Men on Mars
Old Saint Nicholas Coal Breaker
Located in Mahanoy City, PA
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Old Saint Nicholas Coal Breaker History
The Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company's old Saint Nicholas breaker was constructed in Gilberton PA, just outside of Mahanoy City. Clearing of the land began in 1930, then construction on the breaker started in 1931 with the plant opening on September 16, 1932. With 20 miles of railroad track laid down and 1.5 miles of conveyors, the breaker was one of the two largest in the world in 1938 (the other was located at Locust Summit, demolished in 2002). Half of the surrounding community of Suffolk had to be relocated to provide enough of the 10 square miles of land needed. The layout of the facility was split so that two halves could operate independently of each other, enabling the breaker to produce a total of 12,500 tons of coal a day.
The St. Nicholas central breaker was connected to surrounding collieries in the area, and supplied steam to these facilities, eliminating the need for wasteful boiler houses. The coal being sent to St. Nick's was first rough cleaned and crushed at each of the ten satellite plants, then shipped via railroad car to the central inbound storage yard, which had a capacity to hold 85 loaded cars. Once the raw coal was dumped at one end, it moved along the conveyor at 600 feet per minute, and it only took 12 minutes to pass through the many processes of the entire breaker. The finished coal was dumped into a tilting box car loader and sent to the outbound storage yars, which had the capacity to hold 885 loaded cars for shipment to consumers.
The breaker ceased operations in 1963 when Reading Anthracite Company shifted their mining operations, and constructed the "new" St. Nicholas breaker near Minersville PA. The new breaker subsequently closed in 2003. The old breaker sat abandoned until 2014, when demolition was started.