The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘New York and Atlantic’ Category

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.

proper turns

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, this wasn’t the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks”, rather this was the center of town. 18th century residents would ask “what on earth could have happened to Maspeth Creek” were they able, and “where is the Town Dock which DeWitt Clinton himself used- where is it”?

What happened?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

19th Century residents and passerby would inquire what disaster occurred, that Haberman’s and Nichols Chemical and all of Berlin and Blissville have disappeared and been forgotten? What has happened to the great factories, the mills, and the hustle and bustle? Where have all the railroads gone, can one paltry freight line actually be charged with servicing all of Newtown Creek?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For your humble narrator, a good place to ponder this sort of question has always been the Clinton Diner.

This little oasis has hosted a full group from a bus tour I helped conduct, acts a central meeting point for all sorts of Newtown Creek functions, and has provided a much needed cup of coffee and clean rest room to a half frozen yet quite humble narrator on more than one occasion.

It’s also sitting pretty much on a shoreline that Maspeth Creek once flowed past.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, a “Happy Valentine’s” day shout out to the Clinton Diner is offered today.

It would be meaningless to offer you shots of its interior as it has been featured more than once in the cinema. Witness below the trademark dolly shot of Martin Scorcese in Goodfellas… The window booth that DeNiro and Liotta are sitting in is the one with the “Go Giants” signage in the shot above.

And a happy valentine’s day greeting is offered to you as well, lords and ladies… or a giddy Lupercalia.

The Clinton Diner is found at 5626 Maspeth Ave., Maspeth, NY 11378-2248 (718) 894-3475

quite convinced

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent financial setbacks and personal problems infect your humble narrator with a form of deep melancholy and a vast ennui. When such moments come upon me, there is a certain pizzeria in Greenpoint (Norman corner of Manhattan, near the train) whose offerings can be summed up best as: an actual and old fashioned “Brooklyn Slice”. On the day I spied this collection of rail cars at the so called “Bliss Tower” in DUGABO, I had scuttled forth from the rolling hillocks of my beloved Astoria in pursuit of one of these aforementioned slices, in an effort designed to brighten my mood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Errors and omissions mar my record when discussing the Rails, much to the chagrin of the knowledgable railfan community (whose helpful comments and corrections are always appreciated here at Newtown Pentacle). As such, what I can categorically tell you is that this a New York & Atlantic Locomotive, one of the 11 engine units which service the 269 miles of track operated upon by the Glendale based company in Brooklyn, Queens, and both Nassau and Suffolk counties. It shares much of its road with the passenger based Long Island Railroad, and NY&A’s distinctive emerald, white, and black engines are regularly observed around the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the Newtown Creek Watershed, one encounters a landscape built for rail. Long abandoned track beds lie buried in inches of road asphalt, pointing the way to industrial giants long absent. Train stops orphaned from their purpose, spars and switches which were rudely severed to make room for modernity. All of it operated at street grade, and the remnants of the iron road are often the only tangible remains of great concerns and financial largesse. If you follow the right spar, you’ll discover that the NYPD Barricades unit was once Thypin Steel, or that LaGuardia Community College was once the Loose Wiles bakery and part of the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Within the communities which surround the Newtown Creek, a complaint often repeated concerns the presence of large numbers of trucks utilizing local streets in their quest to move goods from A to B. I had the privilege last year of attending a presentation by certain factions within the Port Authority that described a proposal which would eliminate several thousand truck trips a day throughout the City and over the George Washington Bridge, simply by shipping New York City’s garbage out to land fill utilizing locomotive rather than automotive means. Calculations about air pollution, road maintenance costs, and vehicular accident rates were presented at the time which compared rail quite favorably with truck based shipping.There was a maritime component to the plan as well, which was a bit hazy, but the train concept was spun gold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above represents an NY&A Locomotive making a drop off of a customer in Maspeth near the ill fated St. Saviour’s church site, where they will uncouple a car or two for the unloading or loading of certain cargo. An unthinkable amount of trucks would be required to carry the same tonnage. The subject of Green Technology and “Greening New York” is often bandied about by many these days. Too much of the conversation, however, is “cocktail party environmentalism”- which sounds great but just isn’t practical on a policy level.

I’ve developed this funny notion, however, that the way forward is actually to re-imagine and re-invent the heaviest industry of them all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rail infrastructure is what made Long Island City the factory of not just New York, but the entire world at the turn of the last century and multiple generations of capitalists and real estate interests founded vast fortunes because of the initial investment in it. Newtown Creek was the busiest waterway in North America, carrying more ship and barge traffic than the entire Mississippi for a time, and all of that maritime activity was fed by rail. Intermodal rail floats actually carried whole trains across the harbor to Manhattan, Staten Island, New Jersey and beyond. Imagine the benefits, in both individual wealth and environmental health, were we to try and save the future by looking for solutions in the past.

I’m still kind of forming this idea up for myself, but the key to it is containerization. More on this soon.

What do you, lords and ladies, think on the subject? Use the comments “Reply box” below, if you would like to start a conversation about it.

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