The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Hells Gate

ultimate step

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Tuesdays are a season all their own.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During these pandemic months, when I’ve gone out for my constitutional walks, my toes have been generally pointed towards the Newtown Creek industrial business zone. The reasoning behind that is that a) I’m obsessed, and b) people and cooties.

People are infested with viruses, and therefore if I go to places with few or no people I’m less likely to contract a respiratory plague. I know, this sounds crazy to you Liberpublicans or Republitarians, but I’ve given up trying to convince ideologues about anything of late. If you don’t believe in COVID, don’t worry, the virus believes in you. I know 50-60 people who have had it, and by all reports – the experience is quite unpleasant even if you don’t die. Mazel Tov.

A new skill I’ve developed, thereby, during this interval is the ability to completely avoid all other human beings – even when passing through a fairly densely populated area like the 31st street/Hoyt Avenue corridors here in Astoria. I’ve become like a phantom in a black raincoat, a specter visible only to the wackadoodles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My goal for this particular evening was to randomly point the new camera at different spots around the neighborhood for a bit, and then set up the tripod at Astoria Park’s Shore Road in pursuance of “getting technical” while photographing the wonders of the Hell’s Gate section of the East River.

Along the way, I spotted these two homes sporting rather tasteful holiday decorations, a fine example of what I call “ChristmAstoria.” As a note, I’m always rather uncomfortable when photographing somebody’s home. It would likely freak me out if I saw some ghostly creature in black taking pictures of HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you’re wondering what I mean by “getting technical,” the shot above isn’t it. These were all handheld shots in today’s post, whereas the ones you’ll see tomorrow and Thursday were a bit more intentional in terms of composition and camera technique.

Pictured above is the Hell Gate Bridge in the distance, with a section of the Triborough Complex’s East River Suspension Bridge visible at top.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, December 21st. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.

“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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

atomic weight

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Thursday’s, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That photo up there was surprisingly difficult to capture, but not because of any technical or camera related issue. Instead, it was the wind. The tripod I use was chosen for its “carry-ability” and beat out several other contenders for my hard earned cash in terms of its weight. That’s actually where it’s fatal flaw manifests – it’s quite light. Normally, this isn’t much of an issue, but at Hells Gate the other night, steady winds were introducing vibration into the setup and blurring the shot. A “proper” tripod would weigh four or five times what mine does (I have two of those, which get left at home) but then you have a ten and change pound pile of metal you’re carrying. Saying that – a heavier tripod would have locked down to the ground, gravity wise, and cancelled out the wind effect somewhat.

When you walk miles and miles, as I do, getting even a half pound out of your camera bag is a victory. Remember, I’ve been using two tiny prime lenses for the last year almost exclusively. The heavy “glass” zoom lenses have been siting in a camera bag for most of the pandemic, a habit I got into a year ago when I broke my big toe.

F11, ISO 200, 30 seconds – that’s the exposure triangle formula for this one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just because the prime lenses are low in weight doesn’t mean they’re not capable devices. I continue to be staggered at just how good Canon’s 24mm pancake lens is. It can be a bit wonky on autofocus in low light, but there’s ways around that. The downed tree in the shot above was barely visible with the naked eye due to it being in shadow, but a quick bit of flashlight work allowed the 24mm enough light to lock onto it and then it was just a matter of figuring out the right exposure.

For you photographers out there – f4 at ISO 200, 25 seconds. The only blur in the shot was introduced by the wind wobbling the branches about. The 24mm is razor sharp at f4, which I can’t say about my far more expensive and heavy zoom lenses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Citibike racks placed on the sidewalk, as I’ve found out, are tantamount to opening a Nazi death camp for the bicycle people. They want the racks placed on the street pavement, which has absolutely nothing to do with their political campaign to reduce the number of free parking spots for cars in NYC. The rack pictured above, for instance, translates to around five parking spots. Ideological concerns trump everything else for that crowd, including the ultra mundane set of rules and laws which both the Citibike and NYC DOT people must oblige.

I’m told by the powers that be that the racks are placed where they are (sidewalk versus street) in response to the needs of emergency vehicles, underground and overhead utilities, and the turning radiuses of mass transit vehicles like buses.

Since I’m doing this today – f4, ISO 100, 2.5 seconds.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, November 2nd. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.

“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 for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 5, 2020 at 1:30 pm

great bridge

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It’s both National Crabmeat Day, and National Meatball day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy official anniversary of the first train crossing of the Hell Gate Bridge! Personally, I’m going to attend the celebratory soirée at Greater Astoria Historic Society tonight, where Dave “the Bridgeman” Frieder is going to be talking. Dave Freider is a photographer and historian who probably knows more about this subject than anyone else alive, and he was featured in a recent NY Times article on the subject as well.

I’ve been talking about the Hell Gate bridge since Newtown Pentacle started. This recent post, commemorating the day on which the steel of the bridge was finished, for instance. As an aside, here’s a post on it’s neighbor to the south, the Triborough Bridge, and one of the many where a humble narrator described ships and other vessels passing beneath it. There’s that time I spotted an experimental combat vessel at Hells Gate, described here. The esoteric history of Hells Gate was discussed in this 2010 post, and the largest explosion in human history prior to the atomic era as well as why its called “Hells Gate” was offered way back in this 2009 post, and in this one as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually because of all the rattling on I’ve done over the years about Hell Gate that the decision to largely shut up and let you look at the pictures is offered today. Of course, since I’m a “Chatty Cathy,” that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fill the dead air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mose the fireboy is said to have strangled a sea serpent to death at Hell Gate in the early 19th century, a creature whose skin was draped over the bar at McGurk’s Suicide Palace during the legendary era of the Bowery B’hoys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate Bridge is federal property, specifically Amtrak, who acquired it out of the (then) largest bankruptcy in American history. It was the Pennsylvania railroad that built the thing, which eventually merged with their arch rivals at New York Central Railroad. The combined company, Penn Central Transportation Company (and its assets like Hell Gate), also collapsed into bankruptcy (in 1970) and were federalized by Richard Nixon into Amtrak and Conrail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge is pretty much the only way off of a Long Island and onto the continent for freight rail. There’s a second and quite smaller structure called Little Hell Gate which isn’t not too far away, and that span carries rail traffic into the Bronx and from there all points north and west. On the other side of this connected track system, which is called the New York Connecting Railroad, is the Sunnyside Yard. That’s where the passenger links are, which lead to the east river tunnels, Penn Station, and the Hudson River tunnels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hell Gate Bridge hurtles over Astoria Park, and fills the background of much of it. It’s a rite of passage for the “utes” of Astoria to find their way up to the tracks, I’m told, and there’s a legend they propagate that there’s a phantom train which emerges along the unused fourth trackway to chase and claim the unwary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The arches of the NY Connecting Railroad continue eastwards, and as they do, begin to intersect with residential properties. There are dozens of homes in which the back yard plots include geometries formed by these cylcopean structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria legend also describes a homeless serial killer of children who once lurked within the bridge’s Queens side tower. As the story goes, there’s a room in there where photos of the killer’s young victims are displayed. The 114th pct will deny that such a person ever existed, but will mention the occasional “ultra violence” that happens around the bridge – like the homeless man who had his skull crushed here a couple years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The New York Connecting Railroad tracks continue on through Astoria, heading eastwards toward the edge of Woodside and then crossing Northern Blvd. Local community organizations sponsor the creation of murals on the street facing sections.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After 31st street, there is naked steel again, with the massive concrete structures giving way to columns and posts. There is still quite a bit of collossal concrete arch and balustrade along the route, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s such a part of the Astoria landscape that seldom is it commented upon, the passing of the railroad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy birthday, Hell Gate Bridge. I’ll be thinking of you at Greater Astoria Historic Society’s “do” tonight.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

Tugboat transit at Hells Gate

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hanging out at Astoria Park, waiting for the Greater Astoria Historical Society‘s “Haunted East River” tour to start, what did I spy crossing under mighty Triborough?

The John Reinauer tugboat- that’s what- moving a fuel barge north on the East River, through the bright passage at Hells Gate.

from wikipedia

Liquid cargo barges are barges that transport petrochemicals, such as styrene, benzene and methanol; liquid fertilizer, including anhydrous ammonia; refined products, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel; black oil products, such as asphalt, No. 6 fuel oil and coker fuel; and pressurized products, such as butane, propane and butadiene, which are transported on the waterways from producers to end users.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The John Reinauer was built at Main Ironworks in 1969, and was christened the Esso Crystal River. (Esso, is of course, the brand name for Standard Oil -S.-O- Esso, later Exxon) The now Exxon Crystal River went to Reinauer Transportation in 1993. A 2,600 horsepower, 86 foot long steel hulled towing vessel, the J.R. is 27 feet wide and has a draw of 9 feet.

Check out the company’s J.R. page for photos of the ship in its various incarnations here.

from wikipedia

The terms “Tonnage” and “Ton” have different meanings and are often confused. Tonnage is a measure of the size or cargo capacity of a ship. The term derives from the taxation paid on tuns of wine, and was later used in reference to the weight of a ship’s cargo; however, in modern maritime usage, “tonnage” specifically refers to a calculation of the volume or cargo volume of a ship. The term is still sometimes incorrectly used to refer to the weight of a loaded or empty vessel.

Measurement of tonnage can be less than straightforward, not least because it is used to assess fees on commercial shipping.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like many other tugboats, the John Reinauer participated in the evacuation of Lower Manhattan necessitated by the September 11 attacks.

(The John J. Harvey Fireboat, which was discussed in some detail in 2 prior posts- here… and here, similarly served the city that day).

from wikipedia

Immediately after the first attack, the captains and crews of a large number of local boats steamed into the attack zone to assist in evacuation and provide supplies and water.Water became urgently needed after the Towers’ collapse severed downtown water mains. The size of the dust and debris cloud following the collapse of the Twin Towers was such that it necessitated that many of these trips were navigated by radar alone. Estimates of the number of people evacuated by water from Lower Manhattan that day in the eight hour period following the attacks range from 500,000 to 1,000,000. As many as 2,000 injured people in the attacks were reportedly evacuated by this means through there were no reported injuries resulting from the evacuation itself.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2009 at 2:56 am

Sludge Boats, baby, Sludge Boats

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M/V Red Hook DEP Sludge Vessel – photo by Mitch Waxman

After processing at a water treatment facilities, which the City of New York’s DEP manages 14 of (including the vast Temple of Cloacina called the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant), the concentrated sludge distillate produced by municipal sewage plants requires “dewatering” – it must be reduced into a semi solid called “cake”. Not every one of the 14 wastewater treatment plants has a dewatering facility, so the sludge needs to get from point A to point B via a the fleet of Sludge Vessels.

Pictured above is the sludge dock in Greenpoint, with the M/V Red Hook at dock, at the mouth of the Newtown Creek. Flowing from that aforementioned temple of “the Venus of the Sewers” to a gigantic holding tank via mechanical means, it is then pumped out to the dock and the waiting sludge boat.


Preliminary treatment

Several stories underground, wastewater flows into the plants from sewers connected to New York City’s homes and businesses. The incoming wastewater, called influent, passes through screens consisting of upright bars, spaced one to three inches apart. These bars remove large pieces of trash including rags, sticks, newspaper, soft drink cans, bottles, plastic cups and other similar items. This protects the main sewage pumps and other equipment. The garbage is transported to landfills. The main sewage pumps then lift the wastewater from the screening chamber to the surface level of the plant.

Primary treatment

Next, the wastewater enters primary settling tanks, also called sedimentation tanks, for one to two hours. The flow of the water is slowed, allowing heavier solids to settle to the bottom of the tank and the lighter materials to float. At the end of the process, the floatable trash, such as grease and small plastic material, rises and is skimmed from the top of the tanks surface.

The settled solids, called primary sludge, are then pumped through cyclone degritters — devices that use centrifugal force to separate out sand, grit (such as coffee grinds) and gravel. This grit is removed, washed and taken to landfills.

The degritted primary sludge is pumped to the plant’s sludge handling facilities for further processing. The partially treated wastewater from the primary setting tanks then flows to the secondary treatment system.

M/V North River DEP Sludge Vessel – photo by Mitch Waxman

The 1.3 billion gallon a day flow of New York City’s sewage should be defined as a third river. That’s 1,300,000,000 gallons a day or 474,500,000,000 gallons of night soil a year. 1.3 billion is the population of China.

Pictured above is the DEP Sludge Vessel M/V North River, a veteran, she was launched at Maryland Shipbuilding in 1974. Just under 324 foot long, North River can carry 102,000 cubic feet of evil juice and weighs in at 2,557 gross tons.


Secondary treatment

Secondary treatment is called the activated sludge process. This is because air and “seed” sludge from the plant treatment process are added to the wastewater to break it down further. Air pumped into large aeration tanks mixes the wastewater and sludge that stimulates the growth of oxygen-using bacteria and other tiny organisms that are naturally present in the sewage. These beneficial microorganisms consume most of the remaining organic materials that are polluting the water and this produces heavier particles that will settle later in the treatment process.Wastewater passes through these bubbling tanks in three to six hours.

The aerated wastewater then flows to the final settling tanks which are similar to the primary settling tanks. Here the heavy particles and other solids settle to the bottom as secondary sludge. Some of this sludge is re-circulated back to the aeration tanks as “seed” to stimulate the activated sludge process. The returned sludge contains millions of microorganisms that help maintain the right mix of bacteria and air in the tank and contribute to the removal of as many pollutants as possible.

The remaining secondary sludge is removed from the settling tanks and added to the primary sludge for further processing in the sludge handling facilities.Wastewater passes through the settling tanks in two to three hours and then flows to a disinfection tank.


Even after primary and secondary treatment, diseasecausing organisms may remain in the treated wastewater. To disinfect and kill harmful organisms, the wastewater spends a minimum of 15-20 minutes in chlorine-contact tanks mixing with sodium hypochlorite, the same chemical found in common household bleach. The treated wastewater, or effluent, is then released into local waterways. Disinfection is an essential step because it protects the health of people who use local beaches and enjoy other recreational activities on or near the water.

M/V Newtown Creek DEP Sludge Vessel – photo by Mitch Waxman

Identical in dimension and capacity to the North River, the 1967 vintage DEP Sludge Vessel M/V Newtown Creek passed under mighty Triborough and crossed Hells Gate. M/V Newtown Creek was laid down by the Wiley Manufacturing Co. Back in the days of ocean dumping, these ships were amongst a small fleet of tugs, barges, and older sludge boats that would “do the deed“.


Sludge treatment

The following are typical stages of the sludge treatment process.


The sludge produced by primary and secondary treatment is approximately 99% water and must be concentrated to enable its further processing. Thickening tanks allow the sludge to collect, settle and separate from the water for up to 24 hours. The water is then sent back to the head of the plant or to the aeration tanks for additional treatment.


After thickening, the sludge is further treated to make it safer for the environment. The sludge is placed in oxygenfree tanks, called digesters, and heated to at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit for between 15 to 20 days. This stimulates the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which consume organic material in the sludge. Unlike the bacteria in the aeration tanks, these bacteria thrive in an oxygen-free or “anaerobic” environment. The digestion process stabilizes the thickened sludge by converting much of the material into water, carbon dioxide and methane gas. The black sludge that remains after digestion has the consistency of pea soup and has little odor. This is called digested sludge.

Methane gas is often used as an energy source at the City’s wastewater treatment plants. The gas may be used in engines to produce electricity or directly drive plant equipment. Gas is also used in boilers to provide heat for digestion and plant-wide buildings. Currently, DEP and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) have jointly installed fuel cells at four of the City’s water pollution control plants; 26th Ward, Red Hook, Oakwood Beach and Hunts Point. Fuel cells convert the methane gas and carbon dioxide into heat and electricity that is then used to operate the plants. This technology contributes to New York City’s efforts to enhance clean air operations at its facilities. There is a significant reduction in air emissions as a result of using fuel cells.

Digester sludge is pumped from sludge storage tanks to a dewatering facility. At some treatment plants, where there are no dewatering facilities on site, the sludge is transported for processing through a pipeline or by a sludge boat to a plant that has a dewatering facility.

M/V Newtown Creek DEP Sludge Vessel, close-up – photo by Mitch Waxman

Once requiring a crew of as many of 20, the City now runs these ships with a mere 6. Semiautomated, M/V Newtown Creek and North River are nevertheless more than twice the size of the original model Sludge Vessels like the Owl’s Head.


Sludge dewatering

Dewatering reduces the liquid volume of sludge by about 90%. New York City operates dewatering facilities at eight of its 14 treatment plants. At these facilities, digested sludge is sent through large centrifuges that operate like the spin cycle of a washing machine. The force from the very fast spinning of the centrifuges separates most of the water from the solids in the sludge, creating a substance knows as biosolids. The water drawn from the spinning process is then returned to the head of the plant for reprocessing. Adding a substance called organic polymer improves the consistency of the “cake”, resulting in a firmer, more manageable product. The biosolids cake is approximately 25 to 27 percent solid material.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 15, 2009 at 11:07 am

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