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

Mahanoy Plane and its angled, yet steep incline to the top of Broad Mountain (1884).

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:

MahanoyPlane1913

Photo from 1913

 

 

MahanoyPlane1913a

Interior photo from 1913.

 

 

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

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

 

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

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.

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.

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

 

Undated image from Engine Room of Mahanoy Plane.

Undated image from Engine Room of Mahanoy Plane.

 

HoistingEngine

The Engine Room, photographed in 1905.

 

RopeSheave

Large wire hoisting cables, pictured in 1905.

 

MahanoyPlane1905

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

 

Inside the machine shop at the Plane.

Inside the Machine Shop at the Plane.

 

An undated view of the track approach to the Plane.

An undated view of the track approach to the Plane.

 

Undated view of the valley.

Undated view of the valley.

 

From 1880, the Mahanoy Plane in operation.

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

 

1880mp2

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.

MahanoyPlanePostcard2

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

 

MahanoyPlanePostcard

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 1905 view from the Plane.

 

A 1907 postcard of 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.

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

 

A vertical format postcard from 1907.

A vertical format postcard from 1907.

 

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

MP_Marker

 

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:

Screen Grab From Film: The valley below the Mahanoy Plane.

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.

Screen Grab From Film: A quick ride up the Mahanoy 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:

Screen Grab From Film: At the bottom of the Mahanoy Plane.

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

 

 

Citations:

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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  6 comments for “A Plane Engineering Feat: Facts, Photos and Film of the Mahanoy Plane

  1. Jim Quirk
    January 11, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    This is very interesting information you’ve assembled. Some of the pictures are new to me, but the film trumps everything. I’m assuming all of it was filmed in the area, but I guess we’ll never know for sure. To actually see moving images of what the Mahanoy Plane looked like back in the day is something I never thought possible. Wow! This is truly a great day for me. Thanks for doing all the hard work it took to find all this stuff and posting it for everyone to see.

    Like

    • January 12, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      Hi Jim,
      Thank you. So glad that you enjoyed the film and the post. Are you from Mahanoy Plane?

      Like

  2. February 4, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I am beyond thrilled to see all these photos of Mahanoy Plane during a time when my grandparents would have been young and living somewhere in the town. I had no idea all these pictures were available….Bye the time I moved from Lost Creek to Mahanoy Plane in 1951, most of the buildings near the railroad tracks no longer existed. In fact, I don’t recognize any buildings at all that are near the railroad. I do remember visiting my grandmother on the Main Street during the 1940s and there were often railroad noises echoing through the town but by 1951, the town was quiet…..It’s interesting to see what the mountain looked like before the strip mining began and ripped into the mountainside. People still managed to carve out a narrow path up to Frackville though…..Thank you so much for all your hard work in setting up this site. I’m sure it will be happily viewed and saved by many people. Grace (Murphy) Mile, Lewes, DE

    Like

    • February 4, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      Hi Grace,
      Glad that you appreciate the photos. My father was from Mahanoy Plane and many of my cousins are from there. I never saw the mountain before strip mining. Did you?

      Like

  3. William McGinn
    August 12, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for a look into the past.I used to walk up the plane to go swimming at the Frackville pool.
    My son did a report when he attended Cardinal Brennan. Complete with video on the plane.
    You can still see the cables and the railroad ties from that time. Great times.

    Like

  4. Sally Miller Scharadin
    March 30, 2017 at 12:42 am

    WOW!!! Thank you so much for the fabulous trip of The Mahanoy Plane. My Dad’s family were miners from Mahanoy Plane. Have been very interested in it for quite some time but never thought I’d have the privilege of seeing this. So very grateful for all the hard work. Sally Miller Scharadin

    Like

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