Historic Structures

Building Description Central Railroad Engine Terminal Complex, Jersey City New Jersey

Reinforced concrete and steel gave the railroad b-uildings the fireproof quality that had only been experimental in the previous century. Whereas the concrete and steel of the remodeled passenger terminal at Jersey City was clad with Beaux Arts designed metal, the engine terminal, a completely new construction, embraced the aesthetic of functionalism with articulated structure and minimal ornamental detail.

The forms of the complex were dominated "by the low, broad segmental circles of the two roundhouses, the hulking, stilled form of the coaling station, and the huge powerhouse and its tall steel stack. From historical views the two steel water tanks to the east of the powerhouse were also prominent images.

The two roundhouse segments were of identical form and section. The north roundhouse of 32 stalls (numbers 35 through 66) was freestanding, whereas the 34-stall south roundhouse (stalls 1 through 34-) was connected to the machine and blacksmith shops via the additional two bays. The north roundhouse can best be characterised as a half-circle where tracks 35 and 66 are in trie same line.. The end walls, however, are tilted inward from one another toward the center line of the turntable. The 32 stalls in the north roundhouse are 90 feet long; the 34 stalls of the south roundhouse are 100 feet long. The geometry of the latter makes it slightly larger (by two stalls) than a half-circle, and stall tracks 3 and 34 are in the same line.. Track 2 leads through doors and fire walls to the machine and blacksmith shops. Track 1 stub-ends at the machine shop/engine house common wall. Both roundhouses were served by 100-foot diameter turntables.

Both roundhouses were partially demolished apparently at the time of the construction of the Hudson County Extension of the New Jersey Turnpike. The north roundhouse lost its center portion (stalls 44-57). Western and eastern segments remain, stalls 35 through 43 and 58 through 66 respectively. These were converted to warehouse space. The west end of the south roundhouse was also removed (stalls 25 through 34), yielding a 24-stall roundhouse still connected to the machine and blacksmith shops.

The roundhouses were constructed of steel reinforced concrete structural members. Infill and end walls were of brick and steel sashed curtain walls. Although the middle portion of the north roundhouse was removed, the two south-facing end walls survive. The original end wall of the western segment of this building contains four bays, reflecting the lines of columns in the interior. The red brick walling of running bond (5 stretcher courses) is capped by a concrete coping on top of the parapet. The openings are spanned by reinforced concrete lintels and sills. The slopes of the end walls reflect the two slopes of roof that create a clerestory over the first inner line of columns. From the outer wall, the wall tilts upward and over three bays to this clerestory; then the slope reverses downward over the fourth, bay to the inner wall. The first bay—that closest to the outer wall—is actually two openings: a lower, ground level aperture is a doorway leading to the floor of the roundhouse; above it is a 4-foot high window. Upon conversion to warehousing facilities, the windows of this segment were sealed with cinder and concrete blocks.

Looking from the position of the turntable at the inner walls of the two segments of the north roundhouse, the viewer sees the engine bays. These were approximately 15 feet from centerline to centerline of the reinforced concrete columns. The outer wall piers were approximately 24 feet center to center. Two fan blower sheds were attached to the outside of each roundhouse.

Radiating girders defined each stall and intersected the inner circle of girders. The concrete roofing sat on a reinforced hollow tile deck which formed the plastering surface for the ceiling below. These views of the north roundhouse segments show the end wall condition created by the removal of the center portion of this building.

Each engine house was served by a 100-foot in diameter deck turntable. Each was composed of steel plate girders that rotated about a pivot point. An outer rail allowed the ends of the turntable to rotate; an electrified rail provided the necessary power.

Outside stall No. 10 and near the fan blower shed attached to the south roundhouse is a small iron-reinforced brick oven. Located near the diesel locomotive servicing facility, it was probably used to heat metal to forging temperature so that it could be shaped or forge welded in engine. repair work.

As seen from the interior view of the south roundhouse, each bay is defined by a row of columns and an open pit with a rail on either side. Cut into the plate at the top of each step leading down to the pit are the words "SAFETY ALWAYS." The difference in roof heights across the first line of columns creates the clerestory effect for admitting natural light to the interior. Although electric lighting was provided throughout, the engine houses reflect the traditional concern for daylight.

Each chamfered square concrete column has a steel collar to protect its lower section. Where the columns receive the girders, flared capitals make the structural connection. Just insi-de the outer row of freestanding columns are the smoke jacks over each bay. These asbestos drums permitted the gases of the engines to escape directly to the outside. Additional ventilation was provided at'the outside.wall, where hollow tiles located in the wall near the ceiling allowed air to pass through the open cores to the outside. Severe moisture problems had caused the plastered ceiling of the south roundhouse to deteriorate to the point where the reinforced hollow tile roof system was exposed; in some places, even the reinforcing itself was open to the elements. Each "bay can be said to he typical with the exception of stalls 1 and 2 in the south roundhouse. Just inside the entry doors of these two stalls and situated between the two tracks is a heavy duty pivoting crane. This crane could swing out over the coal tenders of each engine and facilitate their repair or maintenance. Two-level working platforms are located on each side of the end of stall 1. These steel structures, made up of stairs, pipe rails, and fancifully cut openings in the webs of the structural members, made the various levels of each locomotive accessible to the workmen. Track 2 could also be serviced by the platform between it and track 1. However track 2 was especially important because it led directly, via a pair of doors, to the machine shop, east of the south roundhouse. These two structures shared a common party wall. In the southwest corner of the machine shop building was located a small 24--by-24-foot room that served as the workers' washroom. It contained showers, sinks, and lockers. Access was given from both the machine shop and the south roundhouse at the end of stall 3- The space was spanned by simple steel beams which carried the reinforced hollow tile and concrete roof. A slightly off-center skylight gave natural illumination to the space from above; windows raised high on the south wall also admitted daylight. The walls were of brick, the floor of concrete, and the gang sinks and shower stalls of terraszo.

The shop building embraced both machining and blacksmithing operations under the same roof; only a fire wall separated them. The shop was a simple rectangle measuring 80 feet wide by 220 feet long by 28 feet high. The machine shop takes up the western 160 feet of this length, and the blacksmith shop the eastern 60 feet. This length is organized into 11 window bays: 8 in the machine shop and 3 in the blacksmith shop. Down the center of the space is a 1.3-foot wide monitor that is a continuous external form but is divided internally by the fire wall separating the two shops. The roof deck is carried by purlins that sit atop simple Pratt trusses which transverse the opening from side wall to side wall.. The trusses are composed of 12 panels and are built up from wide flange, channel, and angle sections. All connections are riveted. Truss locations correspond to the 11 bays presented on the side walls.

The well-lit spaces can be attributed to the monitor roof and the tremendous window openings of the side wall bays. A concrete foundation receives only 14 courses of brick and is then capped by a concrete sill. The entire area from this sill to the ceiling is filled with steel sash. Doorway access for the loading and urJoa.ding of material to the shops is provided for on both sides.

East of the shops was located the storeroom, where parts were stored. An office was located at its eastern end. This rectangular, low, one-story brick building measures 60 by 100 feet and has a corbelled cornice and concrete coping, lintels, and sills. It is organized into seven bays on the south side; the eastern 20 feet of the length served as the office. Inside, the reinforced concrete structural system was concealed in the layout of the parts bins.

A concrete material platform separated the storehouse from the freestanding oil house, a small (20 by 48 foot) brick building straddling a 10-foot deep basement storage tank for oil. The oil house contained the metering apparatus for the lubricants. Its openings are spanned by concrete sills and lintels. Its brick walling sits on a concrete foundation and is highlighted only by corbeled courses just above the lintel line. East of the oil house are a number of concrete and wooden foundations for metal drums, no doubt scrapped and removed before this recording.

South of the shops and south roundhouse was located a diesel locomotive servicing facility, which consisted of two tanks and a one-story concrete block structure that measured 32 by 120 feet. The building was located west of the diesel fueling tanks and contained offices, an oil room, a pump room, and lockers.

The massive coaling station of reinforced concrete serviced ten tracks, five on each side of the center. Each set of five was composed of two single-track bays toward the middle, one double-bay track toward the outside, and one track running along each edge. The structure measures 168 by 34 feet and is 55 feet high. The bunkers sit on steel "I" beams encased in concrete; hollow tile and reinforced concrete compose the bottom of the hoppers. The continuous monitor is composed of steel trusses with a stucco skin. The monitor form was carried in the conveyor bridge which transferred coal to the hopper house, located southeast of the material platform. The bunkers were grouped in four compartments of three, each longitudinally having bituminous coal, broken coal, and buckwheat coal. These had capacities of 430, 313, and 430 tons, respectively. Each track had three chutes each. All apparatus in the coaling station was electrically driven.

The coaling station worked in concert with the sand distribution system. An engine took on clean, dry sand to sprinkle on the tracks ahead of it to improve traction. The sand house was a one-story rectangular building 103 feet long by 16 feet wide and 14 feet high. In it, sand was stored, dried by coal stoves, screened, and then elevated by means of compressed air to two 15-cubic yard storage tanks, which were located on the west side of the coaling station. From these tanks, cast-iron piping and wrought-iron spouts delivered the sand to the locomotives at each of ten coaling stations.

The wheel-truing machinery was located north of the coaling station.

East of the coaling station were located two cinder pits. They measured 200 feet long "by 30 feet wide "by 12 feet deep and were constructed of reinforced concrete. Each pit served two tracks. The pits were 58 feet center to center, with a track between for cinder cars, A traveling crane with bucket cleaned the pits. It spanned 99 feet and traveled on a 240-foot long runway 26 feet above the rail.

Northwest of the coaling station and situated at the end of Wilson Street was the huge power plant that supplied the engine terminal with electricity and steam. The building consisted of a two-story portion to the north side, where the boilers were housed -and where coal was hoisted in a tower structure, and a one-story portion to the south, where the generators were situated. The 75-foot high lined steel stack was 10 feet 6 inches in diameter and provided a draft by automatically controlled blowers.

The rectangular floor plan of the powerhouse measures 135 feet long by 92 feet wide. All foundations for the building proper and for the hollers and machinery are of concrete. The building has a steel structural frame clad with the typical brick walling relieved by concrete sills, lintels, and copings. The mass of the brick walling is relieved by horizontal string courses of concrete. Above the first floor level and wrapping around the entire building is a concrete cornice, with a brick parapet above it on the lower section. The one-story portion on the south side is organized into nine bays filled with steel sash between piers of brick.

A supply track for coal cars was located along the north side of the powerhouse near the main line. Cars were placed below the hoistway and coal elevated to the bunkers on the second floor, from whence it was gravity fed to the boilers below.

Within the yard area between the two roundhouse segments were located support buildings and structures for the engine terminal operations. South of the east end of the north roundhouse was located a one-story office building. Its rectangular plan measured 60 feet by 20 feet. Typical brick walling was relieved by concrete sills and coping on the parapet. Here, however, the lintels were steel with a continuous brick soldier course wrapping around the building at this level. The entire building sat on a concrete foundation and had a concrete floor.

A similar building for tool storage purposes was located southwest of this yard office. All architectural features here were identical to the office building just described. The tool storage building was a rectangle measuring 20 by 54 feet.

After 1928 the Jersey Gentral erected three support buildings on Communipaw Avenue just south of the bridge over its main line tracks. These were a three-story railroad office and engineers' bunk house, a one-story office, and a one-story restaurant.