The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for January 2023

Lock and Dam too, Allegheny River

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Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 1932 vintage Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 2 (aka Highland Park Lock and Dam) along the Allegheny River drew my interest recently. The St. Patrick’s day flood of 1936 in Pittsburgh, which is part of the same climatological event that drowned nearby Johnstown, resulted in a lot of Federal attention to the rivers surrounding Pittsburgh. The United States Army Corps of Engineers got busy planning a solution after the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938 were passed by Congress. The USACE realized flood control over the Allegheny River after the Kinzua Dam was completed in 1965. Of course, they’ve got three rivers to worry about here (four, actually) and there’s similar USACE infrastructure found on both the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers.

It seems that the USACE design creates about 24 miles of level navigable water on the three rivers, which is referred to as the “Pittsburgh Pool,” and the water level is meant to be some 710 feet above sea level. When a ship navigates into this particular Allegheny River lock, it’s raised or lowered 11 feet from the pool’s altitude depending on direction. There’s a long series of these fixed crest dams and boat locks on the Allegheny River leading all the way back to the Kinzua Dam, which is on the New York side of Pennsylvania’s northern border.

Pennsylvania is wild, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After becoming interested in this sort of infrastructural goodness, I began the usual scouring of Google maps’ satellite views for potential locations from which I could get a look at the thing in action and maybe even set up the tripod for a few “low and slows.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? I mean long exposure, tripod mounted landscape shots, not any of the things you could slot “low and slow” into. Aww, that sounds even worse…

Highland Park Dam Overlook” is what it says this spot is called on Google maps, and after following a Google street view truck’s ride into the area, I decided that this would be the first of several nearby spots where I’d try to find some points of view and maybe the odd natural composition or two.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The furthest out into the water, and the closest clear shot of the Lock and Dam I could get near in this Overlook section, was literally the spot pictured above – on a chunk of what was probably 90 year old concrete sticking out into the Allegheny River. The 1937 vintage bridge in the shot is called the Highland Park Bridge.

I did walk down to the gates of the USACE compound which operates the machinery of the lock, but it was all chain link with barbed wire with security cameras there. I made a mental note to try and charm the pants off of whomever is in charge of this stuff and strive to get some future access for photos from them. I’ve done it before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had to drive a bit of a circuitous route to hit my list of “POV’s,” and since something else that I wanted a look at was found along this route, I diverted away from my lock and dam fever for about an hour. More on that tomorrow.

One arrived at another previously remote scouted location for the point of view above after the diversion. That dark line in the water is a fixed crest dam, a concrete structure in the water column which introduces an 11 foot drop in elevation to the Allegheny River. The USACE maintains a minimum depth of nine feet for the Allegheny, it’s deeper in many places, but that’s a lot of water cascading about.

I had a couple of other locations marked down, including a few other potential points of view on the opposite shoreline. I hopped into the Mobile Oppression Platform and crossed the Highland Park Bridge, heading into the community of Sharpsburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Somebody probably wasn’t supposed to be where he was, while shooting these last two shots. Saying that, the property definitely seemed to be out of business or abandoned, but the former occupants left their “no trespassing” signs behind. That’s my story. I pulled the MOP over, cracked out a couple of shots, and then moved on.

The scouting area I’ve been looking at and writing about, since relocating to Pennsylvania, forms a rough circle with circumference points no further than a 30 minute drive from HQ, which is located about 4.5 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh. Using HQ as the center of that circle, I’ve been exploring triangular “pizza slice” sections of the new surroundings, slice by slice. Nerd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was too far away to get a decent shot of it, but right after this shot, a tug and barge appeared and began to navigate into the lock. Wow.

As mentioned, in yesterday’s post, we’ve had a run of wet and snowy weather here in Pittsburgh for the last week. I know this is shocking news for late January. All the shots you’re seeing in this week’s six picture posts were frenetically gathered in a single day. Whew!

More tomorrow, from the Paris of Appalachia, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 31, 2023 at 11:05 am

Snow, rain, snow

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Monday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The best way to describe the previous week’s weather here in Pittsburgh is simply “last Tuesday was the day it didn’t rain or snow.” Saying that, a humble narrator was busy with mundanities so it wasn’t too much of a deal. One thing I can report to all of you back in Fun City is that I drove over to a local variant of the Department of Motor Vehicles, dubbed as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or “PennDOT Driver’s License Center” to transfer my New York State Driver’s License over to a Pennsylvania one in accordance with local statutes. Based on years of experience with NYS’s best analogue of a Soviet toilet paper distributorship, I figured my DMV or PennDOT experience would be miserable and frustrating.

45 minutes later I was walking to the Mobile Oppression Platform with a freshly printed Pennsylvania driver’s license in my wallet. Just had to fill out a few forms, pay a $36.75 fee, and done. The people working there were nice, helpful, and the process clear.

Y’know, when you’ve been drinking dirty water your whole life and somebody hands you a glass of crystal clear earth juice instead…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hung around HQ during the inclement weather, mostly. A friend from New York was in town on Monday last and I got to spend a bit of time with a familiar face, which was nice. One day, after a particularly heavy wave of precipitation blasted though, the double rainbow pictured above was observed over Dormont, where HQ is now found.

Today’s post breaks format a bit, with a three photo post. Tomorrow, we go back to the usual vulgarity with six shots. As mentioned, the weather has been… well… not fierce, but I’m still not at all used to driving out here on these crazy serpentine roadways with their steep hills and especially so when it’s icy. Take an inch of snow, pour a few hours of rain on it, then drop the temperature below freezing – that’s how you get me to stay home and not drive around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh is actually deficient at this moment, in terms of its annual averages, for snowfall but it has been fairly chilly. It is, after all, January. As you’re reading this, one is likely behind the wheel of the MOP, heading towards the bureaucratic entity that handles car registration and license plate issuance in Pennsylvania. As soon as that bit of business is handled, the entire “escape from New York City” process will have wound down and can be declared accomplished. There’s still a few things to do, notably rebuilding my office workstation which died a few years ago at the start of Covid. I’ve been working off of a fairly underpowered laptop the last couple of years, which has been sufficient but just so.

Tomorrow, I’m taking you along with me on another scouting mission, this one along the Allegheny River. Remember how I said I was “kvelling” to get a look at one of the several lock and dam locations operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers? Well…


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 30, 2023 at 11:30 am

Investigating the GAP, part three

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Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mon Valley Works – Edgar Thomson Plant. That’s what the U.S. Steel outfit calls this steel mill, parts of which date back to 1875 and Andrew Carnegie. It’s where the United States’ first Bessemer Converter was installed, and is a cornerstone of our American story.

Having never witnessed this sort of thing in person before, the Mon Valley Works absolutely blows my mind. Wow. I’ve seen Battleships, and Air Craft Carriers, and mega massive sewer plants, and power generating stations, and petroleum refineries, and waste transfer stations, and port infrastructure – but I’ve never seen anything like this before. Blown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had carried all the gear I use with me onto the Great Allegheny Passage trail, and got busy with the tripod and everything else as soon as a decent point of view of the Mon Valley Works appeared. Next time I visit the GAP, I’m planning on entering the trail from the Duquesne side to explore what you can see from that set of angles.

I’m also going to return to this position for early morning and late afternoon light when it warms up a bit, but I fear that spring and summer will create problems for me due to the vegetation being clad with leaves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even across the Monongahela River, and pretty distant, the Mon Valley Works are loud. Massive fans are at work for the heat exchangers, and the furnaces also are beaming out vibration and sound. The plant is also pumping out a terrific amount of sulfur dioxide, as it runs off coke and coal, so there’s a smell of rotten eggs which is omnipresent in the air.

I’m told that air quality in the Pittsburgh area can be awful, largely because of these coal fired heavy industries. So much so that there’s a website which tracks the plumes of pollutants that the three big steel mills pump into the atmosphere. Prevailing wind and economic geography decide who gets to breathe the stuff in. These steel mills, however, form and produce the building blocks for other industrial sectors, and always have. Somebody always pays the price for “progress.” It’s something to remind yourself about as you consume new manufactured products in the manner of a raging wildfire.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the side of the Monongahela River that the GAP trail follows, you’re a pretty decent distance away from the shoreline. I did a wide shot to illustrate that, and to pass on the advice that if you want to get shots of the plant, bring a zoom lens with a not insignificant range.

As mentioned, those trees are going to block out the view during the warmer months. This was my turnaround point for this walk, as I’d have about another 4 miles to walk to get back to the Mobile Oppression Platform (my nickname for the car) which was parked at the Homestead Pump House. How did I come up with “Mobile Oppression Platform”? First, I owe a debt to the writers of the Futurama cartoon, secondly… have you ever talked to the bicycle people in Queens? Ever heard a car described as a two ton murder machine? I have, and took inspiration from the bellicose posturing they offered. If “two wheels good, four wheels bad” is your motto, I figured I’d give my car a name to piss you off. I’m a Dick like that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s so many things I want to get close up to in the shot above, including the Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam at the right side of the shot. After a disastrous flood in the 1930’s, the USACE installed a series of locks and dams on the rivers leading to Pittsburgh to control the waters. There are multiple USACE lock and dam facilities in the Pittsburgh area which I’m “kvelling” to get closer to.

I packed up my more esoteric gear after this one, reverted back to handheld shooting mode, and started retracing my steps back to the Mobile Oppression Platform in Homestead and my ride back to HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way, I cracked out a few more shots, and was passing by the defunct Carrie Furnace just as the light became a bit kinder. As mentioned in the first of these posts, it was fantastic to walk a fairly long distance again. It’s been a couple of months, what with the move and the setting up of housekeeping and all that, since I’ve had the chance to just scuttle about and see these sort of things.

Next week, something different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2023 at 11:00 am

Investigating the GAP, part two

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described yesterday, one parked the Mobile Oppression Platform at the Homestead Pump House’s parking lot and began a longish walk on the Great Allegheny Passage “rail-to-trail” pathway. Rail to trail is one of the options for what to do with the right of way of a railroad line which is no longer active. In the case of the GAP, the rail bed has seen the ties and actual rails removed and the ground either paved or covered with crushed limestone. It’s an easy walk, due to the grading that the rail engineers employed when laying out these right of ways (ROW), which is essentially a change of one foot in elevation for every hundred feet horizontally. The GAP trail in the Pittsburgh area which I was on starts in Homestead and doesn’t re-emerge onto the streets until you reach the community of Duquesne, which is many miles away.

I had a destination and “turn around point” in mind, for this scouting mission, which was more or less equidistant between Homestead and Duquesne. This trail was thereby fairly easy walking, and there was lots to see along the Monongahela River, which the GAP trail follows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in NYC, I’d often be asked where I’d want to go if time travel were possible. My response is usually “if you stepped out of your time machine into the late 19th century NYC, you’d have a knife slid into you within about 15 minutes.” Here in Pittsburgh, other than dodging freight trains hauling coal and coke at breakneck speeds, you’d have a different time travel problem – breathing. There are still operating steel plants here, but their emissions are a fraction of what would have once been found along the Monongahela Valley. I should mention that the emissions are an ongoing problem, however, and that the U.S. Steel people are often fined for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Mark Twain’s quote about Pittsburgh in 1884 reads “After our show, last night, we visited Mount Washington and took a bird’s eye view of your city by moonlight. With the moon soft and mellow floating in the heavens we sauntered about the mount, and looked down on the lake of fire and flame. It looked like a miniature hell with the lid off. It was a vision. A wonderful vision. It tended to frighten. The view is not as deliciously beautiful as one would suppose. If one can be calm and resolute, he can look upon the picture and still live. Otherwise, your city is a beauty.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About a mile or so onto the trail, an overpass bridge is encountered, one which I’m told was added to the equation when the GAP trail was created. It allows transit over the active freight tracks the GAP follows from Homestead, and on the other side of the thing the trail continues along on an earthen shelf set in along a steep slope.

This bridge was one of the things which drew me in, what a great place to observe and photograph trains from, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Norfolk Southern, like CSX, emerged as a dominant player in American Rail after the Conrail years and was formed out of several smaller operations. Their rolling stock heraldry is black and white, with a horse rearing up in silhouette acting as their logo. They’re pretty active in this region, and others.

There was a train set just sitting and waiting for its engine to show up, which luckily enough happened just as I surmounted the overpass bridge. A couple of workers were flipping the track switches around, and the engine was moving into position to couple with the train set.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One could have stood on that overpass all day, photographing the comings and goings of the rail people. I probably will when the weather is warmer and I’ve packed a lunch. For this scouting mission, however, I still had a fairly decent amount of walking to do before I got to what I was actually seeking.

I haven’t been the same since visiting Braddock and seeing the Mon Valley Works steel plant. A need not unlike hunger demanded that I photograph it, which was a difficult thing to do from the landward side in Braddock. I wanted the river in the shot, as well. The GAP is the first location I’ve found so far that allows for this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I generally scuttle along at a comfortable pace, covering about two and change miles in an hour. Two hours into this walk, I finally arrived where I wanted to be. I had to find spots where the tree line wasn’t occluding my view of the U.S. Steel Mon Valley Works, but that did it take me long.

Tomorrow, the sort of shots I was looking for.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2023 at 11:00 am

Investigating the GAP, part one

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I showed you what the historic Homestead Pump House site on the Monongahela River looked like when bathed in thick fog. Lament was offered regarding the lack of a freight train transiting over the Pinkerton’s Landing or “Pemickey” Rail Bridge.

The Homestead Pump House is one of the trail heads for The Great Allegheny Passage or “GAP” rail to trail system. 150 miles in length, the rail to trail pathway follows several incorporated rights of way once operated by the B&O Railroad, Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad, and the Western Maryland Railway. You could theoretically walk or ride a bike to Washington D.C. on this path, which is paved in asphalt or crushed limestone – depending on where you are – and graded in accordance with the rail standard of one foot of elevation for every hundred feet.

Pictured above, this time around my dreams of a train moving over the bridge came true as a CSX freight train appeared and I was able to get a few shots of its transit across the rail bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Homestead site has a parking lot, one which leads to the actual trail after a short walk on a sidewalk. I did all the remote scouting that was warranted, using Google maps and a few other tools as well as watching a YouTube video offered by some bloke who rode the trail on a bike. One still hasn’t purchased a shuttle craft bike which will accompany me in the cargo area of the Mobile Oppression Platform (that’s the nickname I’ve assigned to my Toyota), and be deployed for hyper local transport.

I don’t really keep track of how many miles I walk. Sometimes, after a walk I’ll check my phone to see how many steps it perceived me as taking on an excursion. If there’s any accuracy to that data, I walked on the trail about 4 miles in and 4 miles back. It was an extremely easy walk, thanks to the pavement and the easy grading in elevation. There were even installed park benches for taking a break along the route, but one of my rules involves not sitting down when you’re out. Keep moving until you’re back where you started.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Active rail tracks are visible for the entire section of the GAP I visited. Defunct gas and rail infrastructure was noticed on the water facing shoreline for a good chunk of this distance, and there was a high volume road at the top of a shallow ridge overlooking the whole shebang. The municipality of Homestead was where I entered the trail, and there were markers here and there letting you know what town you were walking through.

That’s how I learned there’s a place called Munhall in Pennsylvania, those signs. There were actually a fair number of people using the trail for running and bike riding for a weekday afternoon in January. A good proportion of the bike riders were wearing the “outfit” – the helmet with the rear view mirror on it and a polyester bike shirt, stretchy shorts, and those special bicycle shoes. Like I said – the outfit. Most of the bikes were road racers, but I spotted a couple of pedal assist electric ones too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Carrie Furnace Hot Metal Bridge pictured above, I believe. Before you ask – of course I looked, and yes you can, and no it’s probably not ok but there doesn’t seem to be anybody watching, so of course, but no, not this time around. Next time, maybe.

I continued along the GAP trail, scuttling along at a leisurely pace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once you’re a fair bit into the GAP trail, you’re completely separated from the surrounding town and of course – there’s no automobile traffic zipping along at high speeds to worry about.

On a personal note – it’s been a very long time since I’ve had the time to take a very long walk like this one. It felt very good to stretch the legs, kick the heels, and point the toes. Ultimately, this was another scouting expedition. It was mid afternoon, and the light was a ghastly thing to handle. For the ultimate destination I had in mind, this scouting revealed it as an early morning or sunset sort of deal. It’s also a winter thing, as the foliage must obscure all of the cool stuff you can see from this path during the warmer months when the trees are clad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The GAP follows under the Rankin Bridge spanning the Monongahela River. The 1951 bridge has a fairly convoluted history, and it once was used to carry Trolley traffic as well as motor vehicular flow, apparently. There’s a few very nice points of view in this section of the trail that I’m going to return to in the future. For this trip, my main interest was in getting close to the Mon Valley works, and I still had a few miles to walk to get there.

More tomorrow, from the GAP.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2023 at 11:00 am

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