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7 Days: The City Below

7 Days: The City Below

When Adam Moss stepped down as editor of New York journal final month, it marked the top of an era. Since taking the helm of the august title in 2004, Moss had helped set the business normal for magazine journalism, documenting the life of the town in all its intellectual, lowbrow, sensible, and despicable glory. 

In fact, as dedicated media-watchers know, much of the New York‘s DNA was apparent three many years in the past, when Moss emerged from Manhattan’s media landscape as the 30-year-old wunderkind behind the much-loved, short-lived 7 Days magazine. Revealed by then-Voice proprietor Leonard Stern for two years bridging the ’80s and ’90s, 7 Days was an excellent failure, bleeding cash, but minting the reputations for a era of fledgling journalists. 

Flipping by means of the 7 Days archives at present is an exercise in pleasant discovery. There’s Jeffrey Toobin writing concerning the Yankees, lengthy earlier than he turned the lead legal analyst for the New Yorker; future best-selling writer Meg Wolitzer (The Wife) writing the weekly crossword puzzle; a daily magazine-watching column from fellow future best-selling writer Walter Kirn (Up in the Air); Peter Schjeldahl masking the humanities scene; Joan Acocella on dance. 

Over the subsequent week, we here on the Voice archives might be sharing some of these treasures from the vault. Welcome to seven days of 7 Days

December 6, 1989

Open Up a Manhole and Bounce Right In

Think about grabbing Manhattan by the Empire State Constructing and pulling the en­tire island up by its roots. Imagine shaking it. Imagine tens of millions of wires and a whole lot of hundreds of cables liberating themselves from great hunks of rock and tons of musty and polluted filth. Think about a sewer system and a set of water strains every 3 times as long as the Hudson River. Image mysterious little vaults hidden just beneath the crust of the sidewalk, a sweaty grid of steam pipes 103 miles lengthy, a turn-of-the-18th-century merchant ship buried underneath Entrance Road, rusty previous natural-gas strains that could possibly be wrapped 23 occasions round Manhattan, and large, bombproof concrete tubes that descend virtually 80 stories into the bottom.

It’s all down there: the deliberate and the un­deliberate, the infrastructure and the archaeological sur­prises. There are previous pneu­matic tubes that when moved letters around the metropolis; snapping turtles swimming within the sewers; and a six-lane freeway built in the late 1960s un­derneath the subway at Chrystie Road, then sealed, abandoned, and forgotten. There’s a city beneath the streets, however most New Yorkers don’t hassle themselves with it, till a steam pipe explodes and kills three individuals in Gramercy Park, as one did in August, or a water primary breaks and flushes shut the Eighth Avenue subway, as one did in September. Even in these dramatic instances, even when the newspapers fill their pages with graphs and charts, individuals solely get a neat little define — a me­ticulous diagram of a slop­py bowl of linguine. Com­puter graphics are too calculated to seize the randomness of the world beneath the avenues. Ab­stract Impressionists would do higher.

The world beneath Man­hattan is a cake of countless layers, a foundation as deep because the Chrysler Build­ing is high. On the highest lies a 3-inch strip of asphalt. Next comes virtually 10 inches of coarse concrete. After that, soil, a nasty soil that soaks up chemical compounds from the road. In one other inch or 3 come the wires — ­phone and electrical, streetlight and hearth alarm, and, the most recent addition, cable TV — all buried in casings and stored close to the curbs. Fuel strains puff away another foot under; water mains gurgle four ft beneath; steam pipes are.buried 6 ft deep. Every sewer pipe is totally different (they’re put in at an angle in order that sewage is all the time flowing down), however they’re usually above the vaults of the subways, which differ in depth from a couple of dozen inches (the Lex­ington Avenue line) to 18 tales under St. Nicholas Av­enue (191st Road on the Broadway local). Water tun­nels — operating between 200 and 800 ft — mark the farthest reach of the underground.

From time to time, there are the scares. Within the ’70s, for instance, earlier than cleaning up asbestos turned a profit­in a position business, New Yorkers have been worrying about pink lead paint on their water pipes. However someway, in its hodgepodge means, the underground retains pumping and flowing and rising. It never provides out.


“Loads of water leaks are brought on by city borings,” says the water division’s Doug Greeley. “A contractor went via an 18-inch fuel line with a backhoe,” says Con Ed’s Bob Greis. “We’ve dug in some places with spoons,” says Ed Moloney, an engineer with Vollmer Associates, a agency recognized for its information of the underground.

Moloney, a kind-faced Irishman dressed in shirt ­sleeves and a tie, is aware of better than most how crowded it’s down there. He helped engineer the Van Wyck Ex­pressway, the Cross Bronx, and. the Grand Central Parkway, and by the top of the ’50s was working each day with Robert Moses’ office. In the late ’60s, Moloney signed on with Arnold Vollmer, an engineer and panorama architect whose firm had develop into acquainted with buried cables and wires after digging hundreds of holes for the town’s sidewalk timber. At Vollmer, Moloney got down to document the trail of each utility beneath the two,000 or so intersections from 60th Road south to the Battery. He came up with a system for mea­suring the density of utility strains, representing the least dense areas with green, more dense areas with yellow, and people stuffed utterly with pink. And what did he find? “A number of pink,” he says, “notably in decrease Manhattan.”

Moloney’s experience is so extensively recognized that the FBI as soon as referred to as him to seek out out if terrorists may make use of the sewers, say, to rough up Fidel Castro while he was talking on the United Nations. Moloney figured that, yes, it was potential, but the terrorists would have to deliver their own air and pray for clear climate. Rain, Moloney informed the agents, would certainly wash out an attack.

When Moloney and his colleagues at Vollmer are employed to plan a brand new installation underground, the very first thing they do is sift by way of the archives: Con Ed maps, phone-company maps, and utility maps drawn in the course of the New Deal. Next, they dig a few check pits — espe­cially in the tighter areas — to see if what’s purported to be there’s truly there. “Now you understand what ought to be underneath there,” Moloney says. “However you ask, How does this fuel major run from this valve to that valve? Does it go straight or up and down? From our expertise we’ve an excellent intuition of how they’re laid.” At some factors in the city, pipes and wires and ducts are packed 30 and 40 ft thick. That’s when Moloney and his crew actually start to worry about hitting something and escape the spoons.


“Here, men from Wall Road and well-known producers stay,” says Raj Patel, pointing from the bottom of the Central Park Reservoir towards Fifth Avenue’s condominium buildings, “and over there lives Jackie Ken­nedy. But no, they don’t know how it works. In case you don’t go downstairs, you don’t know.”

That stated, Patel lifts a carpet in the midst of the Cen­tral Park Reservoir’s pumping station, pulls open a heavy metal grate, and climbs down the century-and-a­quarter-old metal spiral staircase. Patel seems a small man to be controlling the 2 large water mains that run down Madison and Fifth Avenues, but his is the right measurement for crawling between the pipes that inject chlorine within the water and the regulators that measure the quality of the 70 million gallons that rush via these 48-inch pipes day-after-day. He weaves his tour across the pipes and thru the previous brick-lined tunnels while talking concerning the city’s movement.

“It is extremely heavy within the morning between 6 and eight o’clock,” he says, pointing to the small electric meters. At 12:15 in the afternoon, the Madison Avenue line reg­isters a bounce of a few thousand gallons. Perhaps a number of hundred individuals just flushed someplace on the Decrease East Aspect. Perhaps a lot of people are house fixing lunch.

“New York could be very fortunate,” Patel says, in an accent half British, half Indian. “Ninety % of its water is provided by gravity.” For a very long time, New York wasn’t so lucky. Till the 1700s, water was drawn mainly from one spring-fed pond. Inhabitants and industrial progress ruined an excellent clean thing (the lifeless cats and canine individuals threw into the pond didn’t help either), so Aaron Burr constructed a reservoir near what’s now Chambers Road and laid about 5 miles of hollowed-out tree trunks (lots of that are nonetheless in place) to carry the water underground.

But Burr’s water wasn’t very tasty, and the town got down to import its provide. In the summer of 1842, a thou­sand thirsty residents cheered as water from the upstate Croton Reservoir rolled down a 33-mile tunnel to the holding reservoir constructed at 42nd and Fifth, on the location of in the present day’s public library. One hundred years later the town finished two extra 15-foot-wide water tunnels from the Delaware and Catskill watersheds.

Doug Greeley is the Department of Environmental Safety’s man answerable for plugging up leaks within the roughly 6,000 miles of water mains that run underneath the town immediately. As soon as, metropolis staff created leaks on pur­pose. “In the previous days, when there was a fireplace the firemen would dig down until they hit an previous picket water major, chop a gap in it, use the water, and then plug it up once they have been completed,” says Greeley.

Since tree-trunk watet pipes have been abandoned, the town relies primarily on cast-iron mains to carry its water. Most of the time, things go comparatively nicely, con­sidering the number of joints that would probably leak. “We like to think about ourselves — and I’m not making an attempt to rip off the Navy, but they name us the silent service,” he says. “Nobody thinks about water mains as long as they work.”

Water mains leak about 5,000 occasions a yr and break about 500 occasions. The latter are those that are likely to make the headlines, and their causes principally need to do with the very unmysterious developments of age and put on. “They take a beating in New York,” says Vollmer’s Ed Moloney. “There’s plenty of visitors, and vans are pound­ing the pavement from up prime. And then under, you have got the continual vibrations of the subways.”

“When those mains have been put in, you had horse-and-buggies out there,” says Thomas Cowan, who manages Con Ed’s gas-engineering division. “Now you’ve obtained tractor trailors.”

As for the leaks, a few of the water gets into basements, however most goes into the sewers. So when Doug Greeley’s workforce’s not busy with a break, they look for leaks, either with electrical present sent by means of hearth hydrants or with micro­phones that pay attention for the hiss of stray water. There are distractions (“You get affected by buses honking their horns, by subways, and in some instances you get af­fected by excessive heels strolling down the road,” Greeley says), but they solely have to get inside a number of ft. With the microphones, they’ve been recognized to return inside a couple of eighths of an inch.

When all else fails, and when the water just keeps on coming, Greeley’s staff turns to the only map that in all probability decorates the office walls of more underground technicians than some other — Eg­bert L. Viele’s 1874 Topographical At­las. The Water Map, as it’s higher recognized in underground circles, exhibits all the streams, ponds, and rivers that in many instances nonetheless move beneath the streets of the town.

Water-main leaks typically comply with previous stream beds and present up a number of blocks away, or the previous streams themselves typically present up. Minetta Brook is an instance. It used to run from Sixth Ave­nue at 16th Road via Washington Square and into the Village. A few years ago it made a quick comeback in a basement within the West Village.


“Watch the ladder,” say Joseph Iacono, the superintendent of emergency operations for Con Edison’s Manhattan division, from underneath First Avenue. At the bottom of the vault he’s standing in is an oil-filled, fireproof transformer bringing power for the neighborhood right down to a manageable 13,500 volts. “You speak about Toledo, Ohio, and a cou­ple of poles and some wires,” Iacono says, “Nevertheless it doesn’t work that method right here.”

The electrical energy buzzing peacefully along in entrance of him has traveled a great distance from the waters of Canada, from the atoms cut up at Indian Level, or from vari­ous different turbines in northern New England. It zips on the velocity of light over high-tension strains and dives underneath­ground just north of Manhattan. There, the electrons are bumped as much as a cool 138,000 volts earlier than shifting on to trans­formers (just like the one Iacono’s standing in) in considered one of Manhattan’s 31 networks. Energy comes down again to 120 volts by the time it gets to the typical house or office, however not before passing by means of a manhole somewhere.

Manholes can leak, rats can chew, and the splicers who climb right down to han­dle 1,500-degree soldering irons might should work in temperatures as sweaty as 100 degrees. But one improper nibble by some hungry rat, one splicer screwup, one small fluctuation within the movement of pow­er, and Manhattan gets mad.

“It might be as little as 5 cycles,” says Richard Peck, Con Ed’s chief electrical distribution engineer, explaining that there are 60 cycles in a second’s value of electrical travel. “But that’s sufficient for these pc outfits on Wall Road. Typically they find out about it as quick as we do.”


Robert Greis, the man who ma­ages Con Ed’s gas-operations division, makes use of a flattened net of copper wiring as a paperweight on his desk. The copper was melted, he says, by a couple of thou­sand volts of electrical energy, and it burned right by way of a cast-iron fuel important, ne­cessitating one of many 6,500 annual fuel­pipe repairs Con Ed sees to yearly — ­between 30,400 emergency calls and 30,000 inspections — in Manhattan.

On his method to a type of repairs, Greis mentions that 5 years ago, 14 % of the fuel Manhattan imported by way of pipeline from Texas and Louisiana just kind of disappeared, vanished into the air. Flame ionization models are to­day’s greatest defense towards leaking fuel: backpack-size fuel detectors that check air samples by burning them. They are so profitable, the truth is, that in 1989 losses have dropped to five %.

Right now’s leak was brought on by a tired previous pipe joint. It was discovered by a con­cerned citizen named J.R. Thomas. Three years ago, Thomas drove Greis and his mechanics crazy by calling in stories of fuel leaks nearly daily. And he wouldn’t just say he smelled fuel in his kitchen: he’d telephone about complete metropolis blocks. When a citizen calls, Con Ed has to dig, so mechanics would spend days drilling check borings around each one of the blocks Thomas suspected. Just as water leaks are tough, a nasty fuel leak could be exhausting to seek out. “We’ll have fuel in a manhole and find out that the leak is 2 blocks away,” Greis says.

So after a number of months of every day tele­telephone calls and the corresponding required inspections, Con Ed lastly asked Thomas about his methodology. Turned out he doesn’t even use his nostril; he pinpoints fuel leaks by learning varia­tions in the colour of a building’s facade. Regardless of his unorthodox strategies and the sarcastic mumbles from the blokes pressured to dig near every poorly painted building on the Higher East Aspect, Con Ed pays at­tention to his calls. “We will’t ignore him,” Greis says. “He has a 14 % hit ratio.”

Back in the midst of the 19th century, there were about 15 totally different fuel com­panies in New York, they usually every had their very own fuel mains. Since 1970, Con Ed has retired 50,000 ft of previous mains. But what does it do with them? Principally depart them where they are — although the previous­est working ones date from 1874. “Numerous other providers will run strains by way of deserted mains ’cause they’re the only factor left on the town,” Greis says.

The strains that Greis’ crew first run into are undoubtedly not their own and definite­ly not on their maps. As a result of they are buried in a shallow major and seem comparatively new, the crew’s greatest guess is that they’re cable-TV strains. Next, they paint Con Ed’s signature blue on the street (“If the street depresses, they’ll know who to return after,” Greis says), then jackham­mer a bit of, and afterward vacuum the dust from round their tired, leaky joint.

With a trench so small and instruments so sur­gically environment friendly, the whole operation seems extra like a go to to the dentist than pipe repair. In a matter of minutes, the joint is sealed with a tough rubber cover and a bucket of sealant. A cast-iron pipe sufficiently old to be a grandfather turns into nearly as good as new, at the very least for these few ft. “Know-how, in the area of pure fuel, anyway, has improved lots in the previous few years,” Greis says, driving off down Fifth Avenue in his blue-and-white van.


“There are an entire lot of geologi­cal provinces that come collectively in New York City,” says John Sanders, geologist at Columbia College, speaking of the rocky world beneath Manhattan’s pipes and wires. “There are at the very least three major totally different sorts of geological stuff that focus here.” We’re speaking real un­derground now. We’re speaking farther than people have ever dug. We’re speak­ing concerning the rocks that maintain up Manhat­tan, concerning the faults that run underneath Dyckman Road, the Harlem River, 125th Road, and the East River. We’re talking about Manhattan schist.

Schist is what they name the bedrock by which the World Commerce Middle and all of midtown’s skyscrapers are rooted. No­tice, Sanders says, that skyscrapers don’t stay in Chelsea: there the schist bur­rows deep underground. Principally it rises up in Central Park, stays there by means of midtown, then runs right down to about 100 ft under the surface about midway between the Battery and Canal Road. It’s simply high sufficient again for the World Trade Middle to face, however there are not any skyscrapers on the backside of the Bowery. What works higher there are sewers. In reality, the sewer as soon as billed because the New World’s largest was built within the swampy space between the mouth of the Holland Tunnel and the foot of the Man­hattan Bridge. For an extended while, it con­nected the town’s two rivers until it was paved over and have become referred to as Canal Road.

Archaeologists in Manhattan still stumble upon remnants of the previous canals once they’re digging underground. They bump into the previous locks and ship slips too, especially near the southern tip of Broad Road, which was all wa­ter. One archaeologist even ran into a ship from the late 17th century. “It didn’t shock me that we hit wood,” re­members Joan Geismar, an archaeolo­gist who was excavating the location. “It sur­prised me that the wooden turned out to be a 25-foot-wide and 92-foot-long ship.”

The bow of the ship is now sitting in a Newport News museum, but the stern still lies buried underneath Entrance Road’s utili­ty cables. Towards the top of the 17th century, Geismar says, builders leased unused boat slips from the town, docked their worn-out boats and loaded them with junk, then sunk them. A very good per­centage of lower Manhattan is landfill, and a very good proportion of the landfill is boats.

“You possibly can stand there and tell individuals about it, however when you have got an actual ship and you pull it out of the muck, it really blows their minds,” says Ed Rutsch.

Rutsch, an urban and industrial ar­chaeologist, has all but nailed down the whereabouts of the wall they named the financial district for. He caught a glimpse of it whereas digging close to 60 Wall St. In fact, the middles of metropolis streets are usually out of bounds to archaeolo­gists, who work primarily at the mercy of history-minded builders and the zon­ing board’s variance necessities.

But Rutsch has been capable of put to­gether a picture of the palisade that stood some 300 years in the past — an extended row of tall sticks designed to maintain out at­tackers. He has found 200-year-old coins and once got here pretty close to Alexander Hamilton’s latrine. Latrines and privies, by the best way, are usually thought-about archaeological gold mines in Manhattan. “If you lose something in a single,” Rutsch points out, “you do a minimum of feeling round.”


Speak long enough to the engineers, the archaeologists, the restore crews, and invariably they begin to tell tales: bizarre incidents, bizarre findings. There’s the story concerning the engineers who, close to the intersection of Bowery and Canal, by chance discovered a small hidden room adorned with mirrors on its walls and ceilings. There’s the story concerning the tunnel diggers who ran right into a 10,000-year-old standing forest buried 200 ft beneath the Higher West Aspect. A mud slide or glacier in all probability buried it, and the employees who found it had to use chain saws to cut it down.

There’s the story about what number of dump-truck runs it took to haul off the dust dug to make room for Grand Central: 400 runs a day for rather less than five years. There’s the one a few horse that fell right into a sewer and some minutes later appeared on the shore of the harbor, and the one concerning the four boys who virtually fell in a sewer themselves when, on Feb­ruary 10, 1935, they pulled out a 125-pound alligator.

There are the buildings that have been closed, or by no means built, or built and by no means opened: dozens of public rest rooms be­low the theater district haven’t relieved a buyer in years; a Metropolis Corridor subway station has been retired, too brief to host a modern practice; a downtown trolley ter­minal has been closed, although it’s nonetheless visible underneath Essex Road on the J Line. In a cabinet somewhere there are plans for a triple-decker subway-and-car tun­nel, full with a glass ceiling de­signed to double as a Broadway aspect­stroll. And Mrs. Henry J. Hibshman nonetheless remembers her late husband’s unreal­ized energy-crisis scheme to pump water deep into the town’s cold ground and draw it again as much as cool buildings within the sum­mer. A PATH-train tunnel ends just a few dozen ft from the place it begins in Greenwich Village, still distant from its once-intended destination, Astor Place. A personal entrance several stories under the Waldorf once allowed President Franklin D. Roosevelt secret passage to trains carrying him to Hyde Park. And escalators in buildings alongside Water Road still wait patiently for the Second Avenue subway line to be completed.

In 1912, the workers digging the BMT by accident found the town’s first subway line, 42 years after it was closed and forgotten. A 312-foot-long, 9-foot­large pneumatic tube, it was constructed by Al­fred Ely Seashore, inventor and an editor of Scientific American, who furnished its frescoed waifing room with a chandelier and a grand piano. For a couple of weeks in 1870, a 100-horsepower fan blew Seashore’s primitive subway automobiles by way of a tube 21 ft under Broadway between Warren and Murray Streets till Boss Tweed shut it down.

Then there are the individuals — the lengthy­time engineers, the eccentric residents, the Italians who dig for Con Edison, and the Irish who construct the tunnels. Teddy Might was a subway official who favored to stroll the tracks for pleasure on Sunday afternoons, typically with a potato in his pocket to beat back again pains. Smelly Kelly, the well-known Transit Authority leak finder, made his popularity sniffing out eels from a pipe in the rest room of one subway station and elephant dung within the tunnel near one other. 600 volts from the third rail, goes his story, simply barely knocked him down.


Surrounded by picks and shovels, drained previous iron rails, and hundreds of volts of electrical energy, Clarence Prepare dinner is nervous about only one thing. “I’m not afraid of walking on the monitor,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of the third rail. I’m just afraid of meeting some stranger in right here. That’s the scariest half, especially whenever you’re alone. I feel some of these criminals know the system better than you do, and so there are specific areas that I simply don’t wish to walk on my own. Like between 28th and Canal on the Lex. That’s the place you meet ’em. They don’t often hassle you, however it’s only a dangerous factor.”

Commuters journey the subways, crimi­nals stash loot in them, and the homeless stay in them. Between Might of 1988 and Might of 1989, 43 homeless individuals died within the subway system. A month in the past, on a balmy November day, there were 750 homeless individuals within the system, based on the Transit Authority, which attempts an occasional census of subway resi­dents. At occasions, the number has gone as high as 2,000. Monitor staff run into them on a regular basis — on platforms, in the tunnels, and in deserted stations like those  at 18th, 91st, and Value Streets. “At Chambers Road one night time,” says J.J. Wilson, “they have been cleaning an unused platform they usually opened the door and this guy got here run­ning out balls-ass naked and ran down the monitor. Once they seemed in, this man had bottles of urine and whatnot in there. This guy was dwelling in there.”

I’m not fearful about being stunned while taking my first trip right into a subway tunnel with J.J., a stocky, 17-year veter­an who has walked, inspected, and glued a great portion of the system’s 720 miles. I feel protected, that’s, until a practice comes alongside. It’s pitch-black, and the first thing we hear is the sound, a windy rum­ble arising behind us. We put on reflec­tor vests and carry electric lanterns, however the practice only gets closer and our style accessories just don’t examine. It passes peacefully, however, and as we turn a bend in the tunnel, mild leaks towards us. In a couple of ft we’re on the sting of a 27-man work crew — a “gang” loud with the clang of iron and brilliant with sheets of light bulbs revealing the tunnel’s roof and flooring. The third rail has been shut off, but the crew treats it as if it have been nonetheless alive. They carry 1,300 pound, 39-foot rail lengths into place; they substitute ties, soaked rotten by the system’s poor drainage; they usually see a couple of rats.

“That’s like on a regular basis stuff,” Prepare dinner says. “There’s some big sizes down right here. We don’t name them rats. We name them monitor rabbits.”

“I used to be down close to 14th Road once they usually was operating throughout me in cir­cles,” says J.J., who claims they stay out of the tunnels and near the platform rubbish. “They didn’t hassle me, however there was some huge suckers.”

It’s virtually 2 within the morning, and we head uptown on the Broadway line. Sub­approach gangs get all their work carried out at night time whereas the commuters sleep, so work is simply choosing up once we cease near 137th Road. A gang pours molten metallic in between two monitor rails to clean the trains’ rides. The heat of the metallic warms the tunnel. The gang takes cowl a number of ft down the monitor because the fiery steel explodes on cue in a small black crucible. “Hearth in the hole,” some­physique shouts, and everyone seems away.


It’s onerous work sustaining the subways, and even more durable work constructing them. The tunnels are often dug straight by way of strong bedrock. Once they’re not, they undergo moist silt, and males work in muddy rooms of pressurized air, beneath metallic shields that hold water from filling in the tunnel. Probably the most famous subway-construction accidents occurred throughout a rush hour in 1915 on Seventh Avenue. Nice holes have been regu­larly blasted with explosives, however on that day, the boss blaster, a Tyrolian named August Mezzanotte, a.okay.a. August Mid­night time, made a mistake. His uncontrolled explosion ripped a hole in the avenue two blocks lengthy, killed seven individuals — two of whom tumbled 30 ft underneath in a trolley automotive — and despatched him operating to his neph­ew’s house 30 blocks away. When he fi­nally got here again to the location, one newspa­per reported that “he appeared extremely nervous.”

In July 1880, in one other historic acci­dent, 19 men, principally Swedish and Irish, have been buried alive in what was to have been the nation’s first subaqueous tun­nel. The employees have been digging slightly below the muddy backside of the Hudson and had made it virtually 100 yards toward Man­hattan from Jersey when the tunnel col­lapsed with little more warning than.the hiss of leaking air. The eight males who es­caped did so in a small iron air lock and only as a result of one of the others stayed be­hind to hold again the water and see the door close on himself and the others. Af­ter the accident, a crowd stood for ten days on the “dumping-grounds and dirt coated flats” of the Jersey shore, as one newspaper described it, watching as the shaft was drained and the lads dug out.

Alfonse Panepinto drives his Port Authority van throughout the same flats till we reach the location of the collapse. We climb by means of an emergency exit down towards the abandoned tunnel. A PATH practice passes on our left, within the extra trendy branch constructed after the accident; only 7,240 ft to go till its Christopher Road cease. To the best lies the shaft that marks the underwater tomb of the workers.

“We might start a natural steam tub down here,” Panepinto remarks as we enter, not likely exaggerating. The air is as thick as a sauna, and the lens on my watch fogs. We hear absolute quiet save for the trustworthy clank of a water pump. We crawl via the small iron air lock and push the oblong doors that seem more suited to submarines. It’s utterly black, however with a flashlight we see the bricks that line the ceiling, a puddle of river water, stalactites, and a rusted, green-and-white seashore chair. We stop on the concreted finish of the lifeless tunnel.

Daniel Gallagher labored with the Gaelic descendants of the PATH-tunnel victims on tunnels everywhere in the city: the 63rd Road East River subway tunnel and the 138th sewerage interceptor, to name two. “You don’t take into consideration work­ing underground,” he says. “You get used to it. Most individuals don’t even care. Everyone knew what a skyscraper seemed like, but most of them didn’t know what a tunnel seemed like. We have been down a thousand ft in some instances.”

Gallagher’s retired now, his lungs worn out from the job, however his son Brian nonetheless works within the gap. He’s a robust, rud­dy-looking child with purple hair and a mem­bership card from Native 147 of the Com­pressed Air and Free Air Tunnel Staff. He makes roughly $1,000 every week. “I need to make my money and get out,” 26-year-old Brian says. “This is too harmful.”

Brian is standing on the edge of the DEP’s newest and most in depth water venture — Metropolis Water Tunnel No. Three, 24 ft vast and 800 ft down at its deep­est level. Dug by way of strong rock, it’ll join all of Manhattan with its next century’s supply of water.

The tunnel’s working shaft has been closed now for nearly six months because it was completed, and the sandhogs, as they’ve referred to as themselves for decades, are deciding who’s going to go down first. They commerce swears in brogues thicker than bedrock, however the head sand­hog, Tom, who speaks principally Gaelic, fi­nally picks two men from the crew. They’re positioned right into a bucket the dimensions of a small oil barrel and lowered 80 stories into the ground on a wire dangling from a crane. The wind, they are saying, is fairly chilly on the bottom.

A couple of hundred yards away from the opening stands a trailer. Inside, the location’s chief engineer, Jack Ledger, sits amongst oddly shaped rocks, pictures of the tunnel captioned “The Doorways of Hell,” and some previous copies of The Commonplace Handbook of Engineering. Ledger talks about how things are winding down now after 19 years. Engineers and geologists have come from everywhere in the world, he says, to see the opening dug so extremely deep, a tun­nel designed to outlive the winnable atomic struggle imagined in the ’50s. He even introduced his youngsters.

“I needed to deliver the whole family down, you recognize?” he says. “To me this is the acorn of the world. The place else are you going to see these rocks?” But he shakes his head: “They have been utterly bored. A tunnel’s nothing once you’re in a city with the Twin Towers and the Em­pire State. But we take a look at it after having watched it carved out stone by stone.”


It wasn’t till 1975 that Con Ed stopped masking each steam pipe that it laid in the ground with asbestos, a fiber once thought-about to be on the vanguard of insulating technol­ogy. Of the 103 miles of steam line that crisscross the avenues under 96th Road, roughly 90 % are nonetheless cov­ered with the cancer-causing fiber. Con Ed says it has thought-about replacing the insulation on the pipes unexpectedly, however it worries that such an elaborate and dis­ruptive maneuver may release more as­bestos into the air than if drivers in each automotive within the metropolis hit their brakes abruptly. (Brake pads are, in case you have been un­positive, another source of the deadly fiber.)

The cost of such an in depth opera­tion is another concern, especially because the company spent a number of million re­shifting the asbestos from 1,000 of its 1,700 manholes in Manhattan within the last yr. So in the intervening time, asbestos-in­sulated steam pipes can be replaced as routine upkeep or an accident cleanup permits.

As is the case with a lot of the utilities underground, age is pushing for quick restore. The good-grandfather of the modern-day steam system, the New York Steam Firm, began back in 1882, and some not-too-distant relations of these strains are nonetheless mendacity around. Steam strains have been inspected kind of yearly since Con Ed took over in 1936, however there’s still no actual solution to inform which pipe will burst next, or when.

They named the Gramercy Park’s pipe burst a “water hammer.” 4-hundred ­degree steam bumped into comparatively cool con­densed water. Air bubbles shaped, the water beat down the bubbles, the bub­bles obtained greater, and the water hit more durable. “It principally hammered itself out of the pipe,” says a Con Ed spokesman. Some­thing might have been accomplished: somebody might have relieved the steam strain. However someone forgot, and the underneath­floor exploded. Very quickly at all Con Ed was speaking about retraining its steam staff, reportedly regretting the re­tirement of 1 old-timer who had taught new staff the ways of the pipes.

Previous airline pilots crash-land airplanes better than anyone, and it’s the identical with underground engineers. “It nonetheless takes an skilled engineer to know what’s underground,” says Con Ed’s Thomas Cowan (fuel). “I’ve been around for 35 years and I still haven’t seen it all,” says Con Ed’s Joseph Iacono (electric).

Like the Williamsburg Bridge, the town’s subterranean iron works might at some point crumble, but all of the engineers can speak about is progress. They’re speaking about fiber-optic cables; about these new hard-rubber joint protectors; about plas­tic pipes; and about cast-iron pipes with only a pinch of silicon. They’re even begin­ing to send digital eyes underneath­ground — video cameras snaking via the mazes to examine previous and un­reachable tunnels.

Which is progress, positive enough, though it in all probability gained’t add any order to the town’s most cluttered panorama. It simply means another man-made system down there. It simply means one other toy at the backside of a tunnel. And then, in a thousand years, an archaeologist will marvel what the hell a video digital camera is doing 80 tales under Manhattan.

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