The Newtown Pentacle

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Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in November, two of my pals from Newtown Creek Alliance – Willis and Gil – got it into their heads to organize a street end cleanup at the Borden Avenue street end in Queens’ Long Island City section. This allowed me to bust their balls by calling the duo “Gillis” for the day, so win. Luckily, the NYC DEP wanted to help and they arranged for a series of dumpsters to be trucked in to support the effort. About 50 people showed up to perform the labor, including a decent number of teenagers. One of those teens dug the creepy baby doll pictured above out of the poison loam surrounding this distaff tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek.

For the whole set of shots from the effort, wherein you’ll be able to witness the astounding four dumpsters worth of junk that the community gathered during the day, click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The group’s labor came to an end when a magnificent band of thunderstorms blew through LIC. The high flying Queens Midtown Expressway, whose steel truss roadway hangs some 106 feet over Dutch Kills, provided us with some shelter, but everyone was huddled up against the sides of trucks and wooden fence panels to avoid the horizontal rain. A massive amount of water poured out of the atmosphere, but as is the case with such weather, it was all over in about a half hour.

That’s when we heard a rushing/roaring sound.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Found alongside the Borden Avenue street end is a storm sewer which empties into Dutch Kills. This particular one drains a couple of large industrial properties as well as a couple of streets and a section of the aforementioned Queens Midtown Expressway section of the Long Island Expressway. Thousands of gallons of storm water were ploughing out of the pipe and discharging into the waterway.

What fun.


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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.

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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!


“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.

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Bulkhead collapse at Dutch Kills! 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, these are shots from my iPhone (which I had to use instead of the usual DSLR for a variety of reasons). Secondly, my intention yesterday was to just wander around LIC for a while while it was still foggy, set up the tripod here and there and get busy with the camera. Walking down 29th street (between 47th avenue and 49th/Hunters Point Avenue), you’re able to spy the turning basin of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and this is part of my regular route around the area. 

When I got to 29th street, however, I found this scene. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometime between last Saturday and yesterday (Wednesday the 12th) a not insignificant stretch of the bulk head collapsed into the water. Those trees used to be at street level, and from the look of it, when the debris fell in the water it displaced a long abandoned fuel barge from the spot it’s been in for a decade or two. The barge is now riding up against an adjacent building on one side, and a second sunken fuel barge on another. It’s been pushed several yards from its former resting place, in the direction of the center of the channel. 

As a note, this is the second bulk head collapse on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek watershed in recent years, with the other occurring not too far away at the Vernon Avenue Street end. Disturbing portent, no?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, when encountering some profound alteration to the Newtown Creek watershed, I rang up my colleague Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. He happened to be nearby, and we both puzzled over who to speak to about this situation. Two pronged, we decided, and got busy with the photos. Willis reached out to a few contacts whom he knew had regency over the spot (29th street is not a NYC street at all, it’s in fact a “railroad access road” owned by the LIRR) and I contacted Jimmy Van Bramer’s office, hoping they might be able to figure out what to do about this. 

Saying that, I’m a bit concerned about hydrological undermining on 29th street now, which a lot of very heavy trucks use regularly. Disturbing subsidences indeed. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Nana nana nana, Batboat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, Sunday last, my pals at Newtown Creek Alliance and NYC Audubon set up an event which would see a group of three dozen Brooklyn bat enthusiasts climb into canoes at dusk and ply the lugubrious waters of the Newtown Creek in search of urban bats. How, I ask, could a humble narrator not want to come along?

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was in one the two gigantic canoes maintained by the North Brooklyn Boat Club for such endeavors, and since I make great ballast, was sitting up front in the bow of the thing. All told, we had seven canoes out on the water.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Audubon people were all geared up with electronic bat detectors (ultrasonic microphone doohickeys) and other frammistats. Bat experts were on hand to answer questions, and copies of “Bat International” magazines offered.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I know what you’re thinking here, but at the 520 Kingsland Avenue Green Roof nearby the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, they’ve got bat detecting equipment installed and have – in fact – detected bats.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator was onboard mainly for the opportunity to shoot some shots from the water at night. Our original plan was to head into Dutch Kills and bat hunt there, but an unusually high tide precluded that option so we headed down the main channel for a couple of miles. No need to go to the gym on Monday for the bat crowd, as rowing is great cardio.

Bat Boat!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the end we didn’t see or ultrasonically detect any bats, for which the bat experts offered several reasons. It’s my belief that, just like everybody else in NYC during the last week of August, the bats were probably on vacation and taking advantage of the coming Labor Day weekend to extend their time off.

Bat Boat!


Tours and Events


Canal to Coast: Reuniting the Waters Boat Tour. Only $5!
Thurs, August 30, 2018, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM with Waterfront Alliance

Learn about the origins of Brooklyn’s Erie Basin as the Erie Canal’s ultimate destination, and its current role as a vital resource for maritime industry on this guided tour of Red Hook’s Erie Basin and the Brooklyn working waterfront, departing from and returning to New York Water Taxi’s Red Hook Dock. Tickets here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 29, 2018 at 11:00 am

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Announcing two free boat tours, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Saturday is the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, and with NY Waterways, the folks at WA have given me the opportunity to bring two boat loads worth of people to the fabulous Newtown Creek. The tours are free (there is a $5 registration fee during ticketing) and will be 90 minutes long. There’s a ten a.m. and a twelve p.m. tour, both of which will include a fully narrated history of the East River and the Newtown Creek. Navigational issues and timing dictate that we are going to be visiting the first half of the Creek only, which is as far as the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge roughly one and a half miles from the mouth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ticketing links for the tours (as well as a couple of other offerings I’ve got going this weekend) are at the bottom of this post. Sights you’ll see up close from the water include the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, SimsMetal Recycling, Allocco Recycling, the Pulaski and Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, and the coastlines of Long Island City and Greenpoint. The East River section seen and discussed will be the equivalent stretch from Manhattan’s Pier 11 (Wall Street) to 23rd street. That gives you Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Come with? My colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – is going to be sharing the microphone duty with me on the Newtown Creek, exploring the meaning and manifestations of our “Reveal, Restore, Revitalize” motto at Newtown Creek Alliance.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – City of Water Day Newtown Creek Boat Tours – with Waterfront Alliance, NY Waterways, and Newtown Creek Alliance.

As part of the Waterfront Alliance’s “City of Water Day” event, I’ll be conducting two free 90 minute boat tours heading to Newtown Creek, leaving from Pier 11 in Manhattan. We won’t be visiting the entire Newtown Creek, as a note, due to time constraints and navigational issues, but we will get a good mile and a half of it in.

Tickets and more details

Ten a.m. departure here.
Twelve p.m. departure here.

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


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