The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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uncanny noise

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I got to ride on a New York and Atlantic Freight Train!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the New York and Atlantic’s newest ride – Engine 400. Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge my pal David Silver and his encyclopedic knowledge of all things rail for pointing me in the right direction on the original make and model of this particular locomotive engine. Originally built in 1966 for the B&O railroad, this model GP40 locomotive’s original configuration offered some 3,000 HP.

NY&A has recently (2018) had the thing rebuilt at Knoxville Locomotive Works to bring it in line with modern day Tier 4 emissions standards. It lost 700 HP in the conversion, it seems, but NY&A operates on fairly level terrain (by rail standards) in NYC and Nassau and Suffolk Counties. NY&A are a private company contracted by the Long Island Railroad to handle their freight duties, as a note.

Also as a note, I’ve actually photographed this unit before, at night in Maspeth at the Haberman tracks in March of 2019. Check that out here.

from wikipedia

The GP40 is a 4-axle diesel-electric road-switcher locomotive built by General Motors, Electro-Motive Division between November 1965 and December 1971. It has an EMD 645E3 16-cylinder engine generating 3,000 hp (2,240 kW).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ride itself was offered by NY&A, the Waste Management Company, and the North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. A small group of invitees assembled at Waste Management’s Brooklyn waste transfer station on Varick Street, and there were three opportunities to ride on the thing along the Bushwick Branch tracks leading through East Williamsburg into Ridgewood and then Maspeth. I rode it twice, sitting out the middle trip so I could get shots of the thing coming and going.

This was actually pretty exciting for me, since my oft repeated “I don’t trespass” stance has often found a humble narrator staring wistfully at some trackway which I was dying to explore. Today’s post is proof of my pudding that eventually I will get to go where I want, in the company of the people who own the thing, and that I will be able to publish the photos publicly. A number of the officers of NY&A were onboard, notably the NY&A’s president James Bonner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hampering the efficiency of the line are the multiple “at grade” street crossings which the route follows. There are no signal arms or even flashing lights and bells to warn motorists or pedestrians or even – god forbid… bicyclists – that the train is about to cross the street along this section of the route. Procedure dictates that the conductor (apparently that’s what you call the guy, even though there’s usually no passengers) gets off the train and walks ahead of the engine, stopping approaching traffic the NYC way – standing in the middle of the street and waving his arms around.

James Bonner told me that this situation is something that the company is trying to fix with some haste, but for now the train moves through this section of the Creeklands at the limited speed which a conductor can walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train carried us roughly a mile into Queens and then reversed back towards the Varick Street location. A humble narrator got quite busy with the camera on this trip. Most of what I shot were pretty boring photos, which were recorded in a simple documentarian manner depicting and detailing the otherwise forbidden rail tracks. During the excursion, I was allowed to walk around on the engine’s catwalks. There were a couple of other photographers along for the trip, as a note. Assemblyman Joe Lentol of Greenpoint was onboard as well, along with other notables from Brooklyn. At one point, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Sanitation showed up and she made a speech.

The notables were riding in a little caboose at the back of the train set. I rode in the caboose on the last ride of the day, but during the first trip I was on the locomotive section. In between the two, there was a “slug,” which I’m told acts as a purely mechanical augment to the locomotive engine providing additional tractive effort assistance and extra braking capability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineer driving the train was a pretty good humored fellow, but I never did catch his name. He was seated at a console offering multiple digital indicators and gauges. I don’t have room for what the console looked like in this post, but if you want to get an idea of it – check out this photo of the setup over at flickr.

Of course I had to be a jackass at least once during the trip, and while standing on the engine’s catwalk at a street grade crossing in Maspeth, I spotted an attractive woman waiting for the train to pass. I shouted out “hey, what do you think of my ride?” to her, and she smiled and then winked her eye at me. It was probably just the sun, or dust, or a seizure, but I’m holding on to it being a wink – thank you very much. I’ve still got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train returned to the Waste Management facility at Varick Street, where bags of NY&A shwag were waiting for us. I got a neat baseball hat with a NY&A logo on it, and a pen with a logo too. Just behind the train, you’ll notice a fence line with some green material affixed to it. Right on the other side of that bridge is the loathsome terminus of the Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary, some 3.8 miles from the East River. The water is crossed by, and the Bushwick Branch tracks are mounted upon, the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge, which is roughly 3.7 miles from the East River.

I don’t come back here very often – remember that “I don’t trespass” thing? Also, this is a pretty far walk from Astoria. Saying that, check English Kills and the Montrose Avenue Bridge out at night in this 2019 post, during the day in this 2017 one, and for more on the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch tracks click through and all the way back to a simpler time in this 2012 post.

What a week I had!


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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.

when shouldst

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So what’s with all the weird stuff this last week?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ten years ago this week, a humble narrator was pooping his pants out of nervousness and anticipation, as the Queensboro Bridge Centennial event was about to play out and I was transitioning from being a passive participant to becoming one of the people at the front of the line talking to the crowd. My pal Bernie Ente has dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the spotlight for this event. He asked me, roughly a decade ago today, what website I intended to tell “the audience” to visit. On May 29 of 2009, a purely text post was offered titled “what is the Newtown Pentacle,” which was followed by a couple of staccato postings. I like to think that I’ve stayed true to the outline in that post, despite being carried far afield by opportunity. Everywhere I go is someplace that the Newtown Creek has led me to.

What I consider to be the actual “first” post at Newtown Pentacle was offered on June 3rd of 2009. That was 2, 275 posts ago.

I began hanging around with the Working Harbor Committee, and with Newtown Creek Alliance. The first time Captain John Doswell handed me the Circle Line microphone on a boat tour I stuttered and sputtered, but the Captain had faith in me and with some coaching I developed into a fairly decent narrator.

NCA believed in me too, and we began doing walking tours around the Creek. Atlas Obscura started up in Greenpoint about that time, and soon I found myself working with them as a paid guide and event host. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve brought to Newtown Creek, or out on a boat tour of NY Harbor at this point. There’s been literally tens of thousands; including college students, professional urban planners, activist organizations, environmental officialdom, and most importantly – ordinary New Yorkers. There’s also been dozens of classroom lectures, but that’s a different banana. I’ve published two paper books – “Newtown Creek, for the vulgarly curious” and a recent photo book “In the shadows at Newtown Creek.”

Ten years later, I’m a steering committee member at Working Harbor and I just joined the board of the Newtown Creek Alliance. I was also invited to join Astoria’s Community Board 1 quite recently.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle has been visited more than half million times in the last decade, and my Flickr account has seen nearly six million views. I’ve been profiled in dozens of news reports in the last decade, most notably in a NY Times piece back in 2012. When I say “google me,” I’m not kidding or being vainglorious. I’ve made some great friends who are engaged in similar pursuits to mine, like Kevin Walsh from Forgotten-NY, Nate Kensinger from Curbed, Joseph Alexiou from the Gowanus community. I’ve lost some great friends too; Bernie Ente, John Doswell, John Skelson. Our Lady of the Pentacle (my wife Cat), and my buddy Mai Armstrong, have been with me every step of the way and none of what’s happened to me over the last decade would have gone as well as it did without their counsel and help. I also have to tip my hat to some of my NCA peeps who have always been in my corner – Mike Heimbinder, Katie Schmidt, Kate Zidar, Will Elkins, and Lisa Bloodgood. Another person of note is WHC’s Meg Black, who has handed me the mike more times than I can count on boat tours of Port Newark and Kill Van Kull. Oddly enough, some of the other friends I’ve made are in elected office here in LIC, notably Cathy Nolan and Jimmy Van Bramer. It’s an honor to know and interact with all of you fine folks, and thank you for tolerating the presence of this bellicose kid from Brooklyn in your lives.

I’ve made some great enemies as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, why all the reflection and the bizarre POV stuff that’s been presented this last week? Short answer is that I’ve been holding that stuff back, editorially, for a while and just wanted to give myself a little freedom this week – get it off my chest, as it were.

What’s next? Good question, that.

There’s going to be a few changes coming, notably I’m going to be figuring out how to excise all those annoying ads which WordPress has been inserting into my posts of late. I’m also going to be opening up a few new channels as we move through the summer and into the fall, evolving things as it were. Ultimately, I’m going to continue trying to answer the one great question, which is the only question which matters.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


“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

May 31, 2019 at 1:30 pm

vital nature

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Engine 400? New toys at NY&A?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, after a series of puzzling moments over on the Newtown Creek side of industrial Maspeth, a humble narrator decided to begin the journey back to HQ and headed northwards. Often have I described how ridiculous I look when I’m out night scuttling – as the usual filthy lack raincoat has a yellow reflective vest draped over it. In addition, I’ve got the tripod, camera, and a knapsack full of camera stuff. I’m the lone pedestrian you see when driving down the truck routes and waterfront edges, and it’s not unknown for me to walk for hours at night around the Creek without seeing another living soul. Not Monday.

Just as I got to a particular intersection near a certain burnt out diner that I used to frequent, a New York and Atlantic train set rolled by on a spur of the Lower Montauk tracks. I asked one of the crew who was working the signals if he anticipated that the train old be coming back anytime soon and he indicated that it indeed would be. I inquired as to a safe spot to stand and shoot from that wouldn’t interfere with their operations, and in the zone indicated I found a relatively photogenic spot, and began to set up for my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of Maspeth was once like Chicago, with lots and lots of rail customers amongst the industrial powers back here. These days, there’s still industrial freight clientele around these parts, but the rail spurs (secondary tracks) that serve these businesses are largely inaccessible without straight up trespassing through all sorts of property – government, private, you name it. While I was waiting for the train to return, a van with MTA branding on it pulled up next to me and the two Cops inside inquired as to what I was up to. “Nothing sinister, I assure you” was my reply. I explained my purpose, identified myself without being asked, and offered the two badges a short history lesson about the Long Island Railroad in Maspeth and described my night photography project to them. They said “no problem” and explained they had to inquire as it looked odd seeing someone take pictures in the dark around the properties they patrol. They drove off and the train rolled in. Not a problem.

I offered part of the above missive to some friends on Facebook, and was surprised at their sentiments towards the cops. Speaking strictly as someone who expresses his First Ammendment rights regularly, I full throatedly say that I bloody well want the cops inquiring when they see some weirdo in a black raincoat and safety vest standing near a rail line in the middle of the night with a tripod setup in NYC. They didn’t interfere with me, or even get out of the van, just were asking what was up and why I was there. As a counterpoint, the MTA’s Security Guard/Rent A Cops at the nearby Grand Avenue Bus Depot are aggressive and have chastised and interfered with photographers – including me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NY& A folks had seemingly visited another customer on a hidden spur found to the west of the intersection. The signal arms went up and I crossed the tracks over to the north side of the street. The signal arms triggered again and I got into position for one last shot as they descended.

So, I’m going to be conducting a free walk in LIC on the 30th of March, it would seem. The Sunnyside Yards project has roared back to life in the aftermath of the Amazon debacle, and since the Manhattan people are going to all sorts of effort to get this thing done… Click here for details on the “Skillman Corridor” walk.


“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.

stalking shadows

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Doom… doom… doom…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So last week, I attended the NYC EDC’s soirée at LaGuardia Community College regarding their Sunnyside Yards Project. It was your standard “visioning” operation with poster board setup stations. You were supposed to progress from one to the next, deliver input, and then receive what turned out to be a really tasty plate of food. Pretty standard stuff for the non profit/public benefit organization industrial complex. The EDC were thrilled with the turnout, with their social media trumpeting vast support for the project and a turnout in the hundreds. They had to set up a line for entry. All the usual faces from LIC and Astoria were present, including a humble narrator. At every visioning station, the first question I asked the facilitator was “Where do you live”? The answer was never “Queens.”

In reality, the Building Trades Council organized a huge turnout by organized labor groups, which is how the EDC achieved that boast of “hundreds turned out for.” The place actually looked like a cast reunion for the Sopranos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EDC folks focused conversation on the imagined benefits to the communities surrounding the Sunnsyide Yards which their project would bring. They never mention the noise, tumult, and vastly increased flow of heavy truck traffic that a 24/7 multiple decade long project like this would bring along with it.

Don’t forget, the whole point of decking the 183 square acre property is that of a “land grab” with the intention of making it available for politically connected real estate developers to exploit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Decking the Sunnyside Yards is a centuried goal of the Manhattan people. It defeated Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller, and Michael Bloomberg. The vain glory of the our current Mayor states that his administration can do this. Notably, the EDC and City Hall neglect to mention how we’d pay for this, although I’m sure terms like “value capture” will be bandied about.

The cost of the deck alone, if they put shovels in the ground today, would likely be $18-20 Billion. That’s money which the City would borrow. If the City was actually in the position to borrow that sort of debt, don’t you think fixing NYCHA would be a slightly higher priority for the self proclaimed “Progressive Mayor”? Funding the Subways? Hospitals? Cops? Bah.


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unforeseen hitch

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One of those days…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

October 29th is one of those days on the calendar when things just seem to happen. In 539 BC, Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and sent the Jews back to their homelands, whereupon they came up with an official version of what we call “The Old Testament.” In 312 AD, fresh off his victory at the Milvian Bridge where he claimed to have seen visions in the sky and swore to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire if he was victorious, Constantine the Great entered Rome as the Emperor of the Roman Empire. In 1390, Paris began holding witch trials, signaling the beginning of a European Witch Panic which would ebb and flow for centuries. Over in Geneva, in 1863, the International Red Cross was formed. In 1914, October 29th is the entry date for the Ottoman Empire into the First World War, and since things went very badly for the Ottomans in that conflict it also happens to be the day that the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.

Closer to home – in 1929, October 29th was a Tuesday, and is known to history as “Black Tuesday” as it’s the start date for the Great Depression. In 2012, October 29th is the day that Hurricane Sandy blew through NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was out and about shortly after the flood waters receded in 2012 (on the 30th), accompanying a pair of scientific researchers who were collecting samples of the muck and mire deposited around the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. The LIRR tracks in LIC, pictured above, were littered with all sorts of junk – including a sizable portion of FreshDirect’s truck fleet. The nearby Queens Midtown Tunnel was literally flooded with water from the Dutch Kills tributary of the Creek, which rose over its banks. Friends who were shepherding maritime vessels in the harbor described the swell from Sandy as being less of a tide and more of sudden rising of sea level. The waters rose vertically, and one of them said that his biggest challenge that night was maintaining a position on the Hudson River which wouldn’t find his vessel grounded on the West Side highway the next morning.

This sort of thing did happen on Staten Island, as a note, and a ship was found sitting somewhere along Richmond Terrace which should have been in the Kill Van Kull.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The MTA proved itself criminally unprepared for an event like Sandy, and the Subway system suffered massive amounts of damage from flooding in the deep.

Personally speaking, Sandy didn’t affect me terribly much, but I’ve always looked at old maps when choosing a place to live and make it a point of living where the Dutch did. The Dutch were, and are, brilliant when it comes to this sort of thing whereas the English speaking world isn’t. I had power and water here in Astoria, but not too far from HQ the Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant and LaGuardia Airport were pretty much put out of business by the coastal flooding for about a week. Our Lady of the Pentacle was away on a trip, which became extended by about three to four days due to not being able to fly home, which made my little dog Zuzu quite pensive.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 29, 2018 at 1:00 pm

apotheosis delayed

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Things to do, here in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Next week promises to be chock full of interesting meetings with Government employees who already know what it is that they want to do, but are obliged by custom and law to at least feign engaging with the public.

The Bicycle fanatics have lately set their sights on Northern Blvd., and since the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) seems to be willing to be led like a mewling lapdog by this small but influential group of paid lobbyists and their Twitter mobs, there’s going to be a public meeting discussing traffic, life, death, and bicycles on Northern Blvd. at 6:30 p.m. on the evening of Monday the 22nd of October at PS 151, the Mary D. Carter School, found at 50-05 31st Ave here in Astoria. #carnage

I’ll be there, since what else do have to do? #nolife

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Tuesday the 23rd of October, the New York State Department of Transportation will be holding a meeting at Sunnyside Community Services, 43-31 39th St, Sunnyside, NY 11104, at 6:00 p.m., to discuss and receive input on the two new parks which they will be constructing in Queens as part of their ongoing Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project. These two properties in question are found on a section of 43rd street which would have been familiar to depression era Yeshiva students, or modern day customers of the Restaurant Depot company, and sit at the veritable border of Blissville and Maspeth. It’s still quite early in the process, concerning the build out of these two parcels, so they’re looking for community input for the design process and are calling the meeting a “charette.” I’m sure you can just show up, but they’re asking for RSVP’s to this email address. #parkland

Similarly to the NYC DOT event, what else do I have to do, so I’ll be there. #ineedahobby

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finally, on October 24th at 6 p.m. at LaGuardia Community College’s atrium of Building E (31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101), the NYC Economic Development Corporation will be holding a public meeting to discuss the quixotic dreams of our Mayor to build the Death Star a deck over the Sunnyside Yards. The Dope from Park Slope himself won’t be there, but he’s sending his chief Gentrification Officer and Deputy Mayor, Alicia Glen, to Queens. They’re asking for RSVP’s and claim that the event is already full up, but I’d suggest that anyone who can should show up and let the Manhattan people know what you it is you think of the idea of the City borrowing $18 billion to build a deck over a rail yard in LIC in order to allow a well connected group of campaign donors and real estate developers the chance to exploit an 183 square acre parcel and move 100,000 people onto it. #landgrab

The so called “man of the people” doesn’t want to borrow $18 billion to fix NYCHA, or MTA, or fund any of the “progressive” stuff he claims he’s all about, I’d point out. He’s perfectly happy to saddle the City tax payers with this debt for us to pay off for decades, however, long after he’s gone on to play his (self designated) rightful role as the king of the lefties. #dontdeckqueens


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dyed aspect

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Sunlight, who needs it, gimme the night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Diurnalism has its benefits, sure. There’s the tan, of course, and the vitamin D production. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself, however, often causes one to “shvitz.” Night time shvitz only occurs during periods of exertion. but the lack of ambient light is a bane for the photographically ambitious. Regardless, the shots captured which I seem to be drawn towards these days involve darkness. I’ve grown bored with dappled morning light and bold sunsets, it is feared.

Besides, night time is when true party animals come out to play.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always night in the sweating concrete bunkers offered by the MTA, which is a good place to practice low light photography. Lighting conditions are fairly uniform, and you’ve got a series of challenges to overcome down below – fast moving shiny things with bright lights moving through sooty black tunnels, weird depths of field, an abundance of signage printed on saturated color boards, and then there’s your fellow New Yorkers you have to contend with. Saying that, if you want to begin to understand low light photography, the relationship of captured color temperature with noise, and exactly how to fine tune your usage of the manual mode of your camera – use your Metrocard and get clicking.

Seriously, the MTA should hold workshops for photo people on the weekends.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While this shot was being captured over by the Sunnyside Yards, a humble narrator was being assaulted by a plague of flies. Must have been something dead in the grassy knoll behind me. I also had to watch out for traffic, as there is no sidewalk on this section, which is one of those Queens things I will never understand.

How can there be no sidewalk on 43rd, a block from Northern Blvd.? Or 58th a block or two from Queens Blvd.? How did you people ever survive here in Queens before I showed up and started complaining about things to anyone who would listen? Sheesh. Growing up in Brooklyn, where “bitching” is weaponized, a sidewalk would have been complained into existence decades ago.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 4, 2018 at 11:00 am

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