The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘New York and Atlantic’ Category

repeated combination

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It’s National French Fries Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one was invited to attend an event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Nature Walk last week, and since I was planning on shooting the Kosciuszcko Bridge later in the evening at sunset, a humble narrator hung around for a few minutes taking in the scene at Newtown Creek.

If you haven’t been, the Nature Walk is part of the sewer plant, and is a sculptured public space designed by George Trakas. NYC is under an obligation to spend “1% for art” in all new municipal structures, and the Nature Walk was built as the 1% part. You can access it at the eastern side of Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s a New York and Atlantic Railway switcher locomotive above, crossing Long Island City’s DB Cabin rail bridge – which carries the LIRR’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks – at the mouth of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. New York and Atlantic was moving freight cars between the Wheelspur Yard (to the west) and the Blissville Yard (to the east). New York and Atlantic is the freight contractor for the Long Island Railroad, which owns the tracks and yards of the Lower Montauk Branch, and the extant lead tracks connecting to it like the Bushwick Branch. Their freight service area includes NYC, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties.

There used to be passenger service on the Lower Montauk, but LIRR abandoned service to the stations along the Newtown Creek back in the 1990’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The particular engine seen in today’s post is an EMD MP15AC, the New York and Atlantic 151.

It’s a switcher locomotive, one which used to wear the brand colors of the LIRR. It’s a diesel powered unit, generating about 1,500 horse power and was manufactured by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division sometime between August 1975 and August 1984. Apparently, New York and Atlantic has four of these units.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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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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consequential consistencies

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It does seem to be Creek Week, doesn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I told you about Deadman’s Curve in Maspeth, and we explored 57th avenue – the former “Creek Street.” The shot above looks eastwards towards Deadman’s Curve from the former Penny Bridge LIRR stop at Review Avenue. The water facing property is currently owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who is a major land holder in the Red Hook and Gowanus areas. The property seems to be mainly used for storage and maintenance of heavy construction equipment these days.

As the name of the LIRR stop would imply, this is also the former location of Penny Bridge, which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue to Queens’s Review Avenue. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church used to run a ferry service from Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery which docked nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Review Avenue, the stretch of it that runs along Calvary Cemetery, is where the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States was founded – Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, which would become first the New York Kerosene Gas Light Company and then be acquired by Charles Pratt and Standard Oil and rechristened it as the Queens County Oil Company. Queens County Oil’s bulkheads are the ones that the Blissville Seep oozes petroleum into Newtown Creek from.

If you follow Review to the west, you’ll find the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and a pair of roads which descend downhill on either side of it. They take you to, and from, Railroad Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of railroad avenue was formerly the home of the Van Iderstine company, who had their own rail spur down here which was populated with Van Iderstine’s distinctive black tank cars. As the name of the street – Railroad Avenue – would imply, it’s all about the tracks down here and on the western side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge you’ll find the LIRR’s Bliss Tower and Blissville Yard.

Welcome to DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Van Iderstine was a nightmare of a company, incidentally, or at least their occupation was. They were renderers, which means that pack animals, butcher scrap, rotten eggs, barrels of abattoir blood – even dead circus elephants – would be brought here to be broken down into components. What exited the factory was tallow.

Believe it or not, they weren’t the most ghastly operation along this stretch of the Lower Montauk tracks, just the smelliest. I can tell you stories about the yeast distilleries…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of smelly, the modern occupation of the Blissville Yard is garbage. That’s the Waste Managemnt garbage train you see above, which is shipped around and about by the New York and Atlantic freight line. NY&A services two Waste Managemnt facilities on the Creek – one here in Blissville and the other in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg along Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary.

Something like 30-40% of all of NYC’s putrescent (black bag) waste comes to Newtown Creek to be processed and shipped off in green boxes such as the ones above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Railroad Avenue is one of those cul-de-sac streets along the Creek where there’s only one entrance or exit and which – if you get in trouble or hurt, it’s going to be damned difficult to explain to the 911 operator where you are. At the west end of the street is Sims Metal Management’s Newtown Creek dock, on the east you’ll find Waste Management’s Green Asphalt works, the same company’s putrescent waste transfer station, and the Marlyn industrial park which hosts such luminaries as LeNoble Lumber and A&L Cesspool. Personally, I’d call Sims for help, as they’re closer than any hospital and I know a couple of guys who work there.

This is, incidentally, some of what you’ll find located between Review Avenue, the Lower Montauk tracks, Railroad Avenue, and Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard connects to the DB Cabin railroad bridge, which connects Blissville Yard to the Wheelspur and Hunters Point Yards in Hunters Point, and which crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There’s also a connection to the M Cabin bridge which leads to the abandoned Montauk Cutoff tracks and Sunnyside Yards.

Freight traffic on Newtown Creek heads east into Maspeth and to the Fresh Pond Yard, eventually meeting the switch to the New York Connecting Railroad through Woodside and Astoria, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down towards the end of Railroad Avenue, one encountered this immolated automobile.

As mentioned multitudinous times, I cannot resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car wasn’t just burned up, it was thoroughly incinerated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the sort of stuff you’ll see on Railroad Avenue, here in DUGABO, in the Blissville section of Queens, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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viewless aura

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Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Blissville, for those of you not in the know, is the section of Long Island City which the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge connects to. One refers to this area as DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – as I like to stay ahead of the Real Estate Guys on this sort of thing. DUGABO is an M1 zone, meaning that it is zoned for heavy industry. A couple of blocks to the north, it becomes a “mixed use” zone, and there’s a scattered series of homes and commercial storefronts in the area – a lot of the building stock actually dates back to the 19th century.

The LIRR trackways run along the coast of Newtown Creek, and you’ll find several bits of railroad infrastructure along the shoreline. In focus today, the Blissville Yard, which has found new occupation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard is a series of trackways designed for storage of rolling stock. It connects to the Hunters Point tracks via a rail bridge that crosses Dutch Kills, and there used to be a connection to the Sunnyside Yards and the Degnon terminal railway spurs via the Montauk Cutoff which is no longer an active track. The modern use of the Blissville Yard is governed by the New York and Atlantic company, which is a private corporation that handles freight services for the Long Island Railroad. If you see a black and emerald colored engine operating along the LIRR tracks, that’s them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too long ago, the Waste Management company, which enjoys a profitable relationship with NYC’s Department of Sanitation, opened a new facility on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek. Waste Management handles the exit from our municipality of the putrescent or “black bag” garbage collected by the municipal DSNY. The company has been operating for several years out of an enormous facility on Varick Street in what should be called Bushwick, but is referred to in modernity as East Williamsburg.

At Varick Street, Waste Management and New York and Atlantic operate the so called “garbage train” along the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR. Now, in Queens, they are operating another garbage train out of the Blissville Yard and the newish Review Avenue Waste Transfer Station – which is across the street from Calvary Cemetery. Those green box cars in the shot above?

That’s the Garbage Train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUGABO proper, the street where you’ll find the at grade crossings for the garbage train is appropriately called Railroad Avenue. To the west, you’ll find the Blissville Yard and the SimsMetal company. SimsMetal handles the recyclable materials collected by DSNY and others. To the east, you’ll find other new arrivals (new as in the last decade, which isn’t even yesterday to “historian me”) like Waste Managements “Green Asphalt” facility.

This little roadway alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge has become a locus point for heavy trucks, literally thousands of heavy trucks loaded down with garbage, on a daily basis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The putrescent waste is processed at Waste Management, and loaded into these green boxes, which are then positioned onto rail cars. The garbage train(s) proceed eastward to the Fresh Pond yard. From Fresh Pond, they begin a long and circuitous journey which sees them leave Long Island via the Hell Gate Bridge and head north through the the Bronx via the Owls Head yard. Leaving NYC, they head most of the way to Albany, where another rail bridge allows them to cross the Hudson and enter the continent. Where they go after that seems to be a state secret, although I’ve been told that there are a series of tapped out coal mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia which are gradually being filled back up.

Future archaeologists are going to love us, I tell you.

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decreasing wind

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Foaming, your humble narrator was scuttling his way to Brooklyn recently when sonic evidence of certain titanic exertions, whose only source could be a locomotive engine at work, penetrated through my ever present head phones.

On this particular afternoon, nearby the so called “Bliss Tower” along those tracks of the Long Island Railroad which snake along beneath the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in a nameless section of Queens, once known as Blissville but which I describe as DUGABO, it was a NY and Atlantic freight operation which was raising the ruckus.

from anacostia.com

New York & Atlantic Railway began operation in May 1997 of the privatized concession to operate freight trains on the lines owned by Long Island Rail Road. The railway serves a diverse customer base and shares track with the densest passenger system in the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My headphones were not playing Norwegian Black Metal, nor late 80’s NYC Hardcore. They were not transmitting one of my many H.P. Lovecraft audio books, the soundtrack from the first Omen movie, or any of my usual playlists of childish anthems and guitar driven ballads.

Instead, the audio files I was enthralled by were podcasts, specifically Dan Carlin’s “Wrath of the Khans” series, which is presented episodically at his Hardcore History show.

If you’re not listening to Dan, you’re missing out.

from wikipedia

There is an urban legend that Julius Caesar specified a legal width for chariots at the width of standard gauge, causing road ruts at that width, so all later wagons had to have the same width or else risk having one set of wheels suddenly fall into one deep rut but not the other.

In fact, the origins of the standard gauge considerably pre-date the Roman Empire, and may even pre-date the invention of the wheel. The width of prehistoric vehicles was determined by a number of interacting factors which gave rise to a fairly standard vehicle width of a little under 2 metres (6.6 ft). These factors have changed little over the millennia, and are still reflected in today’s motor vehicles. Road rutting was common in early roads, even with stone pavements. The initial impetus for the ruts probably came from the grooves made by sleds and slide cars dragged over the surfaces of ancient trackways. Since early carts had no steering and no brakes, negotiating hills and curves was dangerous, and cutting ruts into the stone helped them negotiate the hazardous parts of the roads.

Neolithic wheeled carts found in Europe had gauges varying from 130 to 175 centimetres (4 ft 3 in to 5 ft 9 in). By the Bronze age, wheel gauges appeared to have stabilized between 140 to 145 centimetres (4 ft 7 in to 4 ft 9 in) which was attributed to a tradition in ancient technology which was perpetuated throughout European history. The ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks constructed roads with artificial wheelruts cut in rock spaced the wheelspan of an ordinary carriage. Such ancient stone rutways connected major cities with sacred sites, such as Athens to Eleusis, Sparta to Ayklia, or Elis to Olympia. The gauge of these stone grooves was 138 to 144 centimetres (4 ft 6 in to 4 ft 9 in). The largest number of preserved stone trackways, over 150, are found on Malta.

Some of these ancient stone rutways were very ambitious. Around 600 BC the citizens of ancient Corinth constructed the Diolkos, which some consider the world’s first railway, a granite road with grooved tracks along which large wooden flatbed cars carrying ships and their cargo were pulled by slaves or draft animals. The space between the grooved tracks in the granite was a consistent 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in).

The Roman Empire actually made less use of stone trackways than the prior Greek civilization because the Roman roads were much better than those of previous civilizations. However, there is evidence that the Romans used a more or less consistent wheel gauge adopted from the Greeks throughout Europe, and brought it to England with the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43. After the Roman departure from Britain, this more-or-less standard gauge continued in use, so the wheel gauge of animal drawn vehicles in 19th century Britain was 1.4 to 1.5 metres (4 ft 7 in to 4 ft 10 in). In 1814 George Stephenson copied the gauge of British coal wagons in his area (about 1.42 metres (4 ft 8 in)) for his new locomotive, and for technical reasons widened it slightly to achieve the modern railway standard gauge of 1.435 metres (4 ft 8.5 in).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, the media I consume is not something I think people would be interested in, at least that’s been my experience in real life. A recent conversation with Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY fame, wherein that intrepid explorer queried me about where to find some of these Lovecraft audio files which are so often mentioned, forced me to reconsider that maxim. Accordingly, since its a holiday weekend and you might have some free time, here you go.

The Atlanta Radio Theater Company is great. The website… their stuff is available as mp3’s at itunes and others, so go hunt them down.

The astounding H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

ARTC made a better Dunwich, by my taste, but HPLHS did both “Mountains of Madness” and “Shadow Out of TIme” better and they made a freaking “Call of Cthulhu” silent movie as well as the unbelievably great “Whisperer in Darkness” film. Dark Adventure Radio Theatre just rocks.

Huge talents, a podcast performed by two of its associates is HPPodcraft.com.

Incidentally, just like the LIRR Engine 102 featured in yesterday’s post, today’s NY&A engine is an EMD SW1001.

from wikipedia

The EMD SW1001 was a 1,000-horsepower (750 kW) diesel locomotive for industrial switching service built by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division between September 1968 and June 1986. A total of 230 examples were constructed, mainly for North American railroads and industrial operations.

The SW1001 was developed because EMD’s SW1000 model had proved unpopular among industrial railroad customers, as the heights of its walkway and cab eaves were much greater than those of earlier EMD switcher models. The overall height was similar, but the SW1000′s roof was much flatter in curvature. Industrial railroads that only operated switchers often had facilities designed to the proportions of EMD’s earlier switchers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gold standard, the best of the best unabridged readings are from Audiorealms, featuring narrator Wayne June. Flat out readings of the Lovecraft Texts by professional voice talent in a studio. Genre defining, these are commercial works which really deserve support. Buy em, highest Mitch Waxman ratings- lengthy, mellifluous, well worth the hard slaved money. Six volumes, covering all the really good stuff. I think I got them through iTunes, although audible.com has them for sale.

The unmentionable Jeffry Combs reads “Herbert West Re-Animator.”

Additional mentions for theatrical productions of “Call of Cthulhu” and “Lurking Fear,” pro recordings from “back in the day,” when audio books were released on things called “audio cassettes.” Check out lovecraftzine.com for a list of free downloads which includes these two gems.

Archive.org is hosting Maria Lectrix‘s readings of “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.“ Free, and open sourced, go get em. Poke around at archive.org, by the way. This isn’t the only Lovecraft audio there- look for “Herbert West: Reanimator” and others.

from nyc.gov

Greenpoint Avenue is a four-lane local street in Queens and Brooklyn, running northeast from the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Roosevelt Avenue in Sunnyside, Queens. The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, also known as the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge, is located approximately 2.2 km from the mouth of Newtown Creek. The bridge is situated between Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Review Avenue in the Blissville section of Queens.

darkness and silence

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, a humble narrator has been spending some time and effort in pursuit of filling in a lack of nocturnal photographs in my library of Newtown Creek shots. While in the midst of this on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, just last week, I heard the bells and whistles signaling the approach of a NY & Atlantic freight train.

The thing kind of snuck up on me, as my headphones were actively pumping out a carefully selected playlist of mid-career Motörhead. Lemmy Kilmeister, you must understand, is far louder than any mere locomotive.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are the sort of “night shots” which I’m trying not to get. High ISO, selectively focused, and overly grainy- all of which was actually unavoidable. Simply put, if you’re “hand holding” the camera and it’s dark, one must open the lens up- losing deep focus- and increase the “ISO sensitivity” of the camera, which introduces grain. Ideally, you’ve got the thing on a tripod, which I didn’t.

My other camera was set up with specialized night gear, but there was no way to get it set it up in time when surprised by the sudden appearance of the train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Out came my dslr, and with the help of a fortuitously placed hole in the fence of the GPA Bridge, the camera could be steadied and these shots were gained. This is probably not a terribly exciting tale to relate, but every photographer will understand my frustrations. Digital cameras are a technology still in infancy, and the form factor and capabilities of the things are still influenced by the shape and metaphor of older devices which used chemical emulsions (film) for recording.

One is reminded of 1960’s and 70’s televisions built into cabinetry it shared with “hi-fi” stereos, or clock radios. When will we forget the metaphor of a film camera and allow these devices to flower into their own?

approaching locomotive

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Morgan Avenue in the ancient section of industrial Brooklyn, not far from the legendary heart of darkness which is the English Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek, there may be observed a rail crossing. Part of the so called LIRR Bushwick Branch, recent opportunities have allowed me to fill in a missing piece of the great puzzle.

from wikipedia

The Bushwick Branch, also called the Bushwick Lead Track, is a freight railroad branch that runs from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Fresh Pond Junction in Queens, New York, where it connects with the Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road. It is owned by the LIRR but operated under lease by the New York and Atlantic Railway, which took over LIRR freight operations in May 1997.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By no means should it be inferred that any special knowledge of the history of street grade rail in Brooklyn is possessed by your humble narrator, as this is still a subject under study around Newtown Pentacle HQ. If you were to look left (or south west) while on Morgan Avenue and traveling northward, this is what you’d see, way back here in the Cripplebush.

from wikipedia

East Williamsburg is a name for the area in the northwestern portion of the borough of Brooklyn in New York City, United States, which lies between Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. Much of this area has been and still is referred to as either Bushwick, Williamsburg, or Greenpoint with the term East Williamsburg falling out of use until the 1990s. East Williamsburg consists roughly of what was the 3rd District of the Village of Williamsburg and what is now called the East Williamsburg In-Place Industrial Park (EWIPIP), bounded by the neighborhoods of Northside and Southside Williamsburg to the west, Greenpoint to the north, Bushwick to the south and southeast, and both Maspeth and Ridgewood in Queens to the east.

Although the City of New York recognizes East Williamsburg as a neighborhood, there are no official boundaries to East Williamsburg since the City only officially delineates Community Districts and Boroughs, not neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking right, or north east, you’ll see what appears to be a locomotive right of way that terminates at a distant green wall. The Bushwick line has been explored by many others who are braver of heart than I, including Diego Cupolo and Forgotten-NY’s own Kevin Walsh. There’s a missing piece in their accounts (which to be fair, has been off limits to inspection by passerby for some time), however, which recent serendipity allows me to bring to you.

This is, after all, part of Newtown Creek.

from The Eastern District of Brooklyn By Eugene L. Armbruster, via google books

BEYOND THE NEWTOWN CREEK

In the olden times the lands on both sides of Newtown Creek were most intimately connected. County lines were unknown, the creeks were dividing lines between the several plantations, for the reason that lands near a creek were taken up in preference to others, and the creeks were used in place of roads to transport the produce of the farms to the river, and thus it was made possible to reach the fort on Manhattan Island.

The territory along the Newtown Creek, as far as “Old Calvary Cemetery” and along the East River to a point about where the river is now crossed by the Queensboro bridge and following the line of the bridge past the plaza, was known as Dutch Kills. On the other side of Old Calvary was a settlement of men from New England and, therefore, named English Kills. The Dutch Kills and the English Kills, as well as the rest of the out-plantations along the East River, were settlements politically independent of each other and subject only to the Director-General and Council at Manhattan Island, but became some time later parts of the town of Newtown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An obsession of mine, let’s just name it a calling, is to photograph every possible corner of the Newtown Creek watershed.

Challenging, most of the shoreline is under lock and key, and many parts of it are under strict supervision by security personnel and police authorities. The spot these shots were gathered from is even hazy ground, and although I never stepped on the tracks and stayed to the extreme sides of the pathway, I was probably violating a “no trespassing” rule which I wear on my sleeve.

The presence of graffiti and a largish homeless camp I know to exist back here made me feel that any rule against taking a look around is lightly enforced by the gendarme and the proverbial dice would be thrown.

Speaking of dice, a locally famous accident occurred on the Bushwick line back in 2004.

from ntsb.gov

LIRR 160 traveled about 1.2 miles on the Bushwick Branch, passing over seven passive highway/railroad grade crossings. The event recorder indicated that the locomotive traveled the total distance of about 11,692 feet (2.2 miles) in 16 minutes 9 seconds and reached a maximum speed of about 31 mph.

During the runaway, LIRR 160 struck an automobile at one grade crossing and pushed it several hundred feet. The two occupants of this vehicle sustained serious injuries and required hospitalization. At another grade crossing, the locomotive struck two more automobiles, resulting in serious injuries to their drivers, who also required hospitalization. Two trucks were parked along the tracks near another grade crossing. The locomotive struck the trucks and pushed them about 800 feet westward beyond the crossing before it stopped. One of the trucks was carrying welding supplies, including acetylene and oxygen cylinders; the cylinders were damaged during the accident and caused a fire. The trucks were unoccupied; however, employees of the trucks’ owner had to jump away from the track to avoid injury.

As LIRR 160 collided with the automobiles and trucks, the struck vehicles were propelled in different directions and struck other vehicles. As a result, the accident damaged five other vehicles and a backhoe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of graffiti, these puzzling bits of signage were observed on a well painted wall. Like the “God’s Gift to Pain” graffiti at the end of English Kills, however, they filled me with some nameless dread.

from wikipedia

The first recorded use of the A in a circle by anarchists was by the Federal Council of Spain of the International Workers Association. This was set up by Giuseppe Fanelli in 1868. It predates its adoption by anarchists as it was used as a symbol by others. According to George Woodcock, this symbol was not used by classical anarchists. In a series of photos of the Spanish Civil War taken by Gerda Taro a small A in a circle is visibly chalked on the helmet of a militiaman. There is no notation of the affiliation of the militiaman, but one can presume he is an Anarchist. The first documented use was by a small French group, Jeunesse Libertaire (“Libertarian Youth”) in 1964. Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti, youth group from Milan, adopted it and in 1968 it became popular throughout Italy. From there it spread rapidly around the world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The icon in the tree part of this illustration is meant to be an “anarchy” symbol, but to me it looked like some multi lobed eye, if you know what I mean. Weird things go on around here, and this is no safe place, even while the radiant attentions of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself are shining down upon the poison shores of English Kills.

from wikipedia

The “three-lobed burning eye” is one of many manifestations of Nyarlathotep, a messenger of the Outer Gods, from fiction penned by H. P. Lovecraft. This particular manifestation is a huge bat-winged creature, with a burning tri-lobed eye. In Lovecraft’s story “Haunter of the Dark,” the character Robert Blake discovers a Shining Trapezohedron in a church steeple in Providence, RI, a place of worship for the Church of Starry Wisdom cult. Narrowly escaping an unseen horror released by the Trapezohedron, Blake realizes the horror can only travel in the dark. When a storm and power blackout envelop the city, he scribbles down his findings, concluding the story with his terrified record of what he can only glimpse of the approaching beast. “I see it– coming here– hell-wind– titan-blur– black wings– Yog-Sothoth save me– the three-lobed burning eye…”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of English Kills, this is the rail bridge which the tracks of the Bushwick Branch utilize to cross over it. In the background of the shot is one of the largest CSO outfalls in New York City and behind that is an access a ride parking depot and Johnson Avenue.

This is what it looks like from the water, incidentally, and long have I desired to see the New York and Atlantic crossing it from this perspective.

from habitatmap.org

  • Combined Sewer Outfall – Newtown Creek 015
  • Address Johnson Ave., Brooklyn, NY
  • Neighborhood Newtown Creek
  • Owner/Occupant NYC DEP
  • Location Details Combined Sewer Overflow Outfall NC-015:
  • discharges 344.4M gallons per year into English Kills
  • Tier 2 outfall
  • Ranked 20 out of over 400 in terms of volume
  • located at Johnson Ave

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge, which I’ve always heard referred to as “The Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge” is found some 3.8 miles from the East River, and regains land on the eastern shore of English Kills. Notice the green gate visible in the shot above.

from bushwickbiennial.com

James Riker’s 1706 “Bushwicklands” were separated from the original het dorp site by the estuary wetlands that would evolve from a creek into fetid industrial transportation canals (from the Dutch kil, trans. “body of water”). As the old farms were surveyed and sold as city-block lots, area borderlands became an underbelly serving the 19th century constructions of the “English Kills Canals,” the “Town of Bushwick” to the south, and the westerly “Village of Williamsburgh.” Becoming an offal zone for breweries, slaughterhouses, & chemical manufacturing, glass, rope & bag factories, and coal, oil, & stone distribution: the flatland meadows and canal basins provided business opportunities for waves of 19th century Central European immigrants that was near, but away from, metropolitan domestic life down Bushwick Ave.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here is that same gate, from the perspective of the trackway. The property behind that gate is the Waste Management Varick Avenue site, which is pretty much off limits. The fabled garbage train begins its journey to the continent here, as the Varick Avenue facility handles much of the putrescent waste produced in Brooklyn.

from wikipedia

Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE: WM) is a waste management, comprehensive waste, and environmental services company in North America. The company is headquartered in Suite 4000 at the First City Tower in Downtown Houston, Texas, in the United States.

The company’s network includes 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, 111 beneficial-use landfill gas projects and 6 independent power production plants. Waste Management offers environmental services to nearly 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With 21,000 collection and transfer vehicles, the company has the largest trucking fleet in the waste industry. Together with its competitor Republic Services, Inc, the two handle more than half of all garbage collection in the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Waste Management, the serendipity mentioned above involved your humble narrator joining with a group of students on a tour of the facility, and this is what the rail bridge looks like from the other side of the gate.

Welcome to the unknown country.

from dot.ny.gov

Waste Management has a substantial waste transfer operation located on English Kills upstream from the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, incorporating all of the east side of the English Kills from Ten Eyck Street to the LIRR bridge near the head of the creek, an area of 24.7 acres. Currently, Waste Management uses the site to transfer commercial and residential refuse to trucks and rail for transport to landfills in New Jersey, as well as to store and maintain their trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another posting coming in the near future will discuss the interior workings of this place, but for now, here’s where the Bushwick branch tracks continue on their course. This is where the folks at Waste Management containerize and load up the “garbage train”.

from nytimes.com

For decades, as trash has made its way from transfer stations in Brooklyn to out-of-state landfills, it has been shuttled through the borough’s streets on ground-rattling, smoke-belching tractor trailers.

The result: irritated neighbors and polluted air.

On Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a plan to replace those trucks with trains. The city will now transport tons of garbage out of Brooklyn via railroad, which will take thousands of trucks off the street.

Speaking at a trash transfer station in North Brooklyn — with a trash-filled train behind him — Mr. Bloomberg said that the change would eliminate about 13,000 truck trips a year, helping the city meet ambitious goals for cutting carbon emissions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tracks continue northeast across the property, and towards Varick Avenue. They cross Varick at Grade, and continue on their winding course toward the Fresh Pond depot, crossing Flushing Avenue in Maspeth and meeting connections toward Long Island City not far from Rust Street. This Rust Street connection offers access to the tracks which follow Newtown Creek through West Maspeth, Berlin, Blissville, and terminate ultimately at Hunters Point. Once, they carried cargo all the way to the East River, where Gantry Docks loaded them onto float barges for delivery in Manhattan and beyond.

from prnewswire.com

While many people balk at taking out the trash, it’s a job that the New York & Atlantic Railway does gladly — hauling 1.7 million pounds of residential and municipal waste each day, destined to Dixie in sealed containers riding aboard extra-long flat cars.

Monday through Saturday, a NY&A train crew goes over to the Varick Avenue transfer station in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they couple up with 10-to-12 89-ft. flat cars loaded with up to 48 22-ft. long containers. Each has been stuffed with 18 tons of refuse, collected from homes and businesses in North Brooklyn.

The Varick Avenue facility was redesigned recently to accommodate rail shipments. It is owned and operated by Waste Management Inc. — one of the nation’s leading transporters and processors of municipal waste. NY&A began test movements in late January and handled its first regular shipment on February 16, 2009.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the view from inside the gates on the Varick side of the Waste Management property…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

And this is the reversed POV, shot through a gap in the fence on the sidewalk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The line continues on the other side of Varick, in the distance, you can see the Scott Avenue Footbridge.

This “trainsarefun.com” page offers detailed schematics and historic shots of the Bushwick line, which are certainly worth a moment of your time.

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