The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

ceaseless mazes

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

While wandering about near the former Phelps Dodge property at the Newtown Creek, a juggernaut was observed as it hurtled along on standard gauge.

from wikipedia

There is an urban legend that Julius Caesar specified a legal width for chariots at the width of standard gauge, causing road ruts at that width, so all later wagons had to have the same width or else risk having one set of wheels suddenly fall into one deep rut but not the other.

In fact, the origins of the standard gauge considerably pre-date the Roman Empire, and may even pre-date the invention of the wheel. The width of prehistoric vehicles was determined by a number of interacting factors which gave rise to a fairly standard vehicle width of a little under 2 metres (6.6 ft). These factors have changed little over the millennia, and are still reflected in today’s motor vehicles. Road rutting was common in early roads, even with stone pavements. The initial impetus for the ruts probably came from the grooves made by sleds and slide cars dragged over the surfaces of ancient trackways. Since early carts had no steering and no brakes, negotiating hills and curves was dangerous, and cutting ruts into the stone helped them negotiate the hazardous parts of the roads.

Neolithic wheeled carts found in Europe had gauges varying from 130 to 175 centimetres (4 ft 3 in to 5 ft 9 in). By the Bronze age, wheel gauges appeared to have stabilized between 140 to 145 centimetres (4 ft 7 in to 4 ft 9 in) which was attributed to a tradition in ancient technology which was perpetuated throughout European history. The ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks constructed roads with artificial wheelruts cut in rock spaced the wheelspan of an ordinary carriage. Such ancient stone rutways connected major cities with sacred sites, such as Athens to Eleusis, Sparta to Ayklia, or Elis to Olympia. The gauge of these stone grooves was 138 to 144 centimetres (4 ft 6 in to 4 ft 9 in). The largest number of preserved stone trackways, over 150, are found on Malta.

Some of these ancient stone rutways were very ambitious. Around 600 BC the citizens of ancient Corinth constructed the Diolkos, which some consider the world’s first railway, a granite road with grooved tracks along which large wooden flatbed cars carrying ships and their cargo were pulled by slaves or draft animals. The space between the grooved tracks in the granite was a consistent 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in).

The Roman Empire actually made less use of stone trackways than the prior Greek civilization because the Roman roads were much better than those of previous civilizations. However, there is evidence that the Romans used a more or less consistent wheel gauge adopted from the Greeks throughout Europe, and brought it to England with the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. After the Roman departure from Britain, this more-or-less standard gauge continued in use, so the wheel gauge of animal drawn vehicles in 19th century Britain was 1.4 to 1.5 metres (4 ft 7 in to 4 ft 10 in). In 1814 George Stephenson copied the gauge of British coal wagons in his area (about 1.42 metres (4 ft 8 in)) for his new locomotive, and for technical reasons widened it slightly to achieve the modern railway standard gauge of 1.435 metres (4 ft 8.5 in).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thrumming, the juggernaut was witnessed crossing beneath the relict corrosion of the estimable Kosciuszko Bridge. Certain sources reveal that the bewildering and unstoppable mechanism was constructed during the bicentennial of the nation, and served as a motive engine for passenger travel (as part of the Long Island Railroad) before entering its present occupation as a freight hauler.

from wikipedia

The New York and Atlantic Railway (NY&A) (reporting mark NYA) is a short line railroad formed in 1997 to provide freight service over the tracks of the Long Island Rail Road, a public commuter rail agency which had decided to privatize its freight operations. NY&A operates exclusively on Long Island, New York and is connected to the mainland via the Hell Gate Bridge and a car float – the New York Cross Harbor Railroad – from Brooklyn to New Jersey. Lumber, building products, scrap metal, construction & demolition debris, bio-diesel fuel, food, beer, gravel, propane, chemicals, structural steel, plastics and recyclable cardboard/paper are NYA’s main traffic. Occasionally, NYA transports utility poles and electrical transformers to the LIPA facility in Hicksville, which has its own spurs. NYA also moves municipal solid waste in sealed containers on COFC trains.

Some NYA customers are located off-line, and make use of NYA’s team tracks to receive or ship products. Team tracks are located in Bay Ridge, Hicksville, Huntington, Greenlawn, St. James, Islip, Richmond Hill, Maspeth, Speonk, Medford, Yaphank, Southold and elsewhere on the Long Island Rail Road lines which NYA serves. Most of NYA’s customers have their own spurs, making the use of team tracks unnecessary.

Other occasional products shipped to Long Island via the NYA is bentonite and rock salt. The LIRR and the NYCTA both receive new passenger equipment via the NYA, and ship out old, retired equipment for scrapping by way of the NYA.The NY&A officially took over Long Island Rail Road’s freight operations on May 11, 1997. The initial franchise was for 20 years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are some who can describe this vast agglutination of engineered and finely tuned machinery in excruciating detail, and discuss exactitudes and certain notable exceptions to its operation. Your humble narrator, however, firmly pronounces ignorance of the deeper mysteries which surround and inform the world of the “railfan“.

I may spot the occasional train, but I am not a “trainspotter“. The good folks at trainsarefun.com are though, and they offer this photo from 1974 as well as tremendous insight to the rich history of these tracks.

from wikipedia

An EMD GP38-2 is a four-axle diesel-electric locomotive of the road switcher type built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division. Part of the EMD Dash 2 line, the GP38-2 was an upgraded version of the earlier GP38. Power was provided by an EMD 645E 16-cylinder engine, which generated 2000 horsepower (1.5 MW).

The GP38-2 differs externally from the earlier GP38 only in minor details. There is a cooling water level sight glass on the right side of the hood, and the battery box covers are bolted down, instead of hinged. It can be distinguished from the contemporary GP39-2 and GP40-2 in that its Roots blown engine had two exhaust stacks, one each side of the dynamic brake fan if fitted, while the turbocharged GP39-2 and GP40-2 has a single stack. The GP39-2 has two radiator fans on the rear of the long hood like the GP38-2, however the GP40-2 has three. It was also available with either a high short hood, which is common on Norfolk Southern units, or a low short hood, which is common on most other railroads.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 6, 2010 at 12:15 am

One Response

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  1. […] that remains here now is industry, and a somewhat relict rail line. When the construction on the new Kosciuszko Bridge (thrice damned) begins, the long and cold […]


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