History: The Gantries
Hunters Point was the freight gateway to Long Island. Railroad freight cars were sent to Hunters Point by barge
(called a float by railroaders), where they were transferred from the floats to rail. The towers that remain today are
now referred to as 'gantries', but when in use were known as "gallows frames" or "supporting towers" and were parts of
a structure called a "float" or "transfer" bridge. Here is how the system worked:
Incoming floats would be pushed into the slip by a tugboat.
When it reached the end of the bridge, a worker would slip lines over the
cleats at each side of the float so it could be winched tightly to the bridge.
At the same time the bridge would be raised or lowered to the height of the
float deck. Then bars on the apron called
toggles would be
attached to sockets on the float, to lock the float horizontally and vertically. Chains holding the freight cars firmly onto the float were then removed, and their brakes released. A locomotive
would advance to remove the cars from the float, using a "reacher" car or "idler" car to keep the weight of the locomotive off the float. Once unloaded, the cars were transferred to the
Island RR’s freight yards for delivery to industries on the Island. Freight cars to be returned would be loaded onto the float, the above steps would be reversed, and a tugboat would remove the reloaded float.
The float bridge and gantries thus served as a vital link to sustain Long Island’s economy and facilitate
the movement of goods. Today the preserved "supporting towers" can be viewed by visiting Gantry Plaza at Queens West. Their
silhouette also forms the logo of Queens West Development Corporation. These mighty towers serve as a reminder that Hunters Point
was an important gateway to Queens; and so today, a revitalized Hunters Point is Queens’ gateway to the 21st century.
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