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Plymouth Breaker: 1901

Plymouth Breaker: 1901

Plymouth, Pennsylvania, circa 1901: "Plymouth coal breaker." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Coal shipped in boxcars, rather than hopper cars, was shipped in fifty pound burlap bags. Usually sold in the larger cities to customers who preferred to buy it that way as it could be picked up at any coal yard or even a hardware store.

"American" camelback

Shilo would seem to be correct. The construction of the engine more resembles an early "American" type camelback. Not American 4-4-0, but instead this type of locomotive.

The PRR owned six of this class of locomotive, with the B&O having 50. Only one has been preserved of this class, though it is not in running condition. Due to its construction, it is not unexpected for them to be mistaken for inspection trains, which were a very different beast entirely.

This type of locomotive was rendered obsolete by 1910, due to improvements in boiler design. By then, most had been withdrawn from service or rebuilt into "conventional" cabbed locomotives.

Also, only one "modern" Camelback, Reading Company 0-4-0 No. 1187, survives in operable condition. The remaining preserved locomotives are lacking in nature, with Baltimore & Ohio Railroad 4-6-0 No. 173 suffering from a cracked boiler crown sheet and failed boiler certificate, and Central Railroad of New Jersey 4-4-2 No. 592, having been severely damaged when the roof of the museum gave way under heavy load in 2001-2002. Lastly, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 4-4-0 No. 952, is in no condition to operate, missing may integral parts, and B&O Camelback 2-8-0 #173 (Of this class in the photo) Being too old to consider repair and operation.

Inspection Locomotive

The high cab roof, along with the bell mounted on the front deck, says inspection locomotive, an entirely different animal compared to a camelback.

The oversize cab was necessary to accommodate the officials who were doing the inspecting of railroad facilities. The inspection engine could run alone while on business, but often hauled private or business cars, as appears the case here.

BTW, at least two camelbacks have been preserved: DL&W No. 952 4-4-0W at St. Louis Museum of Transport, and CRRNJ 4-4-2W at B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

Camelback Locomotive

The type of locomotive in the back isn't an "inspection" locomotive as another poster called it, but is instead a camelback. This type of locomotive was somewhat common in the early 20th century, but fell out of favor due to people fearing they weren't safe. They still hung around in places like yards and industrial applications; but generally speaking they died out. Only one has been preserved in working condition.

The Parrish Breaker

This photo appears on Wikipedia under "Plymouth, Pennsylvania" and is identified as the second Parrish Breaker.

Plymouth comments

The boxcars are likely outbound. Some anthracite customers ordered coal in boxcars, as there was less pilferage. (Note there is another boxcar under the breaker).

Looking at the hi-def image, a locomotive is seen in the distance that appears to be an inspection engine. It has a high cab with the bell mounted on the front end sill. There probably are several business cars behind it; difficult to see at this distance.

An inspection engine indicates a visit from the "brass." The grounds were spruced up ahead of time for sure.

Mechanical Devices

They may be taking over in the operation of the breaker, but somebody is going to have to do some serious shoveling to unload those boxcars! And it looks as if this is an accepted method as there are several flat cars full of ready cut boards waiting at close hand. I can't imagine what the purpose of the gondola/flat car combo can be for. There seems to be another set in the loading shed and one farther down the other side. Very perplexing!

Perhaps they are processing so fast that they need to use every available car until they can acquire or manufacture new gondolas?

Here, as everywhere else

Popular Mechanics, 1908

Largest Coal Breaker in the World

The huge coal breaker at Plymouth, Pa., known as "Nottingham No. 15," is the largest in the world. Its capacity is 1,000 cars of a size large enough to carry an equivalent of 7 tons of finished coal each. Not more than 200 ft. from the breaker is a shaft 350 ft. deep from which one of these cars arrives with coal from the mines every 20 seconds.

Here, as everywhere else, mechanical devices are superseding manual labor. In the old-style breaker at least 150 men and boy pickers were employed, but in this breaker a spiral coal-picking machine has made it possible to dispense with at least half of that number. The breaker cost $200,000.

[Note: the breaker pictured above may not be the one described in the Popular Mechanics article. Nor does it appear to match any of the other PA anthracite breakers cataloged at this site.]

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