8 years is a long time to create a film about the Huber Coal Breaker in Ashley, Pennsylvania. Our film required a grasp of Anthracite History & Heritage and being raised in Philadelphia, I needed to learn a lot…even though my grandfather was a miner in Shamokin before moving to Philadelphia, I knew nothing about coal.
I don’t remember my grandfather either. He passed when I was 6 years-old, back in 1974. My mother’s side of the family came to the U.S. from the Ukraine during uneasy times. She was one of nine children and all of them lived in Shamokin at some point. I did hear stories about life in Shamokin, incidents like the mine accident that broke both of my grandfather’s legs or about him storing dynamite behind their house on Walnut Street – hardships that plenty of people experienced in Pennsylvania’s industrial towns. I particularly remember the one about my grandfather looking for a job upon arriving in Pennsylvania. He showed up at the mine office, I’m not sure what company owned the colliery at the time (it was either Cameron or Glen Burn), and he was told to come back later since no one died that day, perhaps there would be a job opening for him soon enough.
But this connection and these stories about life in the coalfields never developed for me. My introduction to coal culture started many years later in 2012. I was headed to Ashley for a random exploration on Memorial Day. The night before I came across photos of the Huber Breaker, my journalistic curiosity kicked in and I needed to know what this striking yet haunted structure was that kept appearing on my computer screen.
After the first visit I knew there was a worthy story buried in the wreckage of the Huber Breaker. I put together a crew and we quickly learned about coal — all of our crew visited the Huber Breaker before it was torn down in 2014. Our composer and cellist, Sheila Hershey even volunteered to join us on a winter trip so she could play her cello in the breaker.
Fast forward eight years, 40 interviews and lots of hours editing. Our film was released at a private screening in Nanticoke, PA as one of many events during Anthracite Mining Heritage month. Our usual routine with films is to have a private screening and also enter the film festival circuit. But the beginning of the Covid pandemic would happen a few weeks after our screening and we had no way to know how it would affect film festivals. The festival circuit is still uncertain, so we decided to release the short film on Vimeo. Our goal wasn’t to win awards and have lots of laurels to display on the film’s movie poster. We needed people to see it. It was created for those who lived and had ancestry tied to coal. It was created to recognize the hardship that many endured and how the last structure of its kind was an icon that is deemed sacred by many.
A Rare Light Media film: Beyond the Breaker, a film about the Huber Breaker, is now playing via Vimeo On Demand. Feel free to add a comment if you have any stories to about your experiences regarding a dark chapter of Pennsylvania’s past and follow this link to watch Scorched, a short film about Pennsylvania’s coal mine fires.