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An Iconic Port Reading Historic Site Hangs on by a Thread

You can't miss the McMyler Coal Dumper in Port Reading. Hurricane Irene did major damage to it, and if it doesn't get some help, it may be a goner.

It was the latest in energy technology in 1917. But now the iconic McMyler Coal Dumper - that enormous steel contraption that stands guard on the Port Reading waterfront - is the last of its kind in the New York area.

And because it's been neglected, it's getting to be on its last legs.

Brenda Yori Velasco, a councilwoman who has been trying to get the coal dumper declared as a historic site, said, "Very few people realize what it is, and the role it played in Port Reading history."

The six-story high decaying sentinel on the Arthur Kill served as the eastern terminus of the Reading Railroad, the source from which Port Reading obtained its name. Cars full of coal would be tracked into the coal dumper, then flipped and the coal turned into waiting ships on the water. 

That was how coal was moved into New York Harbor and the waiting areas that needed the energy for the mechanical leviathan that consumed coal when the region was a huge manufacturing port.

The McMyler coal dumper in Port Reading, according to rail histories, used about two dozen men and could dump a load of coal every 2-1/2 minutes.

The town of Port Reading naturally sprang up around the railroad. Yori Velasco, who has a strong interest in local lore, has been delving into an oral history project since 2008 where people from the area recalled what it was like when the railroad was king.

Yori Velasco recalled the stories told in the project. On the coal dumper, "the [railroad] car would have to travel up with the coal, then it'd be dumped with a barge underneath.

"You had to have men operating it, putting the air brake on and putting [the car] back on the track, and they'd have to jump off at just the right time. People mentioned the specific jobs they were involved in," she said.

As one would expect with such a dirty and potentially dangerous job, there were people who were maimed or got killed during the McMyler history in Port Reading.

She recalled one of the oral histories given by Elisa Scutti Gurney, who was 82 in 2009 when she told the tale.

Gurney's father, who was of Italian descent, worked for the Reading Railroad out of Port Reading. One day, when she was 15, a worker from the railroad came to their home - one of the shacks along Port Reading Avenue - with a bloody sock and a shoe, to tell the family that he had been injured.

Gurney's father had given her driving lessons, so in case he were incapacitated, someone in the family would be able to drive. Taking the wheel of a standard shift truck, Gurney rushed her father to Perth Amboy Hospital and helped save his life. 

The McMyler Coal Dumper suffered a severe fire in 1951, but it was repaired and kept operating until it went out of use in 1982.

Since then, the monolithic structure has been steadily deteriorating. In 2004, it was put on a list of the Ten Most Endangered historic sites in the state by Preservation NJ. And last year, the onslaught of Hurricane Irene caused a lot of damage to the structure.

Yori Velasco, who has a picture of the coal dumper she wants to hang in the council chambers, hasn't given up trying to figure out a way to save the coal dumper that was so instrumental in Port Reading's history.

"It's on private property. We have tried to get the historic trust to declare it a historic site. It'd involve a lot of money to move it, and then, where would you put it?" she said.

"We want it recognized for its historic significance."

The McMyler Coal Dumper has fascinated photographers for years. Lots of pictures are on the web, but for some amazing up close pictures, visit the Flicker site of Jeffs4653.

Andy Barcellona March 20, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I grew up in Port Reading and both my dad and myself worked on the railroad. My father's job was to climb the dumper everyday and manually oil it with justy an oil can. It was very dangerous and it had to be done that in all kinds of weather. Their was a time when he fell into one of the cars about to be dumped and would have been crushed if it had not been for a coworker hearing his screams. The only time the dumper was not operating was when the coal in the rail cars was frozen. Then they would be brought into the "heating house" and thawed out. The dumper could handle over 100 cars a day. As you stated the coal was dumped in a waiting barge and then the tug boat would pull it out and go to the power companies like Public Service. It was hard work and mostly started with Italian immigrants. I hope they are able to save it as it was a source of pride for my father to maintain it. Andy Barcellona
Deborah Bell March 20, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Andy, wow! You've got some great stories! Have you done the Oral History Project, or has your father? Let me know if you need Councilwoman Velasco's number (my email is deborah.bell@patch.com.) If you get a chance, do take a look at the pictures in that link at the end of the article. The photographer did a phenomenal job taking very recent pix of the coal dumper.
Terry Sayers September 09, 2012 at 05:27 PM
This Dumper was still in service until spring of 1994. I worked there as a Bargeman/Oiler Quite the place to work at, I was only in my 20's at the time and was fearless. I also had the Oiler Job there like Andy's Father. One of the operators and I would start working at 6 AM (1 hour ahead of everyone else) so that I could spread deicer on the pan in the winter. This kept the damp warm coal from freezing to the pan. Then I had to climb to the top and oil all of the sheave wheels. At the beginning of the shift you had to have someone direct the operator by hand signals because the camera that was on the Barney would be fogged over.


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