The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Monongahela River

prodigious time

with 3 comments

Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator will offer once again that he is no railroad historian. The business tricks and trades associated in the modern day with venture capitalist firms, patent portfolios, and technology companies are the only analogue one can point at to analogize the complicated world and finances of the 19th century railroad business in the United States. It was a great way to get rich, or go bankrupt, and sometimes both. Capital intensive industries like rail always attracted the big players with fat wallets who could afford to gamble. There’s a reason you associate names like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Morgan with rail in this era. In the case of the 1875 founded Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, whose surviving Pittsburgh campus along the Monongahela River has been converted over to a shopping center and entertainment complex called “Station Square,” I’m just going to refer you to a Wikipedia page which can describe their entire complicated story to you better than I can.

Besides, I’m a lot more interested in the second oldest steel bridge in the United States, pictured above and below, which is dubbed “Smithfield Street Bridge.” It’s the third bridge to offer a crossing of the Monongahela River at this location, with the first wooden one dating back to 1818. That bridge (dubbed the Monongahela Bridge) stood until the Great Fire of Pittsburgh in 1845, which destroyed a third of the City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second bridge here was a wire rope suspension bridge built by a certain fellow named John A. Roebling. It wasn’t designed for heavy traffic, and used eight spans to cross the Monongahela, so Roebling’s version was replaced with this 1883 vintage lenticular truss type bridge seen above. It’s 42 and a half feet above the water, uses two spans of 360 feet each to cross the river, and is (on ramp to off ramp) 1,184 feet long.

The Smithfield Street Bridge was designed by Gustav Lindenthal, whose masterpieces are the Hell Gate Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge back in Queens’ Astoria and Long Island City sections respectively. How’s them apples, for a fella seeking to escape NYC and see something different for a few days, after a long pandemic?

So – the bridge this version replaced was designed by the guy who built the Brooklyn Bridge, and the 138 years old replacement is by the guy who built the Hell Gate (with Pittsburgh’s American Bridge Company) and Queensboro (with Henri Hornbostel, of course).

Nerrrrrrrrrrd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The lenticular truss deal involves the large curved structures visible above, which act as tension springs bound to the masonry piers. As a point of trivia, the masonry is original to the Roebling version of Smithfield Street Bridge. It’s a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a National Historic Landmark, and is listed by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. Streetcar service operated on this span until 1985, which has since been moved to the Panhandle Bridge. Apparently, this bridge also boasts the highest count for pedestrian crossings in all of Pittsburgh, as the Station Square development offers commercial parking lots that are patronized by downtown commuters.

Smithfield Street Bridge has had its roadways widened twice to accommodate traffic volume and changing usage since it opened in 1883. Its somewhat modern day pop culture claim to fame is an appearance in the opening scene of the 1983 Jennifer Beals movie “Flashdance.”

Who knew?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the deck of the Gateway Clipper, the camera had a great platform from which to capture the scenery. There’s the Golden Triangle side of the Monongahela River, with the mate of the masonry railroad bridge pier I showed you yesterday. Behind that, on the landward side, are preserved historic district buildings from the old days of industry as well as newer construction. I think – as in I’m sort of not sure if I’m right or not – that these masonry towers were part of what was called the Wabash Rail Bridge, when there was still a span here.

The Monongahela River is considered to be the 17th most polluted river in the United States. The Ohio River is #1, which Monongahela feeds into. The Monongahela River is 130 miles long, and flows northeasterly out of West Virginia into Pennsylvania, where it turns northwards, and then joins with the Allegheny River here in Pittsburgh to form the headwaters of the Ohio River. Its entirety is managed for navigability by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who maintain a minimum depth of 9 feet using locks and dams. Legend has it that the name “Monongahela” is an English language portmanteau of Native American words meaning “falling banks” or “where banks cave in.”

Again, that weird topology of Pittsburgh asserts itself, even in aboriginal place names. The polluted status of the river is chalked up to the presence of steel mills and mining operations found outside of the city, and historic pollution from the era of steel production here in Western Pennsylvania.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Gateway Clipper narration was very good. I say that as someone who often fulfills a similar function in NY Harbor, speaking onboard Circle Line and other excursion boats about the hidden wonders of the East River and its tributaries like Newtown Creek or the Gowanus, the somewhat boring Hudson River, or Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull and Bayonne’s Port Elizabeth Newark. I made it a point of tipping the guide with a ten dollar bill to show some professional “esprit de corps.” He seemed a bit surprised by the tip, actually. If you’re in Pittsburgh, I can recommend this boat tour.

Pictured above are the on ramps of the Fort Pitt Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where those onramps lead is the Fort Pitt tunnel. It’s a bit different than the sort of river bottom tunnels we have in NYC, where traffic going in different directions move in parallel courses. The Fort Pitt tunnel uses two stacked bores through Mt. Washington, with Golden Triangle/Downtown Pittsburgh bound traffic moving through the upstairs, while South Side/West End bound traffic uses the downstairs. It seems that there actually four tunnels that are struck through Mt. Washington, but this is the only one I’ve got a picture of.

The tunnel opened in 1960, is 3,614 feet in length, 28 feet wide, and offers a vertical clearance of 13.5 feet. According to official statistics, and pre Covid traffic counts, some 107,000 vehicle trips a day move through the Fort Pitt Tunnel on average.

Whew. More tomorrow.

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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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 9, 2021 at 11:00 am

luckily obtainable

with 3 comments

Friday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Day two of my 72 hours long visit to Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh involved lots and lots of walking up and down hills during the morning. After riding both the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines to indulge my obsession with funicular railways, one took advantage of the overlook platform at the latter and set the camera up on the tripod with a filter to allow me to do a few longish exposures. Now, I realize that the shot above has been captured hundreds of thousands of times – it’s a point of view that is somewhat cliche in fact. Saying that, I hadn’t taken it, so I did. Don’t be ashamed of being a tourist when you’re doing tourist things, I always say, so get that selfie with the Statue of Liberty behind you on the Staten Island Ferry when you’re visiting my home town.

As you may have guessed by now, the Amtrak based traveling in the month of September which you’ve been reading about for a while now has been absolute nepenthe for me. Psychologically speaking, I’ve been keeping it together throughout the lockdowns and isolation of the Covid pandemic, but it’s been the same struggle for me as it’s been for everyone. I kept myself busy with night shooting and long walks around Newtown Creek, but the desire for novelty and “something else” has been nagging at me for a while now.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The inability to travel in particular, is something which started a few years before Covid occurred. My beloved and dearly departed dog Zuzu’s declining years were tremulous. Kenneling her wasn’t an option if I left town, as her health wasn’t great and she was laser focused on me as her alpha, so I hung in there and barely left Queens. For all the joy and happiness she brought us from the time she was a tiny puppy, I owed her the debt of providing her with a stable and very predictable life during her dotage. Dogs are creatures of habit, and having Daddy disappear for two weeks would have derailed her. She passed away in the summer of 2020, which was a brutal experience for me, since her regular Veterinary care was impacted by Covid. We actually had to pay a traveling Vet to come to the house and euthanize her due to the amount of pain she was in, and during that last week she just laid on her side whimpering from a spinal problem’s pain. From that ugly day in the summer of 2020 till the day Our Lady of the Pentacle and I boarded the train to Vermont’s Burlington, the first thing I’d see in the morning each and every day was the spot where she died. Talk about picking at a scab, huh? It probably sounds dumb, talking about a dog like this, but Zuzu wasn’t an ordinary dog for me. She was very, very good at her dog job, and a good friend.

The good news is that for a few weeks in September of 2021, I was able to see and experience novel and fascinating things which allowed me to wake up and not see that spot first thing in the morning. As finances allow, I’m in the early stages of planning several other Amtrak based excursions for the winter and early spring. Providence beckons, as does Holyoke, and another visit to Pittsburgh seems to be on my list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m planning on closing out my trip to Pittsburgh’s postings either next week or shortly thereafter, after showing you what I saw on that boat trip which I’ve mentioned a few times that occurred shortly after these shots were collected. That’s when I’ll tell you why that blue bridge in the foreground – pictured above – is so special, and it’s direct connections to LIC.

I’ve been shooting a LOT since I’ve been back, riding the ferries and going places outside of the normal round. I’m now triple vaccinated, as a note. Tours of Newtown Creek have occurred for private groups – students and so on – and I recently led two public facing walking tours of Greenpoint for Open House NY Weekend.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I have to admit it was glorious to feel freedom again. I don’t mean the horseshit “freedom” that the rednecks proffer which is actually a form of indentured servitude to other people’s ideas and personal fortunes, rather I mean the ability to just do whatever the hell you want to and on your own schedule. A humble narrator is 54 years old, but I’m still in surprisingly good condition despite the life I’ve lived. The heart condition, as I was recently told by my staff of doctors, is well managed and not at all life threatening at the moment but I do need to drop some of the pandemic era weight that I’ve packed on. A bit of arthritis has been plaguing me for a couple of years now, but I’m 54, so…

Saying that, I can still easily do dawn to dusk photowalk days. That’s what I proved to myself, in Pittsburgh, in particular. I didn’t have to worry about somebody else’s leaky bladder, bad knees, spinal issues, psychological problems, or general inability to move their bodies around the world on this 72 hour mission. I also didn’t feel compelled to explain anything to anyone, which was simply awesome. When you know a little something about everything, as I do, you end up having to answer questions others offer all day long.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having finished up the shots from the Duquesne Incline, one rode the funicular down to the south side flatlands of the Monongahela River, at the foot of Mt. Washington. A pedestrian bridge carried me down and across a high volume roadway, and I made my way to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail on this side of the City of Pittsburgh.

Observationally speaking, this side of the City isn’t quite as “post industrial” as the Allegheny/North Side is. Active freight rail tracks were humming with activity, and that’s the sort of thing which just draws me right in…

After a quick phone call to home, letting Our Lady of the Pentacle know that I hadn’t been carried off by a Mongol horde or something and that I was safe and sound, I scuttled off in the direction of my eventual boat tour. The dock was about a mile and a half from where I was standing, and I wondered how I’d fill the three or so hours until my scheduled ticket would be redeemed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As if I’d have to worry, huh? This CSX locomotive was hauling a coal train along the shores of Pittsburgh, and that’s the Fort Pitt bridge in the background. Seriously, this is one of the most visually interesting cities in the Northeastern United States.

More next week at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 5, 2021 at 11:00 am

grave doubt

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Thursday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First things first – being from Brooklyn, I say things the way they’re spelled. “Hor d’oeuvres” is pronounced “whores da ova vreez” and “buffet” rhymes with bucket. I don’t say “terlet” or “erl” or “boid” but my parents did. The Duquesne Incline and the word “Duquesne,” thereby and in my mind, should be pronounced as “Doo Kezz Knee” but it’s actually pronounced “Doo Kayne.” It seems the Pittsburgh people are a bit sensitive about this topic, as I learned. Can’t take me anywhere.

Monongahela River is pronounced Brooklyn style, as a note – “Mo Non Ga Heela.” Saying all that, welcome to the Duquesne Incline, on Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington along the Monongahela River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As was the case with the Allegheny Incline described in earlier posts, the Duquesne Incline is a funicular railway operated by the Allegheny County Port Authority. There’s a large patio/overlook at the facility which offers iconic views of Pittsburgh and the conjunction of its three rivers. I’ll show you the iconic views tomorrow, but for today I’m still in nerd mode and geeking out about the funicular.

For those of you who might have missed the earlier post – a funicular railway runs on an angled track up and down a hill, and it’s cars are connected via haul ropes or cables. One car goes up, the other comes down. This is a pretty early form of “people mover” and there aren’t that many examples of this technology left in the modern day world. Pittsburgh used to have 17 of these, including ones whose entire occupation revolved around moving freight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s 1877 vintage, the Duquesne Incline. Designed by an engineer dubbed Samuel Diescher, this funicular was originally powered by steam, but is now electrically driven. It’s 800 feet long and 400 feet in height, and is set against the hill at a thirty degree angle. It uses the Eastern European style broad track gauge of 5 ft, which is an outlier in the United States. The Duquesne Incline actually went out of business in 1962, but local residents raised the money to resuscitate and renew the thing, and in 1963 it reopened. It has since been refurbished and returned to its historic state, and along with the Monongahela Incline a mile away, serves up transit to one million riders a year. A big part of that ridership, of course, are tourists like me. The modern day incarnation is overseen by the Allegheny County Port Authority, as mentioned above.

Both inclines are on the National Register of Historic Places, and are on the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Landmark list.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This one is from the lower station, and just like the Monongahela Incline, a round trip ticket cost me $3.50. The ticket agent actually left her booth to keep an eye on me while I was shooting this. She informed me that she couldn’t leave me alone in this area while the mechanisms were operating due to liability concerns, but that I could take all the pictures I wanted to. She seemed happy to be able to take a fresh air break, frankly.

I really have to compliment the Port Authority people for their friendliness and a willingness to answer questions. Another marked contrast with my daily experience in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the late 1970’s, the cars were refurbished and returned to a somewhat original appearance. Check out that tin roof detail. The cars were built in 1877 by a Philadelphia outfit called J.G. Brill and Co. who were manufacturers of street cars, motor buses, and railroad cars. They went out of business in 1954, and their intellectual property was acquired by General Electric’s transportation division in that year.

Gosh almighty, does a humble narrator enjoy his self a funicular or what? Nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After riding up and down, one got busy with the camera again. Tomorrow – some of those iconic Pittsburgh views from the Duquesne Incline’s overlook. As a point of interesting trivia, I encountered this 1877 illustration, drawn from a point of view here on Mt. Washington. Marked counterpoint with the modern Steel City, huh?

More tomorrow, from your traveling Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2021 at 11:00 am

calculations would

with 2 comments

Wednesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s about a mile’s walk, all uphill, along Pittsburgh’s Grandview Avenue, from the Monongahela Incline to the Duquesne Incline. Along the way, I was shooting, and the shutter was a-clicking.

The up hill walk gave me time to reflect on everything I was experiencing. It also reminded me that I grew up nearby “Flatlands Avenue” and not too far from a place called “Flatbush.” “Flat” is a recurring theme in NYC, after all. We all live on a flood plain, whereas Greater Pittsburgh is definitively “not flat.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, Mt. Washington used to be called “Coal Hill” and by early 19th century standards the mineral deposits found here were considered to be one of the most valuable resources in Western Pennsylvania. Coal Hill was rechristened as Mt. Washington in 1876. From my limited observations, it seemed like a pretty nice choice as far as places to live.

Once again, the topology of Pittsburgh boggles the mind, especially for someone who grew up in a place defined by terms like “sea level” and the omnipresent usage of the descriptor “flat.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vehicular roads leading to and from Mt. Washington use sharp turned switchbacks to allow cars and trucks egress to the area. The ridge directly overlooking the downtown area had several multi unit homes arranged along it, but there were also plenty of places for visiting lookie-loo’s like me to check the scene out from.

For a sense of the elevation, the UPMC building at the left of the shot is the tallest building in the city.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a look at one of the neighborhoods up on Mt. Washington, where that weird topology is manifestly visible. I have a friend who’s got a brother that lives in the Pittsburgh area, and said brother is a photographer. The Brother – who is dubbed Tim Fabian – provided photos for a book by author Bob Regan on “The Steps of Pittsburgh.” It seems that all of these neighborhoods – up and down the hills – are vertically connected by 712 public stairways. Again – fascinating.

The housing stock of Pittsburgh, if I might comment, is disturbingly heterogenous. You see all sorts of floor plans and massing shapes here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned the other day, day two in the Steel City bore the threat of possible rain, but I didn’t find myself inconvenienced by precipitation. The volatile weather of Pittsburgh was on display, however, as just a couple of miles away it was raining – as you can discern in the shot above. Weird, huh?

It really was quite a walk between the two inclines. If you find yourself here and on foot, I’d suggest reversing the order I chose – Duquesne Incline first and Monongahela Incline second. If you hit the higher one first, it’s all downhill from there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My “good photo luck” game was strong on Day 2 in Pittsburgh, and I spotted a push boat towing an equipment barge under the Fort Pitt Bridge. Wasn’t the last lucky capture of the day for me, not by a long shot.

Tomorrow – the Duquesne Incline!


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 3, 2021 at 11:00 am

without dissolution

with 4 comments

Tuesday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the middle 19th century, enormous numbers of German speaking people began to migrate to Pittsburgh to take advantage of the limitless employment opportunities in the burgeoning iron and steel industries. One of them was a Prussian engineer named John Endres, who actually lived in Cincinnati. Endres designed and oversaw the construction of the 1870 vintage Monongahela Incline. This funicular railway is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the United States.

There used to be 17 incline or funicular railways in Pittsburgh, several of which were used exclusively for freight rather than passenger service. The inclines allowed workers to move into the steep hills and valleys surrounding the so called “Golden Triangle” river delta.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Operated in modernity by the Port Authority of Allegheny County (whose Monongahela Incline staff were incredibly nice, helpful, and friendly, btw), this attractive structure is the station house at the top of Mt. Washington on Grandview Avenue. The overlook which I shot yesterday’s post from is just alongside it on the uphill side. You walk in the building (masked up since it’s considered mass transit), and are free to observe several framed historic photos and newspaper clippings. There’s a gift shop, and a ticketing machine. A round trip ticket cost me $3.50.

Before boarding, I changed lenses, and attached the foam collar I’ve mentioned a few times to the thing. The foam collar allows me to place the lens against windows without annoying reflections manifesting in the photos, as well as forming a flexible prophylactic that keeps the lens from interacting mechanically with the window glass – in terms of transmitted vibration.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking out of the window of the Monongahela Incline at the lower station house, which I’m told was rebuilt in 1904. The way that these haul rope cable railways work is that as one car is descending, the other one ascends. How amazingly simple, and how super complicated, this system is, huh?

I had a single fellow passenger in the car with me and we briefly chatted about her City on our journey down to the lower station. She was retired, and extolled the virtues of Pittsburgh to me from that point of view. It seems that the City is currently tied with Miami for the number of retirees living in the area, due to its fairly low cost of living. The City encourages mass transit use by this population by making transit free to people over 65.

Entirely different from back home in NYC where “go fuck yourself asshole, ride a bike” or “you’re a racist” is the answer to most things transit related, and where our familiar MTA public transit agency is a dumpster fire of a political patronage mill whose managerial payroll is populated by the not too smart nephews and nieces of god awful upstate politicians, ones who haven’t yet been sent to jail for financial corruption or sex crimes. Heh, look at that, I actually suggested that the political class in New York can be convicted for the crimes they commit in office. Hah.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The incline car carried us to the lower station house, where my new acquaintance expected to meet a bus – which would travel in its own dedicated lane – that would in turn take her to a supermarket. She planned on making the return trip, with bags of groceries, using the bus and incline. Imagine being able to use a predictable form of mass transit, with buses that run on schedules that are more or less accurate.

I’m just so sick of all the dystopian shithole crap in NYC these days, you have to forgive me. I just cannot reconcile the amount of tax money that our politicians allocate to transit with the level of services delivered. There are no consequences for bad behavior either. Get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, or stroking the cookie jar suggestively, you just get railed by the headline writers and then disappear for a few months and run for another office. Single party rule sucks, it breeds corruption, and it’s result is… well, just look around your neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the lower station of the Monongahela Incline, nearby a fairly tragic series of land use decisions called “Station Square.” This area too will be explored in some detail in later posts from my 72 hours in Pittsburgh. As a note, several of the locals complained about heavy traffic to me as being a detriment to life in this city. Maybe I’m jaded by NYC’s omnipresent traffic jams, clustered around the river crossings, but “by me” everywhere I looked – even at rush hour – it was smooth sailing.

After getting a few shots down here at the foot of Mt. Washington, I used my round trip ticket and headed back up to the top.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gosh, do I love me a good funicular.

There’s one funicular in Chile’s City of Valparaiso that I aspire to ride on someday, but that’s going to take a lot more than an Amtrak ticket and 72 hours to accomplish. I’m also going to have to develop a functional ability to speak Spanish to chat with the locals for that one.

More tomorrow – at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Also, if you enjoyed this post, or Newtown Pentacle in general – would it be too much to ask for you to share it out to your social media feeds? Maybe just hit “like” or leave a comment?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 2, 2021 at 11:00 am

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