The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for May 9th, 2023

Old McDonald

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now that the weather has turned to Spring here in Western Pennsylvania, one has resumed his long scuttles. I’ve had a few fantastic walks in the downtown area where the three rivers convergence occurs, but as I’ve told anyone who will listen – the network of ‘rail to trails’ public spaces here in Pittsburgh are absolutely fantastic.

I drove the Mobile Oppression Platform (the Toyota) from HQ to a town about 30 minutes away from HQ called McDonald. I was heading for the convergence of two former railroad right of way’s which have been converted over to trails – the Panhandle and Montour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rail bridges are incorporated into this rail to trail network, which offers one such as myself the rare opportunity to gain some altitude in an otherwise wooded and somewhat natural environment. When I say ‘somewhat,’ it’s because this entire area is post industrial. This used to be “oil country” back in the early days of the petroleum industry, and the engineers who worked for the rail companies that served the various industries in Pittsburgh did things in an expeditious fashion ‘back in the day.’ If there was a hill or a mountain in the way of your tracks, you’d blow them up with dynamite and use the rubble to fill in the next valley. The term ‘terraforming’ kind of applies.

The McDonald oil field was one of the largest and steadiest producers of petroleum in the United States during the early days of the oil industry, and operated right up until the 1960’s. Supposedly, there’s still productive well heads nearby. The market for 19th and early 20th century crude oil were refineries in the big cities along the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes, and it was shipped by various rail entities until the pipeline shipping method became more common. When the pipelines came along, the rail people began to go bankrupt. One of the pipelines leading eastwards from here went to Queens in NYC, where it fed the Standard Oil (later Mobil) refineries along – you guessed it – that fabulous ribbon of neglect called the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had probably walked a couple of miles beyond the rail bridge on the trail, whereupon an enormous and quite modern truss bridge set upon concrete piers was encountered. Apparently, the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs on the road above, and it’s heading towards the airport here in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t alone at all on this walk. People were riding bikes and jogging, and there were all sorts of very happy looking dogs being walked on the trail as well. Hawks and other predatory birds were twisting around up in the sky looking for luncheon, and all sorts of mammalian critters were observed skittering about.

What made this walk really interesting will be discussed in tomorrow’s post, so be sure to come back to Newtown Pentacle if you want to find out ‘sup.

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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

May 9, 2023 at 11:00 am

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