliste, extraordinaire...
Tu dois avoir un 12ème sens pour dénicher ce genre d'endroit. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I came across your blog with the beautiful pictures here of the old breaker- and was intrigued you not only roamed the grounds and took pictures, but crawled all the way up the conveyor tunnel!!! Wow! Im in my twenties and was raised there in Mahanoy City and so this was kinda my "stomping grounds" as a kid. Sad the Coal Industry is dead here. That ol` Breaker must be the "Saint Nicholas Breaker" constructed in 1931 and ceased operations in 1963. Apparently, "the largest Coal Breaker in the world" barely lasted 30 years sadly. Such a huge part of our history-these Coal Breakers.