The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for March 6th, 2023

Second GAP: Part 1

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

So much fun was had by a humble narrator on a recent unseasonably warm afternoon that it cast a shadow over the rest of my week. As mentioned here in the past, one of the most surprising public facilities in Pittsburgh’s neck of the woods are a network of ‘rail to trail’ paths which snake around the rivers and neighborhoods in the Right Of Way or “ROW” footprints of defunct railroads. One of these liminal spaces that I’m exploring on foot at the moment is called ‘The Great Appalachian Passage’ trail, a path which I could theoretically walk along all the way to Washington D.C. Right now I’m doing it in sections of between two and four miles at a time, thank you very much.

A 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 Monongahela River from the USS Mon Valley Works on the northern side of the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Parking the Mobile Oppression Platform (my Toyota) at a designated parking lot for the GAP in the community of Duquesne, one gathered up his old kit bag and crossed a secondary arterial highway at an incredibly terrifying intersection. There was a light, yeah, but terrifying. Smile, smile, smile.

The GAP in this section is found somewhat inland from the Monongahela River’s shoreline. There’s an entire industrial zone humming away on the side between the path and the water, whereas on the other there are several sets of railroad tracks which all seemed pretty active as I was scuttling through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A pipe yard is one of the many attractions hereabouts. This might be a great spot to get all artsy fartsy sometime. That’s what a humble narrator pondered for a moment, but I kept on moving. There were acres of these pipes stacked neatly.

My goal for the day was to get to the spot I had walked to from the Homestead side and take a look at what sort of photo opportunities existed in the stretch closer to Duquesne. I’m looking for vantage points overlooking the USS Mon Valley Works, in pursuit of gathering cool photos of it from a distance.

I found and subscribed to a great YouTube channel offered by Pittsburgh Photographer Jeffrey Bowser, called “Fort Frick,” which offers several startlingly well done time-lapses of the Mon Valley Works that exploit the sort of ‘POV’s’ which I’m anxious to find. Check out the Fort Frick channel here. I’m a fan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So why the pipes? Seems that US Steel manufactures gas at a nearby plant in Clairton and the pipes carry it over to the furnaces at the Mon Valley Works, or at least that’s what I think is happening. The pipe yard is where they store the old and new ones. I’m probably wrong about something in there, so not sure and ‘dunno.’ What I can tell you is that when a charge of gas goes through those pipes and you’re standing directly under them – it’s disconcerting. That’s basically the Shofar of Hephaestus blowing hydrocarbons right there above your head, all American style.

The sound is something like “floooooomph pufffffassasss” followed by a deep vibration which echoes out of the pipes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not just gas that’s getting pushed towards the steel mill, there’s also high voltage transmission lines snaking out of the hills and pushing current towards the place. It seems that there’s a nuclear generating plant about fifty or so miles west of here, right along the Ohio border.

Duquesne, the community which this pathway is found in, used to have its own blast furnace – at the time the largest on the planet. Its post industrial period, however, started in 1930. Today, Duquesne, like it’s neighbor Braddock across the river deals with a declining population and a whole lot of challenges. Average median income in Duquesne is about 25k a year. AMI indicates the 50% mark, so that means that half of its citizenry survives on far less than that number.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mon Valley Works, which still incorporates Carnegie’s 1875 vintage Edgar Thompson blast furnace into its operations. I knew about the air pollution issues associated with the three surviving steel mills in the Pittsburgh area before moving here., but in person… They burn coal and coke, which produces a significant plume of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Depending on which way the wind is blowing on any given day, you might catch a slight whiff of a rotten egg smell where I live, which is about 10-15 miles from here. For the communities which actually neighbor these plants, it’s a real and ever present problem. Here’s where the emanates of the steel mills are blowing towards today.

Back tomorrow with more from the GAP. Trains! There’ll be trains.

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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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 6, 2023 at 11:15 am

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