Tag Archives: Arthur Kill

Travel Theme: Hidden

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,


The Yellow Submarineeven 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!

IMGP0388 cropped smallIMGP0412 cropped smallIMGP0402 cropped small

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!

… And Once More Round Staten Island

By Vladimir Brezina

Last Saturday, we kayaked around Staten Island. I’ve already posted photos of a couple of the highlights of the trip. But the entire trip was memorable. Here it is:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The individual photos are also in this Picasa Web Album, where they are much bigger—it might be best to play the slideshow there!

The Ships of Arthur Kill

By Vladimir Brezina

Last Saturday, in the course of a memorable kayak circumnavigation of Staten Island (slideshow forthcoming!), we passed through the Arthur Kill, the industrial waterway at the back of Staten Island. And we stopped for a short while, as we always do, at the Graveyard of Ships.

“Marooned, high tide, but among giants; River. City. Heroes. I should have moved to Brooklyn.”




At the back of the Graveyard rises the green mountain of Fresh Kills, the giant former landfill of New York City.

Although the old favorites are still recognizable, the Graveyard is rapidly decaying (and is also being actively dismantled, apparently). Just two years ago, this looked like this

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

A few miles further up the Arthur Kill, by contrast, it was all vigorous activity at the Howland Hook Marine Terminal. The Hyundai Forward was being simultaneously unloaded and loaded.

(If you look carefully, you will see a tiny Johna paddling down the side of the ship in the first two photos…)

The cycle of life and death!


Update June 10, 2012: The slideshow of the entire Staten Island circumnavigation is here.

In Hidden Corners of New York Harbor: Three Treasures

By Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

With the ability to paddle through the shallowest water and the narrowest gap between rocks and pilings, and the motivation to poke into obscure corners, a kayaker sees things in New York Harbor that those on larger boats miss.  Most affecting—because they too were once alive—are the remains of the vessels that at one time or another were left in an out-of-the-way corner of the harbor and never moved again.  Here are three such places:

Continue reading