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 Post subject: Former Huber Breaker owner never intended to donate site
PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2014 6:05 am 
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Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 7:16 pm
Posts: 478
Location: Anthracite Region of PA
Former Huber Breaker owner never intended to donate site

By Paul Golias (Correspondent)

Published: April 7, 2014

Al Roman says he never intended to donate the historic Huber Breaker in Ashley to the Huber Breaker Preservation Society.

Instead, Roman hoped to raze the structure and sell the scrap steel, just as the current owners are doing.

His intention to act as a businessman first and not as a philanthropist runs counter to an extended list of efforts he has extended on behalf of his fellow man. He played a role in many major and minor disasters and episodes in Northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite-rich history. He saved lives but he is quick, in some cases, to humbly pass on credit to a higher power.

Roman, 78, of Drums, was interviewed at length in the parking lot outside the fence that surrounded his No. 1 Contracting Co. The 26 acres, the office building and the breaker once were his. He lost it all when No. 1 went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and then Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Eventually, No. 1 was sold through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to Paselo Logistics LLC, of Philadelphia.

Roman has been to the parking lot several times. He sits in his black SUV and looks over the property.

"Are you upset at having lost No. 1?" he is asked.

"No, just angry," he says.

Roman has no kind words for the Bankruptcy Court, the trustee who handled the No. 1 case or the legal system as a whole. He hasn't quit working, either. He now runs No. 1 Contracting LLC, and he is doing work for the Reading & Northern Railroad.

"I'm building bridges," he said.

Roman bought the Huber property in 2000 and almost immediately there was speculation that he would donate the breaker. Ten years earlier, the Huber Breaker Preservation Society had been formed with the goal of saving the breaker and turning it into a living museum.

The dream of those involved - a cast that included political figures on the state level, academics, local business people, anthracite historians and descendants of coal miners - was to turn the breaker into a world-class tribute to miners and their families. An auditorium, a typical company house, restaurants, country store, walking paths, movie theater and artifact-laden museum were on the agenda.

The preservation society never garnered support from then-Congressman Paul Kanjorski. He shunned any overture toward assisting In breaker preservation. The society had hoped for an approach more akin to that of Congressman Joseph McDade who expended tremendous political capital in bringing about the Steamtown National Park in Scranton.

Meanwhile, Roman retained ownership of the breaker and wanted to raze it and sell the steel. He hired the Bianchi Company, which did site cleanup after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center, New York City. But, Roman said, Luzerne County, then under the commission form of government, declared its intent to begin eminent domain proceedings to buy the breaker, hoping to save it.

At the same time, Luzerne County was involved in the Ashley Planes Heritage Park Project, which has a historic link to the breaker. The Ashley Planes was a series of three inclined planes that ran out of Ashley and up the mountain to the east of the community, to Mountain Top.

Built in the 1830s, the 2.1-mile inclined planes operated from 1837 until 1948. Coal mined in Ashley and elsewhere was hauled up the mountain to Solomon's Gap where steam engines took over and hauled the coal south and east. That anthracite fueled much of the nation's industrial revolution, giving tremendous historic significance to the Planes, to the Central Railroad of New Jersey which ran first the Planes and then the Back Track out of Ashley, and to the Huber Breaker and its predecessor, the Maxwell Breaker.

The Planes Heritage Park plan, supported by the Delaware & Lehigh National Corridor, fell apart when Luzerne County, now under the home-rule government and $400 million-plus in debt, pulled out.

"We don't have the ability to support new projects," county Manager Robert Lawton said in May, 2012, as he announced the decision.

Also, Earth Conservancy, which bought much of the former Blue Coal Corp. land out of bankruptcy, was unable to purchase a portion of the Planes owned by The Reading Co.

Roman said he didn't donate the breaker because he felt the preservation group "couldn't handle it." He cited the deteriorating condition of the breaker and adjacent structures and the asbestos in the structures. "It was too dangerous (to convey the property),'' he said.

"They (Paselo) are looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars in asbestos abatement," Roman said. "They have taken all the easy steel off the property." He said the state Department of Environmental Protection will want the chimney, boiler house and silos covered with plastic as they are cleaned of asbestos and demolished, and that will be expensive, $300,000 for the boiler house alone, he said.

Roman went to work for No. 1 Contracting in 1957 and only two years later, he was a pivotal figure in the Knox Mine Disaster response. Roman said it was his idea to push coal hoppers into the swirling void as the Susquehanna River flooded the Knox workings; 12 miners died in that tragedy.

Thousands of tons of rock and earth were dumped into the mine after the Jan. 22, 1959 river breakthrough. Roman said he suggested using coal hoppers which he saw on a siding nearby. "A state official told Lou Pagnotti (owner of No. 1) that I needed a psychiatric evaluation," Roman says in a story that he relishes. "But it worked. The coal cars helped stem the flow."

Roman was at the Shepton Mine south of Hazleton in August, 1963 after a rock fall trapped three miners underground. He said a state official drove a stake into the ground as the site of a six-inch exploratory borehole that was planned in hope of finding the trapped miners.

When an electrical cable could not reach the stake, Roman said, he moved it 62 feet and drilling began there. The first hole hit the pocket underground where miners David Fellin and Henry Throne were entombed. "You gotta' believe someone was helping us," Roman said as he drew a prayer card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from his truck's windshield visor.

Roman built the rescue capsule used to haul Fellin and Throne to the surface through a 21-inch hole drilled with a bit supplied by billionaire Howard Hughes. The third miner, Louis Bova, was never found.

Roman owned a helicopter for about 25 years and he used it to rescue 11 Boy Scouts from a cave in New Jersey, three teenagers from a mine shaft near Pottsville, three miners from a mine tunnel in Morea; two spelunkers from a cave-in near Reading, and a blind man from a stripping hole near McAdoo. He also rescued a woman from an icy lake near the Hazleton Airport.

One of his proudest moments was the transporting of an infant in an incubator during an ice storm. He had several cans of deicer and stopped several times to spray the rotors, he said. Finally, after using the final can, he felt the helicopter shudder as the ice coating cracked and fell away.

"The temperature suddenly went from 27 to 34," Roman said, again taking out his prayer card.

Roman also helped develop the Lackawanna Coal Mine, which takes visitors underground 300 feet into a real coal mine.

Asked why he gave the interview, Roman just shrugged. But he wanted it known that his disaster work and 196 trips hauling men and women and children to hospitals represented the life of someone who cared.

"I'm gonna keep going," Roman said. A U.S. Bureau of Mines commendation of Roman included his oft-used phrase, "It's not over yet."

Roman and his wife, Anna, have two sons. Al is an engineer and resides in Olney, and Jimmy is a contractor living in Florida.

Roman was accompanied during the first interview by Hank Rodegherio of Yatesville, a master mechanic for No. 1.

Scott K
"Watch Your Top"

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