Month: January 2015

Skies Over Schuylkill County – Aerial Photography 2

(Second in a series)

The Dallin Survey Company plane.

We previously shared with you the first in what will be a series of aerial photos taken over Schuylkill County in the 1930s. That St. Clair PA image pictured the town and nearby Pottsville, PA from thousands of feet in the air.

The special Dallin Aerial Survey Company plane, (shown at left), had an opening in the floor to allow a large-format camera to take straight-down land survey mapping images. The St. Clair image from our first post and the one below would have been taken out of the plane’s side window using the same large negative cameras.

The photo below taken in May 1936, shows a coal mine in Raven Run, PA, just west of Shenandoah, with the supporting roads, rail lines and all the activity the anthracite coal operation involved.


Raven Run, PA


Close-up to show detail of Raven Run, PA


An even closer view of Raven Run, PA


White smoke billows from a steam engine hauling eight cars of anthracite coal.


Hagley Museum and Library Digital Archives


Skies Over Schuylkill County – Aerial Photography 1

(First in a series)

Founded in 1924, the Dallin Survey Company took to the skies in the Mid-Atlantic states, out of their home base in Philadelphia.


The Dallin Aerial Survey Company made several fly-overs of Schuylkill County in the 1930s. They specialized in photographing business and industry, as well as city and town views.

We share some of images results here.

In this first post in a series of posts, their single-engine plane flew over St. Clair, PA in 1937. They captured the layout of the entire town in the foreground and Pottsville can be seen in the background. People traveling north from Pottsville had to ride through St. Clair, which would change once the St. Clair by-pass was completed decades later.


April 17, 1937. The towns of Saint Clair (close) and Pottsville (further afield) are seen in this single image.


The road from Pottsville leading down into St. Clair.


Downtown St. Clair.


Pottsville in the distance, with the landmark Schuylkill County Courthouse in the center. 


Hagley Museum and Library Digital Archives




Photographer of the Mines: Pottsville’s George Bretz

First in a series about the photographer and his work

1884: Arnaux Electric Company dynamo inside Shenandoah’s Kohinoor mine. This produced electricity to illuminate the lamps needed for George Bretz’s photography experiment.

The George Bretz Gallery on the southwest corner of Center & Market Streets in Pottsville, PA.

We have shared a number of heartbreaking photographs of breaker boys taken by visitors to the Anthracite Region on our Facebook page and we even did an initial blog post on such an image. Binding to our cultural memory, these images have been valuable to understanding what the lives of mining families were like.

Photos taken by another photographer, more local in origin, have contributed to the visual history of the Anthracite Region: George M. Bretz, (1842-1895) had his studio in Pottsville, PA and he specialized in photography mining scenes.

Approached by the Smithsonian Institution to photograph anthracite miners at work inside the mines, Bretz knew that long camera shutter speeds required above ground in normal light needed to be longer in the darkness of a coal mine. Therefore, he decided to bring more light with him. Traveling to Shenandoah, PA in 1884, with a temporary electrical set-up (see photo at top), he brought a dynamo to generate the electricity needed to power lights that had never before been used underground. Unsure of whether this technique would work or of associated dangers, Bretz took the lights inside the Kohinoor Colliery mine.

The anticipation must have been great as Bretz developed the photo plates. The end results were reviewed  in the 1885 edition of the Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affairs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: “[T]he experiment was a perfect success, and marks a new era in the history of photographing mining views.”

Shown below are nine of the photos taken at the Kohinoor mine, and from a visit to the Indian Ridge Colliery. Even the slightest body movement resulted in some blurring.

Face of breast, three miners at work.

Indian Ridge Colliery, breast No.1.

Coal breaker, Kohinoor.

Gangway from breast No.39.

Lift Operator, Kohinoor Mine.

Car lift attended by two miners.

Car lift and miners.

Interior of Kohinoor mine.

Face of breast with miner using patent drill.

Sadly, the George M. Bretz Photography Studio burned on November 13, 1892, (article below), and thousands of his negatives were destroyed. Luckily, the Smithsonian copies of the Shenandoah underground photographs have survived.

November 14, 1892 article from the Shenandoah PA Evening Herald.

It was front page news, (article below), when Bretz passed away on the 12th of April, 1895 at age 53. The Shenandoah Evening Herald called him “one of the leading photographers of the state.”

George M. Bretz obituary from the Shenandoah PA Evening Herald. April 13, 1895

Photographer George Bretz in 1875.



Geller, Kathryn. “Anthracite Museum Displays Work of Molly Maguires Photographer.” The Titusville Herald [Titusville, PA] 23 March 1992: Page 7. Print.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Digital Collection.


A Plane Engineering Feat: Facts, Photos and Film of the Mahanoy Plane

Mahanoy Plane is seen, upper left, atop Broad Mountain. Leading up to it – an angled, yet steep incline – consisting of 2,500 feet of railroad track. Photo from the 1880s.


We’ve written before about Mahanoy Plane and we’ve even done a popular Facebook post.


What makes this post so different? Well, we hope we can give you, our dedicated readers, as much information about engineering of the plane. In a future post, we will be moving onto important people, events, buildings, and so on. For now, we are sharing images and facts about this engineering feat that moved hundreds of millions of tons of anthracite coal up Broad Mountain, just north of Frackville, PA. At the end of this post, we also share a Bray Studios 1920s silent film entitled Black Sunlight showing snippets of the Mahanoy Plane in operation, as well as views of the valley below from the top of the Plane.

What made this mega-machine run? It was a tandem frictional rope with a 6,000 horsepower steam hoist at Mahanoy Plane as  illustrated in the collection of photos below. The anthracite coal from the surrounding 48 collieries went through the plane before it went to market. (48!) To give you an idea of what this volume was like, in January 1913, during 25 working days, (304 hours), the Mahanoy Plane hoisted 19,874 cars of coal.

The engine was designed by the superintendent of shops and machinery of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company to hoist an unbalanced load of 190 long tons, up a plane that was 2,500 feet long with an 18% maximum grade and with a piston speed of 600 feet per minute. The bottom of the plane was at an elevation of 1,129 feet above sea level and at the top of the plane was 1,480 feet above sea level – a 351 foot climb.

To operate the plane, 66 men were needed, not including the foreman or the men in the railroad engines to bring the coal to the base or take it away from the top. There were two shifts of 33 men each. When it was running, about 3 3/4 tons of rice-sized coal was needed per hour to supply the steam power.

The engine was built by a joint effort of the Reading Iron Company, Scott Foundry Department and the Pottsville Shops of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal & Iron Company. Each of the two engine cylinders was 54 inches in diameter with a 72 inch stroke. The main hoisting rope was 2 and 5/8 inches in diameter and it was made of cast steel, composed of six strands of 19 wires each, around a wire-rope core. At each end of this large cable was a small “barney,” which traveled on a narrower gauge railroad track than the coal cars. When it reached the bottom of the plane, the “barney” passed into a pit under the track. The loaded cars were moved by gravity to a point in front of the “barney” pit. The engine at the top of the mountain was started slowly and the “barney” contacted the rear bumper of the railroad car and it brought the car up the plane. The Mahanoy Plane hoist and engines weighed 500 tons. Despite mechanical breakdowns, rumors of it closing and even an Engine House fire, the plane would operate until 1932.


Below are a series of images, some postcards, and news clippings:

Photo from 1913



Interior photo from 1913.



January, 1886. Fire at Mahanoy Plane destroys Engine House.


Rumors that the Mahanoy Plane would be abandoned started as early as August 1901.


This February 1906 report mentions the “annual” rumor of the Mahanoy Plane shutting down. It remained open until 1932.


Mahanoy Plane shutdown due to needed repairs. Altoona Tribune article from November 22, 1926.


Undated image from Engine Room of Mahanoy Plane.


The Engine Room, photographed in 1905.


Large wire hoisting cables, pictured in 1905.


The pit where the “barney” went underground is clearly visible in this 1905 image.


Inside the Machine Shop at the Plane.


An undated view of the track approach to the Plane.


Undated view of the valley.


From the 1880s,  the Mahanoy Plane in operation, pulling multiple cars of anthracite coal up the incline.


The Mahanoy Plane at the top of Broad Mountain, after cars have been elevated.  Photo from 1880s.


The Mahanoy Plane was a popular topic for picture postcards, and six are reproduced below.

At the top Broad Mountain, the Engine Room awaits the next loaded coal car.


Down below, the small “barney” rides on a narrow gauge track as it pulls the loaded coal car up the incline.


A 1905 view from the Plane.


A 1907 postcard of the Plane.


From 1909, a view down the 2,500 feet of Mahanoy Plane railroad track, showing the valley below.


A vertical format postcard from 1907.


The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission honored the Mahanoy Plane with a historical marker in 2007.


The 1920’s film Black Sunlight by Bray Studios, contains brief footage of the Mahanoy Plane. The entire video can be viewed at the very end of this article, but these still images show the pertinent scenes:

At the 3:03 mark of the film, there is a sweeping left-to-right view of the valley beneath the Plane, starting at the incline’s railroad tracks:

Single Frame From 1920s Film: The valley below the Mahanoy Plane.

At 9:47 into the film you are taken for a ride up the plane on a loaded coal car.

Single Frame From 1920s Film: A quick ride up the Mahanoy Plane on a loaded coal car.

At the 10:30 mark, a brief scene at the bottom of the Plane is shown:

Single Frame From 1920s Film: At the bottom of the Mahanoy Plane.




Kneeland, Frank. A 6,000 Horsepower Steam Hoist. Coal Age. March 1, 1913; Vol. 3, No. 9: 322

Unknown. The Mahanoy Coal Plane. Mines and Minerals October, 1905; Vol. XXVI, No. 3: 101


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