MTA Substation #13

I got to the MTA’s Substation #13 through the New York Transit Museum recently. The substation converts high voltage AC electricity from the grid and converts it to a lower voltage DC electricity that is used to operate subway trains via the third rail. The substation was originally built in 1904, and it fits into the category of “they don’t build them the way they used to.” The outside looks like a nice neighborhood building, and it has architectural aspects that I really wouldn’t expect from a substation. For example, an interior staircase has lovely decorative balusters.

Exterior of the Substation #13

Exterior of the Substation #13

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Gorgeous stairwell inside the substation

Inside the substation are large rotary converters, specifically Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converters. The rotary converters are what used to transform the AC electricity to DC electricity. Now modern solid state rectifiers are used to transform the electricity, and they are much more compact. The old rotary converters were used until 1999, when this substation was switched to the new equipment.

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Convertor

Positive and negative brush arms of Westinghouse 1,500 kilowatt Rotary Converter

Our guide was retired general superintendent Robert Lobenstein, who showed us around. He also showed us how workers used to have to do normal work, like changing switches and listening for crackling to make sure a wire was not live.

How workers used to change switches

How workers used to change switches

We got to go into the basement which had all sorts of old equipment.

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

I have no idea what this is, but it is cool looking

We even got to go into a vault under the street where cables left the substation to go to the subway. The vault can be accessed through a door in the basement or through a manhole in the street. Normally this type of vault could only be accessed through a manhole. The cables go through conduits that are buried under the street. The cables are tagged, but it still looks like it would be difficult to find the right one if needed.

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Cables leave the substation through the vault under the street with manhole access

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Inside a manhole. The manhole access is visible in the center of the ceiling.

Back inside the basement, some of the equipment was still being used, but some was no longer needed, like some massive cables that were cut.

Old cut cables

Old cut cables

Branching cables

Cables come in from the ground from the grid and are then split before going upstairs to the transformation equipment.

We then went upstairs were the new equipment was, including the solid state rectifiers and the biggest breakers I have ever seen. The breakers are in the circuit with the third rail. They detect surges in the third rail and cut off power before a fire or some other damage can occur. There is a lot of redundancy with the circuit breakers. Our guide turned one off, so we could hear how loud it is, but because of redundancy, it had no effect on the subway.

Circuits connecting to breakers

Circuits connecting to breakers

Breakers for the third rail

Breakers for the third rail. The copper plates are the third rail.

The solid state rectifiers are very different in appearance, at least, from the rotary converters. [I understood very little about this.] What amazed me during the tour, was when I finally understood I was actually staring at the third rail. The long copper plates in the photos are the third rail, which leave the substation and go to the subway. The positive rail is the equivalent of the black or red wire in a house’s wiring. The negative is the equivalent of the white wire in a house’s wiring.

Third rail leaves converters

Third rail leaves the rectifiers. The positive rail “POS” goes to the subway. The negative rail “NEG” goes to a central location to complete the circuit.

Also upstairs was this amazing old series of electrical switches, dials, and gauges. None of this stuff is used anymore, but it really cool looking. I liked how everything was tagged out, never to have the tags removed again and be turned on again.

Old switches that are no longer used

Old switches that are no longer used

Gauges

Gauges

Finally at the end of the tour, they turned on the rotary converter for us. Below is a video if you want to see it in action. It is almost hypnotic. During a portion of the video, you will see five lightbulbs on a wooden board sitting on the floor. They are being powered by the converter. After it is turned off and slowly slows down, the lights dim and then turn off.

 

Treasure in the Trash

Last week, I finally got the chance to tour Treasure in the Trash, a collection I had heard about a few years back and was obsessed with touring ever since. Treasure in the Trash is a collection of items that former Department of Sanitation of New York worker Nelson Molina found in the trash as he worked his route picking up trash. Only a very small percentage of items in the collection were found by someone else. Also, Mr. Molina worked in the same garage, the M11, during his career, so almost all the items are from the same area in east Manhattan. The collection is housed on the second floor of the M11 garage, which for structural reasons can no longer be used for vehicles (vehicles on only park on the first floor now), so the collection has expanded in the void.

Framed posters and art

Framed posters and art

Glass, metal, rocking horses, etc.

Glass, metal, rocking horses, etc.

Once trash is put on the curb, it is property of the city. Mr. Molina picked items out of the trash, but as the items were kept in the garage, he never kept them, so he never violated any rules. He would have had to have stopped his habit of picking items out of the trash if it had ever slowed him down on his route. However he clearly is fast in his work, and he is also seriously skilled at knowing which bags might contain items of interest for the collection. He was present during our tour, and he told us that his picking habit started when he was a child, and it clearly is a skill. While it would be easy to find the larger items to pick, we were all amazed at how he found some of the small items that were in bags.

Nelson Molina created and curates the collection

Nelson Molina created and curates the collection

Mr. Molina not only created the collection, but he curates it. The items were all arranged in collections of sorts. He retired from DSNY, but he still comes by the garage often to curate the collection. The collections are well done and arranged. I also enjoyed how he prominently displayed a poster for Open House New York, which arranged the tour, and a poster from the City of New York telling people to “Recycle More, Waste Less!”

Lots and lots of posters, including one for Open House New York, which arranged the tour

Lots and lots of posters, including one for Open House New York, which arranged the tour

The collection is amazing in its diversity, but it is really a statement about what we as a society throw away. So many things we buy now are “disposable” with the resources used to make them then just put into the trash when no longer desirable or useful. However with so many items, there are still resources that could be saved from the discarded item, if the item was discarded correctly. However in most places, it is difficult to discard of an item in a way that the resources could be retrieved from them. For example, metal recycling exists, but it is not always easy to get an item to a metal recycler. If you can though, you can actually make money from getting the metal to a recycler, like I did when I was renovating my house. [Side note: I don’t know the precise amount, but a decent amount of New York trash goes to Covanta Waste to Energy incinerators. After the trash is burned, Covanta’s process does capture metals to then send for scrap. However burning metals lowers the efficiency of the incinerator.]

Metal, mainly brass, collection

Metal, mainly brass, collection

Metal collectibles

Metal collectibles

Collectible metal home accessories, some of which look rather valuable

Collectible metal home accessories, some of which look rather valuable

Some of the metal in the collection though, like many other items in the collection, look like something, that someone else would eagerly buy. Some of the jewelry, china, and glass looked if not really valuable, good enough that someone would happily buy at a thrift store or on eBay.

White china collection, how all of it is unbroken was amazing to me

White china collection, how all of it is unbroken was amazing to me

Colored glass collection that was amazingly unbroken

Colored glass collection that was amazingly unbroken

Jewelry

Jewelry

A set of old seltzer bottles donated by another sanitation worker

A set of old seltzer bottles donated by another sanitation worker

Seriously, much of the collection features items that are the reason eBay was created and continues to thrive.

All the collectible comic book, movie, etc. action figures are her

All the collectible comic book, movie, etc. action figures are here

Trolls

Trolls

Pez dispensers

Pez dispensers

All types of Furby's

All types of Furby’s

Then there are other collections that feature items that would be right at home in a museum of some type.

The still and motion picture collection

The still and motion picture collection

Old cameras

Old cameras

Old typewriters

Old typewriters

Then there were the items like old televisions, phones, and other electronics, that not only contain valuable resources like rare earth metals but also contain material, including those same rare earth metals, that are hazardous if they get into the environment. With most modern technology hardware, retrieving those valuable resources is difficult because of the way the items are constructed. Further, often the items are sent to developing nations, where people retrieve the valuable material to sell, but they work in ways that is dangerous to their own health.

Old cell phones

Old cell phones

Other items are funny, random, and weird. Some items made me wonder why someone had the item to begin with. Other items made me sad, like a cross stitch that featured what was clearly a bride and groom and said “Yvette and Lance – March 16, 2007.” I am just guessing Yvette and Lance’s marriage did not make it.

This was one of my favorite collection with the fighting preying mantises and wooden "rubber" chicken

This was one of my favorite collection with the fighting praying mantises and wooden “rubber” chicken. On the left is a ThighMaster.

Art including many Mona Lisa's

Art including many Mona Lisa’s

I believe they said someone else found the Moon and saved it for Mr. Molina

I believe they said someone else found the Moon and saved it for Mr. Molina

Then there was this gem that welcomes you as you walk up the stairs to Treasure in the Trash.

Rat behind a fence in a hole in the wall in the stairwell leading to Trash in the Treasure

Rat behind a fence in a hole in the wall in the stairwell leading to Trash in the Treasure

The place was amazing. If you ever get the chance, go tour it. Also, many thanks to Open House New York for arranging the tour, DSNY for letting us in, Nelson Molina for talking about the collection, and Robin Nagle, DSNY’s anthropologist in residence, for her introduction to the collection and whose book “Picking Up” about DSNY is well worth the read.

Making chocolate

I took a tour of Che’il Mayan Chocolate, which included an organic cacao farm and a tiny factory where they make chocolate. I am not sure it qualifies as a factory, but they make do make a small amount of chocolate there as well as some chocolate products like nibs, cocoa powder, and cacao tea. The tour was fascinating, and the following is a brief synopsis. It all starts off with a cacao tree.

Cacao tree

Cacao tree

The beginning of the deliciousness that is chocolate starts with a tiny, little flower.

Cacao flower

Cacao flower

When the flower is fertilized, a giant fruit or seed pod forms. The flowers bloom for months, and hence seed pods form and grow at different times.

Unripe cacao fruit or seed pod

Unripe cacao fruit or seed pod

The seed pods ripen to a yellow or red color depending on the specific cacao tree species.

Ripe cacao fruit or seed pods

Ripe cacao fruit or seed pods

Inside the seed pods are cacao beans covered in a white pulp. We got to take a bean and suck the pulp. The pulp was quite tasty with sort of a creamy, light fruit taste.

Cacao seed pod with seeds covered in white pulp

Cacao seed pod with beans covered in white pulp

The beans have a dark brown interior.

Cacao seed pods with seeds covered in pulp in upper half and seeds we sucked pulp off of in lower half

Cacao seed pods with beans covered in pulp in upper half and seeds we sucked pulp off of in lower half

The beans are first fermented in a box for several days. They are then roasted over low heat. In the photo below, the light beans (on the traditional Mayan grinding stone) are the beans that have not been roasted. The dark ones in the middle front bowl have been roasted. Cocoa butter is in the white bowl, and the bowl right in front of it are the shells from de-shelled beans. The shells are removed from the beans before roasting. After roasting the beans, they are ground into nibs, which can be seen in the bowl to the left of the cocoa butter.

Cacao seeds

Cacao beans

The nibs are placed on the stone and crushed.

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

Crushing cacao nibs

The grinding motion with the stone pulverizes the nibs, and the pressure causes heat, which starts to melt the oils in the nibs. We got to taste it at this point, and the chocolate is rather bitter.

Crushing cacao nibs with liquid starting to form

Crushing cacao nibs with liquid starting to form

After quite a bit of grinding of the nibs, only liquid remains. Sugar and cocoa butter is added.

Adding sugar and cocoa butter

Adding sugar and cocoa butter

The mixture is ground more to mix everything. We got to taste the finished chocolate at this point again. It definitely was sweeter with the sugar, but to me, it still had a bitter after taste.

Finished dark chocolate blend

Finished dark chocolate blend

The liquid is then poured into forms and allowed to harden. These were put into a fridge to harden quickly.

Pouring chocolate into forms

Pouring chocolate into forms

The finished product. The mixture made was 70% cacao. It tasted a bit different from the dark chocolate I have had before. It also melted very quickly in my hands compared to store bought chocolate, which must have stabilizers or something. Interestingly, even though this was the same mixture as what I tasted before it was poured into the forms, after cooling and hardening, it had lost most if not all of the bitter after taste that I tasted with the liquid.

Finished chocolate bars

Finished chocolate bars

Houston Cistern

I love hidden places. I love places that you can just walk by and not have any idea are there. It just makes them more magical. I recently found out that Houston has an underground drinking water storage reservoir, a cistern. I have passed by this place so many times not having any idea it was there. The cistern was decommissioned in 2007 after an irreparable leak was discovered. Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the City of Houston turned it into space for people to visit and learn about the history of it and also a space that can be used for art installations. When functioning, the reservoir could hold 15 million gallons, but now it just has about 6 inches of water across. Enough water is there just for a neat reflection of the columns in it.

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern

Houston Cistern, the dark round object seen on the left side of the roof is a new access shaft

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

Houston Cistern, when it was operational, this was the only access to it

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

The cistern sits below the grass. In the foreground in an access shaft to the cistern.

Coney Island Creek

I went on a hike along Coney Island Creek with Atlas Obscura and Underwater New York to see its virtual ship graveyard. The tour did not disappoint. There were a multitude of shipwrecks, including the famous yellow submarine. We walked along the shore during high tide. The shore was quite mucky, and I was thankful for my waterproof hiking boots, while trying not to think about what was in that muck. There was lots of algae and seaweed of some type. We spotted a few fishermen and men who appeared to be hunting for oysters or clams or sometime of shellfish (are they called fishermen also?). I have serious doubts the fish are safe to eat on a regular basis, simply based on the history of pollution in that area. I can only hope I am wrong for their sake.

Metal shipwreck

Metal shipwreck

Seaweed and barnacles on piers

Seaweed and barnacles on piers

Inside a metal shipwreck

Inside a metal shipwreck, Coney Island Parachute Jump tower can be seen in left background

Horseshoe crab remains

Horseshoe crab remains

Wooden shipwreck

Wooden shipwreck

Famous yellow submarine

Famous yellow submarine

Metal nails in a wooden shipwreck

Metal nails in a wooden shipwreck

Wooden shipwreck with large modern tanker ship in background

Wooden shipwreck with large modern tanker ship in background

Wooden ship remains

Wooden ship remains

Old pier

Old pier

Metal shipwreck that is now a giant planter

Metal shipwreck that is now a giant planter

Cass

To wrap up my trip to scenic railroads in West Virginia, my tour group visited Cass, where the Cass Scenic Railroad is based. Cass is now a state park, but it once was a company town, built to support the logging operations and mill. The company store and many of the  company houses are still standing. All the company houses were built the same and are basic, yet today, they still look charming. Cass was famous for having wooden sidewalks on all its streets. The town still does have wooden sidewalks, but obviously they are not the original ones. The mill burnt down, but remnants of it still remain. A newer train shop is there also, and if you are lucky like me, you can get a tour.

Cats company houses

Cass company houses

Cass jail in the basement of the building that has the mayor's office and council chambers on the top floor. [There is a modern day political joke in there.]

Cass jail in the basement of the building that has the mayor’s office and council chambers on the top floor. [There is a modern day political joke in there.]

The nicest house in Cass, originally built for the company owners.

The nicest house in Cass, originally built for the company owners.

Cass Company Store

Cass Company Store

The ovens of the former mill. In the third oven, stacks of wood are present. The mill was closed so suddenly that the wood was left still in the over.

The ovens of the former mill. In the third oven, stacks of wood are present. The mill was closed so suddenly that the wood was left still in the oven.

The ovens of the former mill.

The ovens of the former mill.

Part of the former mill

Part of the former mill

Mechanical rolling parts of the former mill. A metal saw used to cut the wood is in there.

Mechanical rolling parts of the former mill. A metal saw used to cut the wood is in there.

Part of the former mill

Part of the former mill

Coal pile to supply the Cass Scenic Railroad train

Coal pile to supply the Cass Scenic Railroad train

Inside the Cass shop

Inside the Cass shop

Inside the Cass shop with many machines to make replacement parts that can no longer be bought

Inside the Cass shop with many machines to make replacement parts that can no longer be bought

A short video of the Cass Scenic Railroad rolling to the station and stopping to pick up water.

Durbin Rocket

I took a ride on the Durbin Rocket this afternoon. The Climax geared logging locomotive was built in 1910 and powers a vintage train, including an old postal car. The train is indeed a rocket, as it moves along at a whopping 8 miles per hour. At one point a butterfly passed us. The roundtrip route from Durbin, West Virginia, however is gorgeous as it follows the Greenbriar River in the Monongahela National Forest. The only problem is after seeing all the smoke the coal burning created, I feel the need to go plant an entire grove of trees.

The locomotive

The locomotive

A look inside the locomotive

A look inside the locomotive

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

An old telegraph pole

An old telegraph pole

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Locomotive and coal supply car

Locomotive and coal supply car

Coal fired steam engine blowing smoke

Coal fired steam engine blowing smoke

Irises by the Greenbriar River

Irises by the Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Durbin Rocket traveling by a field

Durbin Rocket traveling by a field

Refilling the locomotive with water on the return trip

Refilling the locomotive with water on the return trip

Stream where train stops to refill water for engine

Stream where train stops to refill water for engine

Greenbriar River

Greenbriar River

Life Today

Another day, another mass shooting in the United States. When I was a child, I can remember fire drills. I remember tornado drills. Active shooter drills did not exist. Now they do.

Today I spent part of my work day completing a whole bunch of mandatory training. One training was on information technology security. In my opinion, the training was stupid, but then again I am more informed than others. I know not to share my password with anyone.  I know not to open unknown files. I take many precautions to protect my sensitive information, like shredding even vaguely sensitive documents. The irony of the training being that it was in fact my employer and its inadequate security that was hacked months back and allowed my personal information to be stolen. My social security number may have been compromised. My employer is now paying for credit monitoring for me. When I was in college, professors posted our social security numbers with our grades as a way to allow us to find our grades and keep them anonymous. Now, posting social security numbers wouldn’t be allowed. They are too sensitive. Because of the internet, there are things I have to worry about that I never did as a child, but I still love the internet. I don’t want to go back to life without it.

I am not one of those people who likes to talk about how things were better when they were young. I love the internet. I love my smart phone. I love my energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. I love indoor plumbing. I love that I can be and am a female engineer. I love that I live in a country with clean air and water, and I don’t have to worry if my drinking water is safe or if the food I buy is contaminated. I love that vaccines exist. A hundred years ago women couldn’t vote. Until the mid-1800s, slavery existed. So, no, I don’t want to go backwards. The world has never been perfect. We have always had violence. People have always stereotyped and hated people for stupid reasons. People have always blamed others for whatever problem. We don’t seem to be able to get rid of violence or prejudice or hatred. This makes me very sad. We have made technological progress. We have made astounding progress in medicine and public health. We have made progress in civil rights. Why can’t we make progress in ending the hatred and violence? Why must we keep killing each other?

More San Juan

I enjoyed my visit to San Juan, Puerto Rico and just need to post a few more photos from my trip. Viejo San Juan really is a lovely area to just walk around and absorb the atmosphere.

View of San Juan Bay

View of San Juan Bay

Courthouse and US Post Office

Courthouse and US Post Office

El Convento, originally a convent and now a lovely hotel

El Convento, originally a convent and now a lovely hotel

Cuartel de Ballaja

Cuartel de Ballaja

Viejo San Juan's famous blue cobblestone streets

Viejo San Juan’s famous blue cobblestone streets

Cristo Chapel, next to Parque de las Palomas

Cristo Chapel, next to Parque de las Palomas

Capital of Puerto Rico (El Capitolio de Puerto Rico)

Capital of Puerto Rico (El Capitolio de Puerto Rico)

Central dome of Capital of Puerto Rico

Central dome of Capital of Puerto Rico

Castillo San Cristobal

On my last day in Puerto Rico, I explored Castillo San Cristobal, a fort built by the Spanish to protect San Juan from attack by land. It was built between 1634 and 1790, and then the U.S. added a few concrete additions during World War II. The fort is huge and has a series of tunnels. Some of these tunnels are huge, connecting the different levels and areas of the fort, and were designed to have defensive explosives. Some of the tunnels are really small, and you have to stoop to move through them. If you ever get a chance to visit, try to get one of the ranger guided tours of the tunnels. Those tours besides being very informative, let you go inside some of the really small tunnels in which you normally aren’t allowed.

View from top level

View from top level

Old stone design

Old stone design

Upper level

Upper level

Upper level looking into courtyard

Upper level looking into courtyard

Upper level artillery foundation

Upper level artillery foundation

View from newer concrete WWII lookout

View from newer concrete WWII lookout

Entrance to small, normally inaccessible tunnel

Entrance to small, normally inaccessible tunnel

Small, normally inaccessible tunnel

Small, normally inaccessible tunnel

View from courtyard

View from lower, exterior courtyard

Entrance to lower tunnel with symbol on top warning of explosives

Entrance to lower tunnel with symbol on top warning of explosives

Inside a tunnel

Inside a tunnel

Dungeon entrance

Dungeon entrance

Courtyard with view to city through window

Courtyard with view to city through window

Main courtyard

Main courtyard

Entrance to the main tunnels

Entrance to the main tunnels

Soldiers' quarters

Soldiers’ quarters

Officers' quarters

Passageways in soldiers’ quarters

Exterior of fort

Exterior of fort