WILKES-BARRE — The rusting hulk of the Huber Breaker is destined for demolition and worth more in pieces than left standing as one of the most visible reminders of when coal was king.
The towering structure in Ashley where anthracite was sorted, cleaned and shipped to market as Blue Coal is among the assets up for auction next month.
Its owner, No. 1 Contracting Corp., reached a deal with debtors to sell the mineral rights, real estate and personal property at an Aug. 22 auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre. Proceeds of the sale will pay off taxes and cover a small fraction of the millions of dollars in debts owed.
A June 18 filing stressed the urgency of the sale, saying it should take place “as quickly as possible in order to preserve the value therein for the benefit of all.”
The breaker has been shut down since the late 1970s. An appraisal done in September 2005 by Kanton Realty Inc. of Scranton estimated the 900 tons of steel in the breaker had a scrap value of $85,000.
Attorney Michael Oleyar, Chapter 7 panel trustee of bankruptcy estate of No. 1 Contracting, did not return a call for comment.
Miners Memorial Park
The Huber Breaker Preservation Society was created with the intent of saving the structure, but has all but abandoned that goal. Instead, it is building a Miners Memorial Park on 3.1 acres along Main Street, within the shadow of the breaker. The park already has a monument, and plans are for walking trails and kiosks explaining the Huber’s history.
Ray Clarke, chairman of the board of the society, said it will cost “quite a few millions” to purchase and develop the breaker and prevent demolition.
“We never thought this was going to happen to it,” he said.
During its heyday, the Huber produced 1,000 tons of coal an hour and 7,000 tons a day, Clarke recalled.
“I used to get dynamite boxes out of there as a kid,” said the 79-year-old Clarke. The wood was used for shelving, and when times were tough, it was burned as firewood, he said.
The closest he came to working there was in 1957, he said, when he hauled coal on his uncle’s coal truck.
At one time there were more than 300 breakers in anthracite’s northern field spanning Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, excluding the Hazleton area, said Robert Wolensky, a society member and Swoyersville native who teaches at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Wolensky has written and lectured about this region’s mining and labor history.
“It would be a tragedy if it was lost,” he said of the Huber Breaker.
Can it be saved?
Wolensky held out hope for a last-ditch effort to save it, saying there’s an effort under way.
There were missed opportunities when government money was available, and he criticized local government leaders for doing a “pathetic” job of historical preservation compared to Lackawanna County, where there are several museums and sites dedicated to its railroad and mining history.
For Wolensky, the Huber is worth more in tourist dollars than if it was scrapped.
“We are hopeful that this might be the one site we can preserve out of all the hundreds of sites,” Wolensky said.