The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘railroad’ Category

marvels unspeakable

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A possessed train?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, your humble narrator has a somewhat encyclopedic knowledge of the location of every single hole in the fencing surrounding the Sunnyside Yards which is large enough to stick a camera lens through. The Amtrak people patch these lapses all the time, but others will just spontaneously appear. It’s kind of a cat and mouse situation, but given that the Yards sit between HQ and My Beloved Creek, one spends a lot of time walking back and forth past the titan facility and I do so enjoy taking pictures of rolling stock.

One particular chunk of our national railroad infrastructure caught my eye the other day – specifically Amtrak engine 631, which seemed to be possessed or something. It’s actually a bit of newish kit for them, btw. God help me for the fact that I know this.

from wikipedia

The Siemens ACS-64, or Amtrak Cities Sprinter, is an electric locomotive designed by Siemens Mobility for use in the northeastern United States. The first 70 locomotives built are to operate on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the Keystone Corridor, replacing the railroad’s existing fleet of AEM-7 and HHP-8locomotives. The first Amtrak ACS-64 entered service in February 2014; deliveries will last until 2015. SEPTA Regional Rail will receive an additional 13 locomotives for commuter service in 2018.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Notice how its “eyes” seem to glow red with fiendish intent? How the engineering of the thing’s leading edge seems to suggest angry eyes? Imagine having this thing bearing down on you while it was thundering down some lonely trackway in the woods of upstate NY. Something wicked this way comes, indeed.

It would be chilling, I would imagine, having those red demon eyes fix their gaze upon you as it races through the North East Corridor at 125 mph.

from wikipedia

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is an electrified railway line in the Northeast megalopolis of the United States. Owned primarily by Amtrak, it runs from Boston through New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

The corridor is used by many Amtrak trains, including the high-speed Acela Express, intercity trains, and several long-distance trains. Most of the corridor also has frequent commuter rail service, operated by the MBTA, Shore Line East, Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, and MARC. Several companies run freight trains over sections of the NEC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amtrak’s Acela Express engine 2000, in comparison, seems like it would be quite a friendly locomotive, although it’s general outline is somewhat reminiscent of the Toho studios “Kaiju” monster and frequent Godzilla sparring partner that is called Mothra (while still in its larval phase, of course).

from wikipedia

The Acela is certified with a top speed of 165 mph (266 km/h) and reaches a maximum of 150 mph (241 km/h) in regular service. The Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 125 mph (201 km/h) definition of high speed rail. The Acela achieves an average speed (including stops) of 81.7 mph (131 km/h) between Washington and New York, and an average speed of 66.9 mph (108 km/h) from Washington to Boston.[68] The average speed from New York to Boston is a slightly faster 69.8 mph (112 km/h). The average speed for the entire length excluding stops is 84 mph (135 km/h). Its maximum speed limit is 150 mph (241 km/h) on three sections of track totaling 33.9 mi (55 km) in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lamentably, there is a lack of folkloric tale telling about the various light and heavy rail lines that transit through Western Queens. Other parts of the country tell richly ornamented tales about ghost trains and haunted rail cars. Along the Metro North tracks that feed into Manhattan via the Spuyten Duyvel bridge, there are stories of a ghostly steam locomotive, for instance.

You seldom hear tell of a haunted Subway or station, although some describe the appearance of the 7 along the elevated tracks in Sunnyside with hushed voices and describe it with an air of dread expectation.

from wikipedia

On June 13, 1915, the first test train on the IRT Flushing Line ran between Grand Central and Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue, followed by the start of revenue service on June 22. Over the next thirteen years, the line was extended piece by piece to its current form between Times Square and Flushing – Main Street, after the former opened on March 14, 1927. Express service started in 1917. The service on the Flushing Line east of Queensboro Plaza was shared by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation from 1912 to 1949; BMT trains were designated 9, while IRT services were designated 7 on maps only. The 7 designation was assigned to trains since the introduction of the front rollsigns on the R12 in 1948.

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perhaps retreat

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In LIC, the night time is the right time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that I found myself on Hunters Point Avenue in LIC at around 11 p.m. with both Our Lady of the Pentacle and our little dog Zuzu is immaterial. Suffice to say that the whole family was present in the concrete devastations last weekend, and that as we were making our way back to a world less inchoate, called Astoria, Queens was putting on a bit of a show for us down in LIC. The 7 train was rising from the rotting concrete of its subterranean corridors, and riding noisily on the elevated tracks which overfly the Sunnyside Yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As longtime readers will attest, one of my projects for the last couple of years has been to master the art of low light photography sans the use of a camera support like a tripod or portable illumination like flash or battery lights. Tripod shots are awful at capturing a fast moving shot anyway, as the long exposure technique employed with that methodology produces motion blur. There’s something to be said for that, of course, but preparation and set up of the equipment removes all spontaneity from the shot and Queens comes at you “a mile a minute.” In pursuit of this technical goal, I’ve been shooting down in the Subway’s underground system and have developed certain “go to” ratios of exposure and ISO which have proven somewhat reliable in capturing fast moving shiny things as they pass through dark environments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Employment of these techniques in the night time streets of NYC are now underway, and all of the shots in today’s post were captured while Our Lady of the Pentacle and Zuzu patiently waited for me to conclude my incessant recording of the extant world surrounding us.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

public building

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Sunnyside Yard, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody always asks me how I get these shots, or about certain qualities in them. Simple answer is that I’m always experimenting with the camera, and when I come up with some protocol for “how to get this or that” my next move is usually to reverse it and see what happens.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, my friend, practice.

The setting: Recently, an evening meeting carried one up the hill from the elluvial flatlands of Southern Astoria to the heights of the ridge which Sunnyside was built into. Between these two neighborhoods, there’s a former tidal swamp into which the Sunnyside Yard was embedded back in the first decade of the 20th century. Once the largest rail coach yard on earth, the Yard still hosts the busiest rail junction found on the continent, the so called Harold Interlocking. The busy part is due to the frequent passage of Long Island Railroad commuter rail trains, which share the switches and rails with Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conditions: Sunset to the west, which I was going to be shooting right into. The weather was humid, and a bit misty. The point of view is surrounded by steel plated chain link fencing whose purpose is to deny observation of vulnerable infrastructure (I’m told that this fencing was installed during the first decade of the Terror Wars). One such as myself has a vast catalog of fence holes and gaps which are dearly held, and since my meeting in Sunnyside would carry one past an entire series of these occluded viewpoints, a point was made to pocket one of my lenses small enough to fit into while leaving HQ. I also brought some chewing gum, but that’s not important.

My “good lenses,” which are used in particularly high rotation, have a circumference too large for these cracks in the walls around the Sunnyside Yard – so a “decent” lens which has a decidedly smaller diameter was employed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “decent lens” mentioned is the so called “nifty fifty” offered by Canon. It’s far and away my most inexpensive tool, and allows wide open apertures which would make it handy for night time shots but for its persnickety focusing mechanics. The term for what it does, autofocus wise, is called “hunting.” What that means is that it noisily rolls through the range of focus and never quite settles itself into a lock. My usual habit with this sort of thing is to use autofocus to “get it close” and then switch the thing over to manual focus for final adjustment.

The optic formula of the lens also renders things a bit less “contrasty” than I’d like, but you can’t really complain about camera equipment which retails for around a hundred bucks – especially when it fits through fence holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The methodology: For those of you not in the know, as to how cameras and lenses work – a “bright lens” will allow you to operate it at wide apertures (f1.8 in the instance of the nifty fifty). Wide apertures create a tremendous “depth of field” effect, which means that the area which is in focus will appear sharply delineated and everything else will be blurred. Higher aperture settings – the “f-stops” as it were – will create a hyperfocal range in which everything in frame will be sharply defined. The lower the “f-stop” the more light enters the camera, and the higher ones allow less light to get to the sensor. You balance the shot using shutter speed and ISO settings. Night shots and interior spaces require you to use the lens “wide open,” with slow shutter speeds, and higher ISO settings – all of which introduce certain quality issues to the captured image.

The shots in today’s post were consciously captured with the desire to have “everything” in focus, with a minimum of motion blur as well, and to record a full range of color and tone. Difficult to do with the sun behind the scene, and in a setting where everything is made of contrasting reflective surfaces.

My formula was to actually reverse my night shooting protocol on 2/3rds of the exposure triangle, using a very narrow f-stop and fairly fast shutter speed, but with a high ISO setting for tone and color sensitivity (f10, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 800). Sometimes, particularly during the summer, the problem isn’t that there enough light – there’s actually too much of it and some methodology needs to be employed to control it. Experimentation and failure often emanate from screwing around with your normal shooting habits, but sometimes it pays to mix things up a bit.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

perpendicular height

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All around the town, in Today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, a somewhat long standing freelance job writing a bi weekly column about Western Queens at Brownstoner Queens has ended. The parting is amicable, and it was a great experience working with the talented group that produce that website. One has felt a bit overwhelmed producing seven posts a week (5 pentacle + 2 BsQ), and I’m feeling a bit “written out” accordingly. There is some VERY cool stuff in the pipe which I’m working on and a bit of breathing room is required to adequately prepare and present it, which includes quite a bit of “boots on the ground” time out in the field. The 7 posts a week thing has kept me spinning my wheels to service deadlines rather than discovery for a while now, and a desire to return to “long form” and “deep research” posts has been burning in me.

My focus will remain fixed upon Western Queens, and a certain body of water that forms its currently undefended border with Brooklyn, but it’s time for me to take a short break. Next week will be one of those “single shot” series of posts, which are designed to give me a bit of breathing room so as to actually get out there and experience the world rather than just writing about it. I’ve got a few irons in the fire as far as future opportunities, which will be described in the future as they develop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek, obviously, will continue to be my titular focus. A largish project I’m working on, under my official nom de plume as Newtown Creek Alliance historian, will be unveiled in July and August. A full schedule of summer Newtown Creek walking and boat tours is already underway (if you want to get on that boat tour on May 31, buy your tix right now – we are practically full and nearly sold out). There will also be a new industrial East River boat tour which I’ll be one of the narrators for with Working Harbor Committee, and a summer walking tour along the Kill Van Kull on… Staten Island… is also in the works. Just last weekend, I walked members of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce around Calvary Cemetery, and we visited with everyone from Governor Al Smith to Joe Masseria and Esther Ennis.

This weekend, on Saturday, we will be examining Dutch Kills in LIC with Atlas Obscura. Links to ticketing are found below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The big project next week, which necessitates the need for a bit of breathing room, is compliling and condensing all of the information into my notebooks needed for “The Skillman Corridor” walk. This is a brand new walking tour, which will explore the southern boundary of the Sunnyside Yards as it descends from the heights of Sunnyside to the flood plains of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. Long time readers know that this area is “one of my spots” and is particularly dear.

Come with? 

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

unmistakeable facades

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Announcing a new walking tour, the Skillman Corridor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Obscura Day is Atlas Obscura’s global outing, and this year I’m going to be offering a new walking tour that has been in the works for awhile now – The Skillman Avenue Corridor. This will explore the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards, descending from the heights of Sunnyside to the flood plain of the Newtown Creek’s tributary Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, know – Skillman Avenue is one of my “happy hunting grounds” for photographic pursuits. Those of you who share the same obsessions with infrastructure and photography thereof that possess me will find this an immensely satisfying experience. Along the way, the history of Sunnyside Yards and the industrial giants which surround it will be explored.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will also be visiting Dutch Kills next weekend with Atlas Obscura (May 16, see the link below), on the 13 steps tour, which was actually premiered on Obscura Day several years ago. The Skillman Corridor is the first of several new tours which I’m conjuring up that aren’t directly “Newtown Creek” oriented which will occur in LIC, btw.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

golden valley

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Free is free, McGee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my photographer buddies, the notorious John Skelson, emailed me to inform that Chrysler Camera would be performing free camera maintenance and checkups over at BH Photo (I’ve always thought that the BH stands for Beards and Hats, it doesn’t) on 34th street last week. As my rig spends most of its time swinging about in a superfund situation, or out on the brackish waters of NY Harbor, this sounded pretty good to me. Negotiations resulted in a plan for us to meet up over in the shining city from our respective corners of the world at the camera shop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit and curse, one arrived a bit too early and I decided to saunter around the hellish neighborhood surrounding Penn Station and Madison Square Garden for a bit. Hellish? Why, yes it is. This neighborhood has to host one of the largest accumulations of scabby, boil you down to sell you for elements, old school junkies left in in Manhattan. My footsteps carried me, however, over to a largish construction site. While there, I observed an enormous piece of construction equipment at work – which I understand as being called a “beam launcher.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The purpose and operation of this device is explained succinctly in this constructionspecifier.com post, which also offers the story of the various challenges faced by the Real Estate Industrial Complex regarding the exploitation of this parcel of midtown Manhattan at 33rd and 9th. Happily, the endemic junkies and scalliwags who populate the streets here will soon have a brand new and baked in population of office workers and condominium dwellers to prey upon when the project is completed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My viewpoint on the neighborhood surrounding “Beards and Hats” is based on personal experience, incidentally, not out of some dilettante distaste or opinion and it sure as hell ain’t “politically correct.” There are two areas in Midtown where I’m actively looking over my shoulder for fear of getting jumped. The 34th street zone around 9th and 10th, and the 40’s around 11th avenue are well populated with a criminal underclass of indigents, addicts, and good old fashioned criminals. The residential populations of affluent New Yorkers who have been moving into this former industrial zone along the Hudson look upon this group with pitying and sympathetic eyes, and will tell me to “lighten up, they’re just homeless and down on their luck. They just need a helping hand.” If you believe that, then this malign grouping has already made a mark out of you.

In the end, however, my camera came out of its maintenance session clean and shiny and I headed back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, where I belong. Christ almighty, do I hate Manhattan or what?

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

fled unknowingly

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Break time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A single image greets you this morning, as will be the case through the Thanksgiving holiday.

A humble narrator requires a break periodically, to recharge and reinvent. Worry not, however, for pithy commentary and puckish intent returns on the Monday following Thanksgiving – the first of December.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

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