The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Investigating the GAP, part two

with 2 comments


– 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 Rail to trail is one of the options for what to do with the right of way of a railroad line which is no longer active.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.

“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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 26, 2023 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] of weeks ago, the Great Allegheny Passage’s trail in Homestead was discussed – part 1, part 2, part […]

  2. […] while back, I offered several posts (Part one, Part Two, Part Three) from the section of the GAP stretching from Homestead to a point directly across the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: