Museum Gets Engines, Fans From Idle Colliery

May 3, 2019

The No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum in Lansford will receive historic ventilation fans and steam engines from the abandoned Dorrance Colliery near the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre. The equipment will be dismantled and shipped to Lansford. It will be reconditioned and reassembled and then be incorporated into displays at the No. 9 museum complex, explained Colleen Connolly, a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman. One-half of the $2 million preservation project will be covered by a $1 million grant from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s 2018 Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program, which specifically targets abandoned mine cleanup projects that are linked to local community and economic development goals. The remaining $1 million will be paid for by a separate AML grant. Among the equipment that will be taken from the Dorrance Colliery is an 1883 cast iron and wood GuibalFan that measures 35 feet in diameter; an 1883 Pittston horizontal slide valve steam engine; and a 1908 28-foot Dickson-GuibalFan and matching Corliss steam engine. The fans, housed in buildings, supplied miners with fresh air and helped keep dangerous gases from building up. They’re likely among the last of their kind. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation expected to have the fan house complex demolished in 1984, but plans were stalled for 30 years as local, state and federal entities contemplated ways to preserve it. Lehigh Valley Coal Co. purchased the approximately 550-acre former Bidlack farm from Sarah Hunt in 1880 and began mining operations in 1884. The Mine Ventilation Law of 1870 required that collieries find ways to dilute and disperse potentially explosive gases after 110 men and boys died in a massive explosion at the Avondale coal mine in Plymouth Twp. in 1869. “The mine is ventilated by a 35-foot fan, Guibal pattern, which was started April 24, and is ever since producing ventilation far in excess of their present need, although running but very slowly,” according to an 1884 report by the state inspector of mines. That fan was powered by a 1883 steam engine manufactured by Pittston Engine and Machine Co. On Oct. 7, 1895, a buildup of gas exploded, killing seven employees at the Dorrance Colliery. But a report by the state mine inspector indicated the fan had been shut down for repairs for about four hours on the previous day, which allowed the gas to accumulate at the point where the explosion occurred. The colliery installed the Dickson-Guibal fan and accompanying engine in 1908. The fans “represented the technological development of mine ventilation,” the Historic American Engineering Record report states. “The complex was identified as the most complete mine ventilation system in the anthracite region.” After a brief shutdown in the mid-1950s, the colliery reopened. It closed for good in 1959 after the Knox Mine disaster flooded all mines in that area. The Dorr Corp. of Pagnotti Enterprises purchased the colliery for $140,000 in 1963. Luzerne County took over the buildings in lieu of unpaid taxes in 1977. An on-site breaker was demolished in 1983. The proposed project is one of a dozen across the state aimed at surface mine reclamation, acid mine drainage or culm bank remediation. “The approved abandoned mine cleanup projects will help eliminate public health and safety hazards and improve stream, groundwater and land quality,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a news release. “The funding is an important investment in the community from environmental, recreational and economic development standpoints.” It is hoped that the local project will strengthen the presence of historic sites in the area and will increase visitation by up to 20% at the Lansford mine and museum. Contact the writer: jwhalen@standardspea­ker.com 570-501-3592