The Newtown Pentacle

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intact copy

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A short aside on the Arthur Kill, and a look at the Goethals Bridge project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last few days, I’ve been describing a day trip to South East Brooklyn, which we’ll return to later on, but for today’s post I want to show you what’s going on at the veritable edge of NYC on the western end of… Staten Island… at the Arthur Kill waterway. That’s the Goethals Bridge construction project you’re looking at, which is another one of the three mega projects involving bridges going on in NYC at the moment.

I was actually “at work” when these shots were captured, conducting a corporate boat excursion for a group that wanted to “see something different” than what you normally get on a harbor cruise. They were all eating lunch on another deck as we passed by the Goethals so I grabbed my camera and got busy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m nowhere near as familiar with Goethals as I am with the Kosciuszcko Bridge over my beloved Newtown Creek,  of course, but I can tell you that the span overflying the water is 672 feet long. With its approaches, which connect Elizabeth, New Jersey (and the NJ Turnpike) to… Staten Island… the structure is actually some 7,109 feet long. It’s 62 feet wide, 135 feet over the Arthur Kill, and carries about 80,000 vehicles a day.

Goethals opened in June of 1928, and along with the nearby Outerbridge Crossing, was the inaugural project for a newly created organization known to modernity as the Port Authority of New and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like several of the depression era bridges in NYC, Goethals has been deemed as being insufficient for the amount of traffic it carries, and it has developed some structural issues over the last century. Port Authority is building a replacement bridge, which will be a cable stay type span. It’s going to be wider, have modern traffic lanes, and incorporate both bicycle and pedestrian access into its design. It’s also meant to be a “smart bridge” which will utilize active sensor technologies to monitor traffic and structural integrity.

The PANYNJ has also left room in their designs for future modifications to the span like adding a rapid transit line. The blue bridge you see just north east of the Goethals is a railroad lift bridge which connects New Jersey’s CSX rail lines to the New York Container Terminal port facility on the… Staten Island… side. It’s called the “Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Railroad Bridge,” for the curious.

The part of… Staten Island… where all this is happening is called “Howland Hook.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Elizabeth, New Jersey side, where the Goethals connects to New Jersey’s “Chemical Coast.” It’s called that for the enormous presence of the petroleum industry in Elizabeth. This area was formerly the property of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

SOCONJ retained the corporate branding of the Standard Oil trust after the Sherman anti trust act was invoked by President Teddy Roosevelt back in 1911. That branding was “S.O.,” which over the course of the 20th century first became “ESSO” and then later became “EXXON.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new Goethals Bridge is meant to be ready for use in 2018, at which point the PANYNJ will begin the demolition project to get rid of the original. The 1928 steel truss cantilever bridge was designed by a fellow named John Alexander Low Waddell, who also designed the nearby Outerbridge Crossing. As a note, Outerbridge Crossing is not called that due to it being the furthest out bridge, as colloquially believed. It’s named for a a guy named Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge, and I’m friends with his grandson Tom.

The Goethals Bridge(s) is named for General George Washington Goethals, superviser of construction for the Panama Canal, and first consulting engineer of the Port Authority of New and New Jersey.

The PANYNJ has a neat website set up for the project which includes live construction webcams, check it out here.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 30, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
DUPBO Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

nervous overstrain

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Maritime Sunday drifts into port again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A “Ro-Ro,” car carriers like Courageous Ace allow a fleet of newly manufactured vehicles to be driven on and off the ship and unloaded without the usage of Gantry or Transfer Cranes, hence “Roll on, Roll off” or “Ro-Ro.”

Radio call sign IMO 9252204, Courageous Ace is 198m long with a 32m beam and has a gross tonnage of 439. In Americanese, that means its 649.606 feet long and 104.987 feet tall, or around one and three quarter football fields long and just under one quarter of a football field high off the water. Why football fields, like horsepower, remain a measurement we all can reference I will never understand. Comparisons follow.

Courageous Ace is just shy of what the Citigroup building in LIC turned horizontal and set afloat would look like, and is approximately the same size as the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago (the office building in the Blues Brothers movie). It’s owned and operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines.


MOL takes a proactive stance in reducing the environmental burden of its vessels as we transport environmental-friendly automobiles that offer improved fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. MOL launched the Courageous Ace in 2003, with a bow that is aerodynamically rounded and beveled along the bow line to help reduce wind resistance. This groundbreaking design results in significant energy savings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Charles D. McAllister was one of two tugs assisting the colossus into its berth in New Jersey. She seemed to be on watch rather than actively towing, perhaps two tugs were required further out, beyond the Narrows. A large vessel like Courageous Ace actually has to deal with cross currents, and its draft requires that it stay in the deep maritime channels maintained by US Army Corps of Engineers and stick to a route proscribed by the Coast Guard.


McALLISTER TOWING is one of the oldest and largest family-owned marine towing and transportation companies in the United States. Founded by Captain James McAllister in 1864 with a single sail lighter, the company has served the maritime community continuously, earning a reputation for unsurpassed excellence. Today, the company operates a balanced and extensive fleet of tugs, barges, and ferries in the major ports on the U.S. East Coast and in Puerto Rico. Captain Brian A. McAllister is the President and a great-grandson of the founder, representing the fourth generation of McAllisters at the helm. Five McAllisters of the fifth generation are also employed by the company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My guess would be that the Ro-Ro had already finished its journey and slowed down sufficiently that using two tugs to move into the dock would have been overkill.


She (Charles D. McAllister) is powered by two Caterpillar 12-D398 Turbo main engines with Lufkin reduction gears at a ratio of 7.14:1 for a rated 1,800 horsepower. She is a twin screw tug, fitted kort nozzles and flanking rudders.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ellen McAlllister was doing all the work, noodling the giant into berth. Shortly after docking and whatever business Homeland Security and Customs required of the ship was accomplished, hundreds of brand new automobiles and trucks would be driven off the ship and into a lot. Some of these vehicles will be loaded onto trains for transport all up and down the Northeast, others onto trucks for more localized delivery. The Ellen McAllister was profiled recently in the NY Times, linked to below.


For two or three or four weeks at a time, the men — and a few women — of this tugboat business live in constant sight of the flashing red light atop the Empire State Building and 1 World Trade Center’s red-and-white sparkle, but they rarely, if ever, set foot in Manhattan. Most of their exposure to the city occurs during the occasional walk from their Staten Island port to the corner store, where they buy lottery tickets.

feverish digging

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Today’s Maritime Sunday post, from Port Newark.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 2013 Working Harbor Schedule is underway, and while attending one of Captain Doswell’s intriguing “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours, the Elizabeth McAllister emerged from the rain and mist. The evening was distinguished by the difficult atmospheric conditions, which obliterated the lighting effects of the setting of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself in the western sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather was actually ridiculous, with heavy fog and rain lashing through it, accompanying unseasonably low temperatures. Hardship for land lubbers, that is, because NY Harbor keeps working no matter what nature throws at it. Sailors are used to this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Elizabeth McAllister was launched the same yeur that I was, in 1967, but unlike me- she has changed her name a few times. The always brilliant site has a great work up on her that details her birth, a 1988 calamity, and chronicles the tugs career.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tug was headed over to the RORO cargo ship Freedom Ace to assist the larger vessel’s transit through the narrow Kill Van Kull. The Maritime Sunday shout out this week is sent to the cast and crew of Elizabeth McAllister, and mention should be made that if you too would like to see scenes like this one- get onboard with the Working Harbor Committee.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

grin horribly

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prurient thrills and visual stimulation help to attenuate the shocking reality of my daily existence, a non ending series of humiliating but overwhelmingly dull events. Referring to the biblical quotation, your humble narrator is neither hot nor cold, and is instead merely lukewarm. Unlike the stout seamen and union workers who staff the gargantuan cargo docks of Port Elizabeth Newark, it is my lot to always disappoint and or fail those who count upon me.

Sometimes the burden is overwhelming.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were gathered upon a trip produced but he Working Harbor Committee, and are notable simply because they depict the Gantry Cranes and ship loading action at night. This is fairly typical for the workers of the port, a twenty four hour operation which keeps the wheels of commerce spinning here at the heart of the Megalopolis. There is always something making its way here which needs tending, a juggernaut of consumer goods and foodstuffs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The agenda of the powerful and elite is one that we all must follow, or so I am told by those closer to the source of all things. Therefore, untold fortunes will soon be spent to rearrange this bridge to accommodate the needs of these dock facilities, which will further it’s role as an economic engine. Said monies, of course, will be gathered from or passed onto the populace at large. The docks serve this populace, it is in their best interest, I am told.

The message of this Maritime Sunday is a tepid one, as stated above. It’s not good, nor bad. It just is.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

Project Firebox 53

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rounding out the distinctly New Jersey oriented series of posts this week, captured during a day trip which ended in Bayonne, is a Project Firebox. Kevin Walsh and I both spotted this alarm box at the same time, which evinced an “oooohh” from your humble narrator and a sharp intake of breath from the webmaster of Forgotten-NY. This is a fairly early Gamewell Telegraph Alarm Box, which still seems to be employed.

from wikipedia

In 1855, John Gamewell of South Carolina purchased regional rights to market the fire alarm telegraph, later obtaining the patents and full rights to the system in 1859. John F. Kennard bought the patents from the government after they were seized after the Civil War, returned them to Gamewell, and formed a partnership, Kennard and Co., in 1867 to manufacture the alarm systems. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. was later formed in 1879. Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities by 1886 and 500 cities in 1890. By 1910, Gamewell had gained a 95% market share.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that you’ve seen a Gamewell is a bit like saying that you’ve seen a Ford or a Chevy, of course, as the Massachusetts Company has dominated the market for well more than a century. Still, running across one of these on the street in such a totally random manner is what this blog is all about. Our little party began to madly photograph the thing, which no doubt caused the local Bayonnicans no small amount of puzzlement.

from 1914’s Report on the city of Bayonne, N.J., By National Board of Fire Underwriters. Committee on Fire Prevention and Engineering Standards. -courtesy google books

Of automatic type and Gamewell make, installed in 1907, and includes the following: An 18-circuit protector-board, arranged for 10 fire alarm circuits and 8 police signaling circuits; a 10-circuit battery charging board for the police system; a 10-circuit fire alarm battery charging board, with the usual testing and charging devices; a 7-circuit non-interfering automatic repeater; a punch register for registering all alarms, connected to a box circuit; a stop clock; a non-interfering break-wheel transmitter with a wheel for each box number and each assigned number, and a J4-K. W. motor-generator for charging storage batteries. A motor-generator is held in reserve in the storeroom. Switchboards are marble on wooden mountings. A gong and pen register on a direct line from the A. D. T. office in Jersey City is located in the hall adjoining the operating room. The department telephone switchboard is in the operating room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, there is a large collectors market for this sort of device, largely driven by former firefighters who wish to preserve them as historical artifacts.


In today’s world, the only company still manufacturing telegraph fire alarm boxes is the Gamewell Company, owned by Honeywell, Inc. While no one is purchasing new complete telegraph fire alarm systems, there are some towns that still add to their existing systems. Thus, there is still a need for Gamewell to produce these boxes.

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