The Anthracite Coal Region - My Home And Playground


Darryl Poniscon of Andeshen Pa., is quoted as having said, '' At least if there is a war they won't bomb us. The planes will look down and think we've already been bombed.''

Anthracite coal reigned as king in Pennsylvania a with the most active production occurring between 1910 and 1926, the date of the last great strike. The demise occurred with the production of cheaper and cleaner fue1s in the first ha1f of the 20th Century.

With the finding of vast fields of coa1 in Pennsylvania, the USA was freed from it's dependence upon foreign coal. With the production of cheaper fuel our industrial revolution was born.

This came a cost. Great changes took place. Large tracts of land were quickly purchased by various coal companies eager to cash in upon the discovery of black gold! Breakers began to appear all over the region. This early development started in the middle of the of the 19th century and mushroomed. Forests were stripped of timber to construct the breakers, to shore up the mines that penetrated deep into the hills, and for the rapid construction of long rows of houses to shelter the immigrants -married and single young men who would work the mines and breakers.

These immigrants came to the United States enticed by the promise of high wages, and a more stable and secure lifestyle. As a result of a great depression and many wars, Europe was in chaos. Leaving families behind, they came. in droves. From New York they were carried by the many railroads that cross-crossed the area to the various small patches i.e. clusters of gray, black, hastily constructed row houses.

This was the humble beginning of the patches. There were no conveniences. They had out-houses and water was supplied by centrally placed wells. When conveniences were in existences they were slow to reach these impoverished areas.

And so it was that young boys and men from the mining areas of Europe such as Wales, Ireland, Poland and Italy came to work in the dark, damp, dusty, and dangerous bowels of the mountains of Pennsylvania. As they saved their wages, their wives and families would join them to share in this harsh and Spartan existence.

The wooden breakers, the visible part of the mining operations, often soared to heights of 150 feet. These were large black and desolate looking with many floors and many dust coated windows. They were also very noisy. As one approached, one could feel the vibrations caused by the areas steam engines needed to haul the coal laden cars from deep in the mines up the long steep 40 degree incline to the top of the breaker i.e. to the tipple where a worker tipped the car via of a lever. The coal then thundered down a chute to the coal crushing machine and then to the shaker which emptied the coal over picking tables where young hands attacked (and were in return, crushed and torn as youngsters called “Breaker Boys" as young as 10 and 12 years of age separated rock, slate and other foreign materials from the coal. The waste was sent down a separate chute. As the coal continued it's descent it was divided into sizes..

In the early years, water was not used to wash the coal- but even when this became mandatory, the breakers continued to be exceedingly dusty and dangerous operations. They were also fire hazards. This was all the more alarming since young boys were employed as pickers while their while their older brothers and fathers worked in the mines below.

One entered the mines via of a vertical shaft, a tunnel or an incline depending on the location of the coal. Once inside one encountered a subterranean world of tracks, coal cars and crisscrossing tunnels shored by lumbar and some steel. Light was sparse, In some mines mutes were stabled within the mines and used to pull the coal from the mines to the mouth of the tunnel.

Fresh air had to be pumped into the mines but still there was an odor of dampness and at times of gas and sulfuric acid-by products of the mines. Another pumping system was necessary to keep the mines free of water.