By Vladimir Brezina
Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Hidden.
In our kayaks, we can poke into the most obscure corners of New York Harbor. And we do! And over the years, we’ve found there many fascinating hidden things.
Many of them are remnants of the maritime and commercial history of the harbor. There are substantial ships tucked away at the ends of narrow waterways, acres of wrecks,
even a submarine…
Here is another strange, intriguing structure. It’s located a little out of the way, in Port Reading, NJ, on the Arthur Kill behind Staten Island. It’s not exactly hidden—as you paddle up the Kill you can see it in plain sight from a long way off. But you have to notice it particularly, as it blends rather well into the general decayed industrial look of the shoreline. And, on the first visit, the pink wreck of the Major General William H. Hart just in front of it (in the first photo below) completely steals the show.
So, although we’ve paddled past many times, we’ve only once taken a few minutes for a closer look. This was in September 2010, when these photos were taken (since then, the structure has reportedly deteriorated even more).
At that time, we didn’t really know what we were looking at. Now that we do, we must go back for a careful inspection!
So, what is it?
It’s a McMyler Coal Unloader. Built in 1917 and operating until the 1970s—according to some accounts, until 1983—it’s the last remaining one of its kind in the New York area. Originally there were at least eight of them along the shoreline of New York Harbor, each operated by one of the railroads that brought coal in from Pennsylvania and the Alleghenies. One, described in loving detail here in a 1951 article, apparently was located on Jersey City’s Pier 18, a now completely vanished 900-foot quay extending into the Hudson River between Liberty and Ellis Islands!
In operation, an open-topped railroad car full of coal was pushed into position inside the unloader’s tower. It was then grasped by the machinery, bodily lifted up, and turned upside down so that the coal spilled down a chute into a waiting barge (moored about where the tug Turecamo Girls is moored in the photos above). The empty car was put back onto the rails and given a little shove, so that, like on a roller coaster, it rolled away by gravity down an incline while the next full car was pushed into position…
The Garden State Central Model Railroad Club has built a working model of a McMyler Coal Unloader, seen in action here:
No dainty opening of little hopper doors here. This was a crude, brute-force approach that worked. The McMyler Coal Unloader could empty a 100-ton car every minute or so, continuously. A fascinating relic of the heroic industrial age—it might have been built by giants!