The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘SimsMetal Queens Terminal

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It’s National Chocolate Milk Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you’re looking at up there, lords and ladies, is my own personal piece of the old 1939 Kosciuszcko Bridge. I can now say that the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, or part of it anyway, is in my house.

Here’s the scoop on how I got it:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I described bringing an NYU class to Long Island City where we got to do a short visit at a large recycling operation, found along the Newtown Creek, called SimsMetal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While I was there, an inquiry was proferred to the fellows who work there whether or not a sample cut from the tons of Kosciuszcko Bridge steel they had lying about might be possible to obtain. Turns out that they had to cut pieces down to size for shredding over in New Jersey anyway, so it wouldn’t be a problem, I was told. Only hitch was that the welder guy was taking a few days off, so I’d just have to wait till he returned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So I get the call a couple of days later telling me that the welder guy was on site, and that I should pop over and tell him what I wanted. I asked him for a couple of rivets, basically.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Popping the rivets out would be a pain, I was told, but then the welder asked if I minded if they had a bit of steel attached. “Sure,” said a humble narrator and then the sparks really started to fly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I knew it, a smoking and acetylene hot chunk of the Kosciuszcko Bridge hit the concrete. It’s a little hard to make out in the shot above, but the thing was literally out gassing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The chunks got tossed in a stainless steel thingamabob that looked like a giant soup ladle that was filled with water. The water instantly began to boil when the steel went in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little chunk of steel is going into the permanent “Newtown Creek Collection.” I’ve got a few LIRR railroad spikes that are very old, I think “Woodrow Wilson” old. I’ve also got the padlock that used to hang on the Kinsgland Avenue refinery gates at Mobil in Greenpoint, but I generally don’t collect artifacts. This time is one of the exceptions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Think about the journey this hunk of metal has had. It was probably forged sometime in the early to mid 1930’s in Pittsburgh, travelled all the way to NYC and the House of Robert Moses, and was installed over the Newtown Creek when it was still the busiest maritime industrial waterway in North America. The Kosciuszcko Bridge opened seventy eight years ago in the late August of 1939, but it had been under construction for quite a while before that.

Now it’s mine. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Scenes from the lugubrious Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had to go to Greenpoint to talk to a guy about a thing, recently. The guy in question was my colleague from Newtown Creek Alliance, Will Elkins, and the thing was to pick up some flyers he had printed up for the OHNY Plank Road event we conducted last weekend. We met at the North Brooklyn Boat Club location in Greenpoint’s DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) neighborhood, and soon I found myself catching a ride with him in a medium sized row boat – outfitted with an electric motor – plying the waters of Newtown Creek.

We were heading for the so called “Unnamed Canal” which is analogous to the intersection of Kingsland Avenue and North Henry Street, which sits alongside a relict DSNY marine waste transfer station. That’s where NCA’s “Living Dock” project is underway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the electric engine slowly but surely propelled us along, the FDNY’s “BATT” SAFE Boat (Callsign: WDG3982) appeared behind us. The SAFE Boat platform has been discussed numerous times at this – your Newtown Pentacle – over the years. It utilizes the “weapons platform” concept which has been in vogue in military circles for the last couple of decades, which dictates that you create a single superstructure which can accomplish a variety of basic missions and then customize it to the particular occupation of the user. The NYPD carry towing equipment, the FDNY has water monitors (nozzles that shoot water or foam), and the Coast Guard mounts M60 machine guns to them.

This creates an economy of scale for the procurement of basic replacement parts like screws and engine bits, and creates a large number of trained mechanics who can easily find employment based on their familiarity with the design. The SAFE Boats come in small, medium, and large. The BATT is of the “response boat small” type.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By all appearances, the BATT was on patrol. It’s officially designated as a “Law Enforcement” vessel everywhere that I checked. Above, the BATT is depicted as proceeding eastward along the Newtown Creek, with LIC’s M1 industrial zone and the SimsMetal Newtown Creek Dock as a backdrop. Presumptively, they were on a regular patrol. It’s likely that this unit is based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, although there are other Marine unit bases to the north where it might hail from.

As a note, I forgot to take the flyers from Mr. Elkins after returning to land and after having walked to Greenpoint from Astoria to get them. This is one of the many reasons that a humble narrator can best be described as an idiot.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm

temperamentally unfitted

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast precautions were advised in this section of the Queens Terminal of Sims Metal Management by its employees, as literally tons of twisted scrap metal were arriving every few minutes. Enormous trucks vomited the stuff noisily onto the concrete deck of this industrial pier, found in the Blissville section of Queens alongside the canalized bulkheads of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Great powers enjoy mineral wealth, but after thousands of years of continuous civilization, certain metals will become “mined out” and any remaining material in the ground becomes impracticable to access for engineering or economic reasons.

Nations of modernity who have inherited the imperial holdings of the past, such as Turkey and China, suffer from these issues with the former lacking in iron and the latter in copper and aluminum.

Both nations enjoy considerable success in the early 21st century as manufacturing and fabrication centers, and vast and highly profitable organizations like Sims serve to feed them recyclable materials to fashion into new products.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mountains of the stuff are trucked to the Sims yard daily, where it is sorted by type and composition. An extensive list of rules, and list of materials, governing what the company is buying is available at their web site, found here. They eschew the “peddler” business here, leaving that to smaller players, many of whom are found further east on the Creek.

Peddlers are those whom I have long referred to as the “Crows,” itinerant metal collectors and mendicants who patrol area streets and snap up anything that might be shiny.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sheer quantity of scrap was intimidating, piled in conical mounds which were perhaps 20-30 feet high. Advice from the employees shepherded me was to stay clear of the vicinity. As with most of the people I’ve met in the waste handling industry, with one or two notable exceptions, these fellows were quite proud of what they were doing for a living and amiable about answering the probably idiotic questions they were being offered.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The metallic abundances are moved from dock to barge via the usage of a device called a “Materials Handler” which is pictured above. This shot is from a different day, of course, and captured at a distance from the Brooklyn side of Newtown Creek. These crane like machines are fitted with a powerful tool, resembling nothing so much than as a metallic claw, which is possessed of prodigious strength. The materials are loaded on to barges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These barges, which are essentially enormous armored buckets that float, will be picked up and transported to other Sims facilities found across New York harbor via the services of Tugboats. This terminal in Queens operates as a port of entry for recyclables into a vast region wide network which operates in not just New York State, but other municipalities as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The thing is, though, that despite all of the wonderful machines and engineered procedures I had witnessed to this point, the big show was about to begin. My inner seven year old began to quiver with delight when a car carrier showed up, and the operator of a nearby materials handler climbed into the cabin and started his engine. The heaviest of all metal was about to play, as Sims received a load of autos.

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

stealthy attendants

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Blissville, USA.

Found at the crux of the main body of Newtown Creek and its atavist tributary known simply as “Dutch Kills,” Sims Metal Management Queens Terminal is in deep focus this week at this, your Newtown Pentacle. My visit was prearranged with a friend who is highly placed at the corporation, and I was shepherded throughout site by its chief- Paul Lawrence, and by Daniel Strechay, a communications officer for the company.

Additionally, one of the employees whom I only know as “Dave” came along for the tour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the DSNY discharges its curbside recycling program pick ups, employees at Sims move the materials toward an enormous conveyor belt whereupon it is lifted away from the years and toward its traveling container, which is a barge. Joyous usage of the maritime bulkheads distinguishes this facility, which ships its product out using the water. A single barge is carries the equivalent cargo of 30 trucks, and we have enough of those on our streets already.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conveyor deposits the recyclable material onto a barge, which is outfitted with netting designed to keep the stuff onboard, despite the best efforts of the wind. This is a critical design feature, by the way, meant to keep the waters surrounding the bulkheads from accruing sediment piles composed of plastic and glass.

Last Sunday, the tug Sea Wolf was displayed handling a similar barge of recyclables while motoring down the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s how their municipal contract is handled here, in a nut shell, but as the global corporation’s name implies- Sims Metal Management is really all about metal.

An explanation of which material is destined for what market was offered, and destinations which included Turkey, Korea, and China were mentioned for various forms of scrap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point by the onslaught of visual stimuli, your humble narrator took a breath and contemplated the global network of shipping, commodity pricing, and man power which this midden of metal was entering into. All of it, beginning here in Blissville, in the humble borough of Queens.

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

carefully sheltered

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Deviant gait carried your humble narrator forth from the hillocks of raven eyed Astoria, and I had arrived at an atavist pavement known only as “Railroad Avenue” in the Blissville section of Queens, a forgotten road which runs alongside that lumbering cataract of unintended consequence known as the Newtown Creek. My goal was to accept an invitation to tour the Sims Metal Management facility which might be found at its terminus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An industrial lane, Railroad Avenue is well named. Ancient track beds, dating back to the American Civil War, spread squamously across the land. Long ago, passenger service along these tracks created an indelibly unfavorable opinion of Long Island City, as locomotive travel moved past manure depots, rendering plants, acid factories, pickling houses, and yeast distilleries. Today, it is mostly freight, although just a few passenger trains still travel between Hunters Point and Jamaica along these rights of way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Petroleum industry infrastructure dominates the first section of Railroad Avenue, and upon reaching its terminus, one realizes that he has arrived at the Sims Metal Management Queens Terminal. A waste transfer station, Sims receives municipal recycling materials from DSNY, and is also a large and enthusiastic global player in the metal recycling business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like many other industrial sites found along the Newtown Creek, Sims is off limits to the public. There is very good reason for this, as there are enormous machines which dwarf tractor trailer rigs whizzing about, and literally tons and tons of material being sorted and processed. Your humble narrator was asked to arrive with steel toe boots and appropriate clothing. Upon arriving- I was outfitted with hard hat, safety vest and glasses, and instructed by the site supervisor in the mores and habits observed by the corporation and its employees.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Procedurally speaking, Sims welcomes private and public (DSNY) recyclable material, within certain guidelines. Trucks carrying said material are weighed on an enormous scale at the gate, and the attendant creates a manifest describing what is being delivered and dispatches the vehicle to an appropriate spot to tilt and discharge its cargo. Said cargo can be anything from copper and aluminum to iron girders or automobiles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The equipment at work here is an order of magnitude larger than what I normally witness at construction sites around the city, the rear tires on the earth mover pictured above- for instance- were 3-4 feet in diameter and seemed to be made of solid rubber or composite. Later in the day, I saw a tire change occurring on another unit, which required the presence of a specialized machine to remove tire from its axle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of particular interest were the series of white packer trucks arriving and tilting here, carrying the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling pickups. Sims enjoys a municipal contract with the City to handle this task, and manage the velocity of such materials back into the plastics and glass ecosystem. A variety of raw materials can be derived from the plastic in soda bottles, for instance, including spinning the synthetic fibers woven into “fleece” sweatshirts and sneakers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like every other truck entering and leaving the yard, the DSNY trucks are weighed and presented with a receipt for their drop off, for which Sims will later bill the City in accordance with their contract. It is my understanding that said remittance is built around gross tonnage of materials rather than by individual truckload.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A staggering amount of these recyclables was extant on the day of my visit, but this is just one tuesday morning’s worth of material, and isn’t it even close to the final 24 hour tally. The mound visible in the shot above was likely 20 feet high, and receded back from my vantage 20-40 feet.

Tomorrow, we go deeper into the operation and find out where to get all heavy metal on the Newtown Creek.

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

golden nebulae

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself is drawn to certain locales normally shunned by the teeming masses of the vast human hive. Obsessive, my long standing fascination with the processes and mores of the waste disposal and handling industries have led me to waste transfer stations, sewer plants, even cemeteries. Luckily, my beloved Newtown Creek offers exemplars of each, but there has always been a certain spot which has caught my fancy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Located at the junction of Newtown Creek with its tributary, Dutch Kills, a particular industrial site has long tantalized. Several years of stalking the place have provided for a extraordinary images, and whether onboard a vessel or on foot, visitors to the watershed are seldom disappointed by this singular location with its frenetic activity, maritime splendor, and constantly moving heavy equipment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It isn’t a terribly large facility, by Newtown Creek standards, which hosts massive properties like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, the former Standard Oil properties along Kingsland and Norman, Calvary Cemetery, the former Phelps Dodge location, or the enormous National Grid parcel. It is fortuitously located, with maritime bulkheads and along a rail line.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sites history is storied, for this was once the home of the LIRR Manure dock, wherein the rail company’s freight operations collected that which the age of horse and carriage produced. Infamous in the historical record- this dock exhibited, in the open air, a 30 foot high and three football field long mound of human and animal manure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The material was largely destined for use as fertilizer on the catholic estates in Jamaica, Queens, and some was shipped to points further east where it was sold as a commodity to Long Island farmers. There was also a market for the stuff, along the creek, as a raw material in the acid and fertilizer factories which lined the Queens or northern bank during the late 1800’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often remarked upon by those of us who puzzle over the Newtown Creek’s unique history- during the hypercapitalist 19th century era, recycling and repurposing waste materials was referred to with the aphorism “waste not, want not” and great profits could be realized by “using every part of the pig but the squeal” as Chicago’s Philip Armour once said.

Modernity strives to achieve such profitable utility in the handling and “recycling” of our waste materials, something that seemed to have been forgotten during the decades of excess following the Second World War and which is painfully and expensively being reimagined by engineers today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long have my eyes desired to look upon this place directly, and not dependent on the focal and resolution of long lenses. Recent happenstance, running into an acquaintance who could arrange a site visit at a waterfront conference, finally allowed your humble narrator to approach and inspect this object of my affections.

This week we will be exploring the Queens Terminal of Sims Metal Management, found in Blissville, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

seething column

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photos by Mitch Waxman

Animated gifs at Newtown Pentacle? Indeed, verily, and why the heck not? Tuesday of this week, one managed to secure an invite and site walk through at the SimsMetal Queens Terminal, and one of the commodities they process are ex-automobiles. I was lucky enough to be there when a truck load of them came in.

– photos by Mitch Waxman

I was told that the autos which enter the facility have been drained of vital fluids and other chemicals, as well as having had their gas tanks removed prior to being loaded on the trucks which carried them here. Ultimately, the cars will be loaded onto a barge and carried away for further processing.

– photos by Mitch Waxman

A few “proper” posts next week will describe what I saw at SimsMetal, presented in the normal manner, but I couldn’t stop myself from throwing together these animated sequences to wind this week up. The one thing going through my mind while shooting these was “Hulk Smash.”

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

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