The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for March 18th, 2012

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s Maritime Sunday once again at this, your Newtown Pentacle, and today the focus is on Thornton Towing’s 1600 HP and 1958 vintage “Thornton Bros.” tugboat. Call sign WDD6171, Thornton Bros. is some 25m x 8m in size and has been clocked going as fast as 8 knots.

from wikipedia

Merchant and naval vessels are assigned call signs by their national licensing authorities. In the case of states such as Liberia or Panama, which are flags of convenience for ship registration, call signs for larger vessels consist of the national prefix plus three letters (for example, 3LXY, and sometimes followed by a number, i.e. 3Lxy2). United States merchant vessels are given call signs beginning with the letters “W” or “K” while US naval ships are assigned callsigns beginning with “N”. Originally both ships and broadcast stations were given call signs in this series consisting of three or four letters, but as demand for both marine radio and broadcast call signs grew, gradually American-flagged vessels were given longer call signs with mixed letters and numbers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From what I’ve been able to determine, the actual Thornton Brothers are local boys, although I’ve never met them. The tug Thornton Bros., however, seems to spend a lot of time transporting bulk metals around the harbor. These are the same sort of barges which one often observes at SimsMetal at Newtown Creek, so one might presume that they are part of the “recycling industrial complex”.


Thornton Towing & Transportation is owned by Gerard and Richard Thornton, and Ed Carr; all of whom have spent their entire professional careers working on and around the waters of New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally launched as the John E. Matton, the tug has had a long career and undergone more than one change of ownership. As is maritime custom, each owner has leased the boat with a unique sobriquet, which is detailed by the always reliable folks at in the link below.


Built in 1958, by Matton Shipyard of Cohoes, New York (hull #325) as the John E. Matton.

The Morania Oil Tanker corporation chartered the vessel and eventually purchased her, where she was renamed as the Morania No. 12 .

When Morania phased out their canal fleet and the Morania No. 12 was acquired by Reinauer Transportation of Staten Island, New York where she was renamed as the Cissi Reinauer .

– photo by Mitch Waxman

John Matton was a shipbuilder upstate, located in Cohoes NY. A largely forgotten industrial center, Cohoes was also a center of brick manufacturing and to this day- one can discern thousands of red bricks scattered along the Hudson River shoreline.


The tale begins in 1899. An enterprising boat builder by the name of John E. Matton opened a boat building and repair facility along the enlarged, mule-drawn Champlain Canal about three miles north of the Waterford side-cut. At the time, the ill-fated “$9 million improvement” of New York’s canals was on life support but still limping along against the backdrop of corruption and scandal in Albany. John E. Matton had no reason to expect that he would not be able to work out of his present location for years and years to come.

Just four years later, however, after Theodore Roosevelt had appointed a new commission to chart a future for New York’s canals, the Barge Canal Act was passed by the State Legislature and approved by New York voters. What would this mean for John E. Matton? That his facility would be utterly useless in a matter of years when the new Barge Canal was completed.

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