The Newtown Pentacle

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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.

hellish import

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Ridgewood, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is taking a short break this week, and you’ll be greeted with single shots when visiting this – your Newtown Pentacle. Trust that I’m out and about gathering new tales to tell and photographs to display.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 24, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Queens, Ridgewood

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veritable ossuary

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It’s National Pie Day, thanks to the American Pie Council, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

People think I’m exaggerating, all the time, about the poison earth surrounding my beloved Creek.

They say it can’t possibly be as horrible as I say it is along the Newtown Creek. Thing is, they’ve never been here during the workday, but instead visited on some nice Saturday in July. To understand the horror of it all, you need to see it, smell it, experience it – personally. That’s why I do my walking tours, but the walking routes I take the public out on are as safe a set of paths as you can possibly scout through the Newtown Creek Industrial Districts. As a note – whenever I’ve got a regulator or political official out with me, I take them to places which are best described as “hell.” I figure that since these officials, and their forebears, are pretty much responsible for letting all of this happen in the first place that they should experience it in toto.

Before I continue… should you decide to come and explore these areas for yourself, I accept zero responsibility or liability for you doing so. I’m telling you point blank, stay away from the borderland of industrial Bushwick and Ridgewood, and the corner of Scott and Randolph in particular. You can easily get hurt, or worse. It’s Mordor up in here, with giant trucks whizzing around, which scare away rodents of unusual size – critters who are oddly used to being out in the daylight. There’s a whole set of rules around here that you aren’t necessarily privy to either. It’s too late for me, but save yourself.

Stay away from the Scott Avenue footbridge zone, yo, this shit’s nasty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Scott Avenue Footbridge pictured above, incidentally, which provides one with an interesting vantage point to observe the area from. It’s a bit like a hunting stand providing an elevated POV in the middle of some savanna. The bridge itself is typical of the Long Island Railroad footbridge model you’ll find all over Queens. A steel and concrete structure that provides pedestrian egress high over one of their train lines. In the case of this particular bridge, which is quite dilapidated I would add, the train tracks it overflies are the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Almost every other time that I’ve stood on this footbridge during the last decade, the New York and Atlantic freight operation has had literally hundreds of rail cars lined up along it – which compose the so called “Garbage Train.” Like all of the sections of North Brooklyn which touch the Newtown Creek, gentrification is under way in Bushwick. Large numbers of people are moving in just a few blocks east of here. Flushing Avenue’s intersection with St. Nichols is just a few blocks east of here – the heart of the “Brooklyn thing” which the real estate guys are so into.

Notably, the real estate guys will sometimes refer to this area as Williamsburg, rather than Bushwick or East Williamsburgh, to prospective clients. Eventually, “Williamsburg” will extend into Nassau County.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little neighborhood of blue collar laborers, however, is rife with hazard for the unwary. As has often been mentioned, the “working guys” have a protocol for handling themselves around heavy equipment and such, and not being privy to its mores makes you quite vulnerable to random accident. For instance – never, NEVER, cross in front of a piece of equipment – whether it truck, forklift, whatever – without stopping and waiting for the operator to acknowledge you and wave you on. Can’t tell you how many people I see just darting in front of construction equipment.

Also, advice offered to everybody crossing Northern Blvd. back in Queens is to stand behind a pole or something while you’re waiting for the light to change. Same thing applies in Queens Plaza, and the western extent of Queens Blvd. which feeds into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a waste transfer station, or twenty, hereabouts. The garbage guys will tell you “it’s got to go somewhere,” and in the case of the Newtown Creek watershed and surrounding industrial districts, about a third of New York City’s garbage comes here every day. Trucks come in full and leave empty, leaving behind tons and tons of construction debris, recyclables, and putrescent waste.

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t seem to get sick that much, almost as if my immune system is all jacked up and running at maximum speed for some reason?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north-west (ish) you’ll notice the everpresent Sapphire Megalith of Long Island City.

One navigates about the Newtown Creek via triangulation of position between the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan, the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, and the Sapphire Megalith in LIC.

To wit – if you want to go the waterfront of the East River in LIC from Ridgewood or Maspeth, find a spot where the Empire State and the Megalith seem to line up and head in that direction. Going to Astoria? Keep the Megalith and Empire State on the left. Williamsburg? Freedom Tower at center with Empire State on your right and the Megalith behind you. When they finish all that horrible construction in LIC, I’ll have to decide on a new landmark, as the megalith won’t be the tallest building in Queens much longer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Close to the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Scott is a NYC Department of Public Works access – or manhole – cover embedded in the sidewalk. DPW is one of the many agencies that were compressed into the DEP back in 1983, and out here in North Brooklyn, DPW was the inheritor of the City of Brooklyn’s 19th century sewerage projects which were all consolidated into the City of Greater New York’s holdings in 1898. It’s an intersecting sewer, which my “understanding of” indicates that below will be found some vault like structure that leads into a big pipe on one side, which is fed by a series of smaller pipes located on the other – but I don’t know that because I haven’t been down there.

The smaller pipes do feed in from upland sources, and in the case of this spot, those sources can be as far away as East New York and Canarsie. That’s something I actually do know since I’ve argued about it with officialdom.

The big pipe empties into the East Branch of the Newtown Creek across the street, at a “the size of a semi truck trailer” open sewer that’s called “Combined Sewer Outfall NC-083.” This CSO pollutes the water here with some 586 million gallons of untreated sewage a year, which is a debatable and out of date number that’s attibutable to official sources. It’s amongst the largest of the 400 CSO’s in the City, just as a note. A major contributor, roughly 20%, to the approximately billion and half gallons of raw sewage that flows into Newtown Creek annually, can be accessed below this hatch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

BPF? A water main cover which is close proximity to the “intersecting sewer” hatch featured above, the “BPF Water” thing torments one such as myself. Does “BP” stand for “Borough President,” and if so, “Borough President” what? Is it “Brooklyn” or something else?

Arghhhhh. Something which I don’t know every detail of around the Creek? I’m a complete failure, and now everybody knows it.

Sometimes, if I didn’t make this “job” of mine up out of thin air, I’d complain about how little I get paid for the sheer angst of not knowing what the legend on some random water main cover means.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tittering laughter was heard, carried by an easterly breeeze, as one approached Metropolitan Avenue.

My theory is that some inhuman thing with a three lobed burning eye – housed in the cupola of a sapphire megalith found miles away – made this sound as it giggled at the frustrations of a humble narrator.

Back tomorrow, with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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distant valley

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Ridgewood has its charms, lord and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I love the esthetics of the section of Ridgewood nearby Fresh Pond Road, which offers block after block of pretty as you please row houses – many of which utilize Kreischer bricks in their street facing facades. I don’t know this neighborhood as well as I’d like to, as it’s quite a hike to walk here from Astoria. Last week, occasion carried me to Ridgewood, where this view was gathered. One plans on spending a bit more time in this section in the coming months, although I’m still a bit uncomfortable in residential areas – preferring the concrete devastations and lonely industrial zones surrounding my beloved Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This kids ride was sitting outside a deli, and it caught my eye. Haven’t seen this goofy Pelican sculpture before, normally you get horses and race cars on these things. One of my local bodega owners on Broadway in Astoria (he’s got one that sports a pink elephant) told me that he splits the earnings with the company that owns the unit 50/50, and that he can expect more than $300 a week from the thing. That’s a lot of quarters.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Street furniture like these kid rides are the sorts of things that the big league historians typically overlook, as the “college boys” prefer to focus in on structures, infrastructure, and demographic patterns. They tend to miss the little stuff in favor of broad swath trends, in my opinion. When, exactly did “penny candy” become surprisingly expensive? When did the Bearclaw disappear from NYC? That’s where I come in. Now, you got a quarter? I want to ride the pelican.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

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