The early 1900s, the sheer amount of coal needed for industry and other applications around the NYC and NJ area got inventors and industrialists thinking. Supplying the area with coal was no easy task, as it had to be unloaded from train cars and reloaded into barges, which would sail for wherever the coal was needed. Eventually, someone got to thinking about how to make this process faster and easier, and in 1917, the McMyler Coal Unloader was built on the shores of Arthur Kill in NJ. The way that this coal unloader went about its job was extraordinary: a loaded train car would be lifted into the air and flipped over, dumping the coal into a funnel, which would pour it into a waiting barge. It was only operated by 12 men, and could unload a railway car every 2.5 minutes. The Unloader was so efficient and timely that all other coal unloaders in the area were shut down. The McMyler Coal Unloader continued to faithfully supply coal to the industries of the NY/NJ area until its closure in 1983. Now its rusty hulk still stands tall, way out on the end of a crumbling concrete pier.
It was a long walk down the pier where the Coal Unloader stands. I finally reached the base of the towering structure, unstuck the thorny vines from my pants, and entered the machine room.
The machine room’s floor was covered with coal dust and flakes of rusty metal. There were multiple massive wheels, which i believe turned to pull the train car up and dump it out. It’s hard to imagine the amount of power and the sheer size and strength of machines needed to lift a train car off the ground. The machine room was lacking any kind of controls, and the stairs to the operator’s box had been removed.
Sadly, even though this structure was built to last, strong winds from the multiple hurricanes that have hit the northeast recently have caused multiple parts of the loader to collapse. I can only hope that someone with the know-how and funding can save this piece of America’s industrial history before it collapses into Arthur Kill.