The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

clearing sky

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

While scuttling across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge recently, enroute to a Newtown Creek Alliance meeting featuring a presentation by the DEC’s head oil spill man -Randall Austin, this fellow was observed hard at work by one unused to such exertion. As a zoom lens was already affixed to my camera, I decided to see what might be captured, and realized that I knew almost nothing about the process of welding.

Of course, what I do know about is Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. This is often done by melting the workpieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material (the weld pool) that cools to become a strong joint, with pressure sometimes used in conjunction with heat, or by itself, to produce the weld. This is in contrast with soldering and brazing, which involve melting a lower-melting-point material between the workpieces to form a bond between them, without melting the workpieces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a basic level, I understand the process, but having never undertaken the task- am largely ignorant of its mores. Something I do know of welding, however, it that a welded tank is preferred to a riveted one for bulk storage of petroleum- which was once the industry “standard”.

Incontrovertibly, if one is at Newtown Creek, and the word “Standard” comes up- only one meaning can be gleaned.

from wikipedia

A rivet is a permanent mechanical fastener. Before being installed a rivet consists of a smooth cylindrical shaft with a head on one end. The end opposite the head is called the buck-tail. On installation the rivet is placed in a punched or drilled hole, and the tail is upset, or bucked (i.e., deformed), so that it expands to about 1.5 times the original shaft diameter, holding the rivet in place. To distinguish between the two ends of the rivet, the original head is called the factory head and the deformed end is called the shop head or buck-tail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The facility that this torch bearing fellow was at work in is either the Lukoil or Metro depots, but I’m never certain about the property lines in the petroleum district- and given the generally paranoid atmosphere loosed roughly upon society and caused by the ongoing Terror Wars- it’s probably best not to speculate too long about the subject of whose fence begins or ends and where the property lines are.

What’s more interesting about this spot along Newtown Creek, to me at least, is that this laborer was at work in a very special spot- historically speaking.

from wikipedia

Oil depots are usually situated close to oil refineries or in locations where marine tankers containing products can discharge their cargo. Some depots are attached to pipelines from which they draw their supplies and depots can also be fed by rail, by barge and by road tanker (sometimes known as “bridging”).

Most oil depots have road tankers operating from their grounds and these vehicles transport products to petrol stations or other users.

An oil depot is a comparatively unsophisticated facility in that (in most cases) there is no processing or other transformation on site. The products which reach the depot (from a refinery) are in their final form suitable for delivery to customers. In some cases additives may be injected into products in tanks, but there is usually no manufacturing plant on site. Modern depots comprise the same types of tankage, pipelines and gantries as those in the past and although there is a greater degree of automation on site, there have been few significant changes in depot operational activities over time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This was right across the street from an early (1840) Kerosene refinery- Sone and Fleming, which was later acquired by John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust and transformed into an oil refinery. This facility has been mentioned before, in connection with an armageddon like blaze which Greenpoint suffered through in 1919. Such disasters were fairly common occurrences in the early days of oil refining and storage depots, and often were caused or made worse by weaknesses in petroleum tanks that were defectively riveted.

Today, there are no refineries along the Creek, it’s all about distribution and temporary storage.


TWENTY ACRES OF OIL TANKS ABLAZE; BIG FACTORIES BURN; Flames Cross Newtown Creek from Standard Yards Storing 110,000,000 Gallons of Oil. LOSS RUNS TO MILLIONS Each Fresh Explosion Fills the Sky, as from a Volcano, with Flame and Smoke. 1,200 FIREMEN AT THE SCENE Blaze Spreads for Blocks–Two City Fireboats Catch Fire and Two of Crew Reported Missing. TWENTY ACRES OF OIL TANKS ABLAZE Burned in 1883. Crowd All But Engulfed.

also- check this photo at out, it’s from 1919, showing the fire’s aftermath.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Welded joins are an order of magnitude better than riveted ones in such structures. Owing to my ignorance of this industrial art, a quick check was made with a neighbor who was formerly a member of a steam fitting trade union. He instructs that a perfect weld should look like a series of quarters overlapping each other seamlessly, and that an x-ray spectrum radiological photograph can be inspected to confirm a firm and lasting fit- something which cannot be obtained with rivets.

See, you learn something new every day- here in heart of the Newtown Pentacle- along the loquacious and utterly provocative Newtown Creek..

from 1921’s Welding engineer, Volume 6, courtesy google books


Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming boat tours of Newtown Creek

July 22nd, 2012 NEXT SUNDAY- There are Just a few tickets left, don’t miss out

Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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