Tag Archives: Engineering

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!

Questionable Facelift for a Beauty

By Johna Till Johnson
(Additional material contributed by Vladimir Brezina)

Yesterday, I wrote about the Bayonne Bridge’s 80th birthday. The Bayonne Bridge is one of the loveliest—possibly even the loveliest—bridge in New York Harbor.

But I neglected to mention something in that post. Not because I’d forgotten, but because I don’t like to think about it: Current plans are for the Bayonne Bridge to undergo a structural makeover.

The roadbed of the bridge is being raised from 151 feet at high tide to 215 feet to accommodate the new generation of post-Panamax container ships.

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The Engineer Who Transformed Shipping

By Johna Till Johnson

I have a weird habit, one that I share with many other (equally weird) folks: I love to read obituaries.

“Isn’t that morbid?” you’re thinking. On the contrary: Obituaries usually make me happy.  A good obituary is a celebration of the life and times of a person I’ve probably never heard of, but end up wishing I’d met.

And though I’m sorry to have missed that person, it’s enlightening to know they once existed. It reconfirms my bedrock belief that the world is a far stranger and more interesting place than I’ll ever fully know.

I also happen to be deeply intrigued by shipping containers. One of the great joys of paddling is the up-close-and-personal look you get at shipping containers. Stacked on barges. Loading and unloading from docks. And occasionally, strewn randomly across the landscape.

I marvel at their ingenuity of form, at the fact that they can be stacked so high without (apparently) ever falling over, and lifted and transported securely. I occasionally wonder what it’s like to live in one, given that they’re about as large as the typical Manhattan studio. (Don’t laugh. It’s apparently a growing trend—and it’s eco-friendly to boot.) And of course, I think about the individual who first invented them.

As you’ve probably guessed, the engineer who created the modern shipping container died recently. If you’re too busy to click on the link, here’s the short version: His name was Keith Tantlinger. He died at 92. He lived mostly on the West Coast (California and Washington State) where he worked on tools to build the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber during WWII.  And his crucial engineering insight that created the modern shipping container was the Twistlock “locking corner”, a simple and effective mechanism that made it possible to safely stack shipping containers many layers high.

And the smiling photo that accompanies his obituary (taken in 1958, right around the time when he was working on shipping containers) shows a young man enjoying the rush of creativity, and confidently aware that he’s changing the world.

A world that continues to be stranger and more interesting than we’ll ever fully know… which makes me very happy indeed.