How does one go from laboring deep in the earth to designing technology that’s capable of powering missiles into space? Al Kashner of Elizabethtown did just that and says tenacity, hard work and a love of what he was doing helped him to accomplish his second act … with a few detours along the way.

After sustaining a serious injury while working in a coal mine, Al Kashner furthered his education, went to work for AMP and then co-founded Advanced Conversion Technology (ACT), which is now based in Middletown.

Al, who was born in 1934, was raised in Sagon, near Shamokin. Mining was in his blood – three generations of his family before him worked in the mines. According to Al, “It may go back even further than that.”

Being the eldest son of Clarence “Mooch” Kashner, an independent miner and owner of Kashner Coal Company, it was expected that Al would one day become a part of his father’s business.

Al’s mining mementos include a miner’s canary cage, which was used to provide warning of the presence of toxic gases like carbon monoxide and methane. Canaries were known to be more sensitive than both humans and other animals such as mice. They would show visible distress and sway on their perches in the presence of low concentrations of carbon monoxide before toppling over.

Mooch was well known in the Pennsylvania mining industry. In 1957, he was named president of the Independent Miners Breakermen and Truckers Association of Shamokin. He was influential enough to be appointed state mine inspector by Gov. William Scranton in 1965. A book has been written about him, Mooch’s Memories, by Kathy Vetovich, Al’s niece. He was also profiled in many magazine and newspaper articles during his 52-year career. Miners trapped underground waiting for help were documented to have said, “I hope Mooch is heading our rescue mission.” When he retired in 1981, it was clear no one knew more about mining than Mooch. Al knew he had big shoes to fill!

As a high school student, Al elected to take a vo-tech course in electronics and drafting. He was wise enough to recognize this technology was coming into focus and thought it would be interesting to learn. But, he knew in reality he would go directly into mining after high school, just as his family members did before him.

The view from inside a mine.

So, in 1952, after working for a short time in Philadelphia for a company that recycled Army tanks, Al went to work at the Kashner Coal Company. He remembers being a healthy and strapping young man back then and says, “There was nothing about mining I didn’t like or couldn’t handle.”

Unfortunately, a few years after joining the family business, the mine closed due to “taking on” water. By this time, Al was married with several children and being aware of his responsibilities, he took a truck-driving job that saw him deliver kitchen cabinets all over the eastern U.S.

Al didn’t like being separated from his family for long stretches, so he ended up back in the mines working for The West Cameron Coal Company. During his tenure with West Cameron, Al sustained a life-altering leg injury that would change his life forever. Al jokes, “It was the best ‘break’ of my life.”

A miner’s safety lamp was designed to shield the naked flame from potentially explosive mixtures of methane and oxygen.

After five months of wearing a hip-to-ankle cast, and following six months of therapy, it was clear Al would need to prepare for a new career. With his high school courses in electronics and drafting to his credit, he enrolled at Williamsport Technical Institute (now part of Pennsylvania College of Technology) to further his education.

Al says, “It was tough competing for good grades with kids almost half my age.” Still living in Shamokin, he would leave home early on Mondays and head for Williamsport, where he drove school buses and attended classes in-between shifts. On Fridays, he would return home to spend the weekend with his family and repeat it all over again the following Monday. He did this for two years until he graduated from WTI.

Al was then hired by AMP, Inc. in Elizabethtown as an electronics draftsman, designing power supplies. He moved his family to Elizabethtown; by now he and his wife, Mary, had five children.

After 16 years with AMP, the company decided to phase out its power-supply line, citing it was no longer profitable to produce. Recognizing an opportunity, Al, along with six other forward-thinking, resourceful men who also worked at AMP (Louis Reis, Meade Bierly, George Richards, Charles Fendrich, Paul Wilcox and Robert Kirker), decided to form their own company. In 1981, the seven men opened Advanced Conversion Technology (ACT) in Elizabethtown.

Al’s niece, Kathy Vetovich, wrote a book about his father, Clarence “Mooch” Kashner, whose mining tools and other artifacts can be seen at the Anthracite Mining Museum at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysberg.

ACT grew at a steady rate, making it necessary to relocate to a site that could house all their operations under one roof. The move took ACT to the Middletown area.

ACT’s sophisticated technology is helping to keep America and American interests around the world safe. For example, ACT’s military-grade power supplies power helicopters (Black Hawk and Apache), ground vehicles (HIRE, Warrior and HUMVEE), shipboards (Trident subs), missiles (Patriot, Hawk and Sidewinder), helmets and laser designators. ACT’s products can also be found in the air (UAV, F-18, NAV-FLIR, F-14, F-15).

The ornamental cutouts were made by ACT to represent the role the company plays in keeping members of the military safe.

At 84, Al is retired but remains an owner of ACT. Now, he devotes his time to following his favorite sports teams. “I love all sports,” he shares. But, he admits he has a special place in his heart for football, naming Notre Dame and the Philadelphia Eagles as his favorite teams. He’s held Eagles season tickets for more than 42 years.

He also enjoys visiting the Anthracite Mining Museum at Knoebels Amusement Resort, where his father’s extensive collection of mining tools and artifacts can be found. The museum was once featured on the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum.

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  1. Would you be willing to part with the lamp? I have about 20 Khoelers and 30 or so carbides. I have maps, drills, etc. It would be an honor to have your lamp part of a collection.