Tips on your Historic Herkimer Meth Encampment adventure tour
While things are much quieter here in south Herkimer Village than they’ve probably been in the last decade, it’s not too late to see a historic Herkimer meth encampment. As you drive along Route 5 from the commercial center of Herkimer east towards Little Falls and just before you cross the bridge over West Canada Creek, you’ll see a dirt road on the right. After a hundred feet or so, it passes an earthen flood control barrier on the left. Walk along the top of the barrier in the direction of the old Herkimer Trolley Bridge for just a few yards, then head down the slope to the right continuing towards an area of ancient gnarled trees and brambles. Nestled within you’ll see a tarp, sleeping bag, child’s blanket, empty jar, part of a chair, and sheltered wood dry for a new fire.
Imagine what it was like camping here, and how visible it would have been from the main road to any folks driving between Herkimer and Lowe’s and glancing towards south, and of course from the score of windows of Herkimer’s high-rise Nathan Galinsky apartments, a few hundred yards the other side of the dirt road.
don’t miss the herkimer meth bridge and herkimer’s historic crack house
After touring the old meth encampment, continue on down the dirt road about 1/4 of a mile, and turn left onto the cornfield road. At its end lies the eerie Herkimer Meth Bridge. And if your schedule permits, round out your Herkimer narcotics tour with a visit to the historic Herkimer Crack House, just a few minutes away at 318 Pleasant Avenue. Herkimer’s welcoming crack house keeper’s always happy to chat with passersby.
more photos of the historic herkimer meth encampment
318’s a big dilapidated multifamily house, sold this past June and emptied of all, or so we thought–until the crack house keeper emerged during one of our recent morning walks and belligerently tumbled into our camera lens. One of his roles is apparently to serve as a still-living example to visitors and passersby of the destruction caused by drug addiction. (Apologies for the video quality–I was holding an 84 lb Chow with my free hand. Bear’s always juiced by the scents around 318. It’s her favorite sniffing spot in the ‘hood since suddenly-vanished Douglas Barton’s garage at 333 Pleasant Avenue burned down.)
The crack house keeper abuses one of us with “Dance for me granny!” He seems to be accusing us of photographing “us.”(?) (We weren’t photographing that morning, but were delighted to do so. Our cameras are always thirsty.)
The keeper’s speech is rambling and sometimes slurred, his cognition and critical thinking skills seemingly impaired. He’s either a drug addict or superbly playing the role. With our next door neighbor Curtis Cool gone, Herkimer’s street harassment’s fallen to him.
Herkimer’s Crack House Keeper Brags of his Criminal history
Not shown in the clip is a stocky gray-hooded figure, who carefully kept off camera–she’s one of neighboring Melodie Schulze’s associates. She may have stiffened the lad’s desire to harass us. Melodie Schulze herself, strangely absent from the street she usually haunts, was our first Pleasant Avenue neighbor to greet us after we moved to Herkimer.
We wish 318 Pleasant Avenue better times under it’s new owner, whose name we’re unearthing. Under all that grime is a capacious 19th century house that could again serve as a home for Herkimer’s hardworking, law-abiding families.
A few hours after we parted from the crack house keeper, I heard helicopters. Lots. Looking up, I saw 5 identical gray helicopters in close formation passing over Herkimer Village, headed quickly north. If you’re unfortunate enough not to live in our pastoral village, all that’s north of us are a few smaller villages and then the Great North Woods of the Southern Adirondacks. Some of our more prosperous local criminals relax at their “camps” up there: nice rural acreage with one or more permanent structures. (A camp with a babbling brook is preferred.)
Hard to believe, but none of the helicopters looked like this:
“Some people have no chance.”
As for Herkimer’s crack house keeper, he reminds me a bit of Nick, after he’d become a drug addict, in and out of jail. One of my high school behavior students, Nick was a gifted artist and a fine poet from a horrific home who bested all of tony Sarasota’s entitled older teens to take first prize in the county’s annual poetry contest. Nick died of a fentanyl overdose a few years ago. He was 24. As my old friend Crazy the Spy once said in a very different context, “Some people have no chance.”
The Herkimer Meth Bridge incident Part 3. Part 1 tells how we stumbled upon a meth cook site beneath a major railway bridge in Herkimer NY and what we did about it. The bridge carries about 1,000 chemical tanker cars a day. Part 2 of the Herkimer Meth Bridge showed the initial massive state and federal response. In Part 3, you’ll see why there was such a massive response and what’s been done to safeguard the rails and lives and, as a wise man wrote, “Make Herkimer Safe Again.”
HARBINGER OF DEATH – THE DOT-111 CHEMICAL TANKER CAR
The DOT-111 chemical tanker car is the fragile workhorse of the chemical refinery industry. There are 272,000 DOT-111’s in service in the United States, comprising 67% of the US rail tanker fleet. 171,000 of them transport hazardous materials. The DOT-111 is highly susceptible to corrosion and containment failure. All models are notoriously fragile–critics call them “soda pop cans.”
Each car can carry 20,000+ gallons (78,200 L). The newer DOT-11A100W1 can weigh as much as 263,000 pounds (119,000 kg) when full. They transport a witch’s brew of poisonous and volatile chemicals over our neglected, rickety national railway infrastructure. The DOT-111 is always a disaster waiting to happen.
My conservative guess is that over a thousand chemical tanker cars a day, most of them DOT-111’s, cross the CSX railway bridge over Herkimer’s West Canada Creek. The trains are frequent, often several an hour, and long, sometimes with as many as 100 DOT-111’s or other chemical tankers per train, sometimes just a few buffered by regular freight cars. The CSX line that traverses the Herkimer Meth Bridge is the major east-west rail conduit to and from the Northeastern United States.
WHAT’S IN THE TANKer CARS?
According to Pollution Law Watch, besides crude oil, the DOT-111 transports radioactive material, explosives, and some of the most toxic chemicals on earth… among them methyl bromide, ethyl trichlorosilane, methanol, sodium chlorate, sulfuric acid, chlorine, toluene, diisocyanate. Several are fatal if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Many if spilled have a recommended evacuation radius of 5-10 miles.
(Assuming a derailment at the Herkimer Meth Bridge, that would be at least Herkimer, East Herkimer, Mohawk, Little Falls and a large stretch of the New York State Turnpike. and the Erie Canal.)
In a 2005 train wreck in Graniteville, SC, a single derailed DOT-111 tank car carrying 90 tons of chlorine released 60 tons of chlorine gas, killing 9 residents, injuring another 250 and forcing the evacuation of 5,400 people for two weeks:
Amid the heap of derailed railway cars above lies the breached DOT-111 chemical tanker car that spewed 60,000 tons of deadly chlorine gas across Graniteville, SC.
Derailment of any chemical tanker car anywhere can wreak havoc, destroying lives, property and the environment. The degree of devastation is determined by the volume and type of chemicals released, which depends upon the number of chemical tanker cars involved. In the horrific Lac Megantic disaster, six million liters of crude petroleum oil from 63 DOT-111 cars killed 47 and destroyed half the town. In Granitesville, one DOT-111 tanker car breach gassed 9 residents to death and injured 250. Both incidents occurred on land with no direct impact on watercourses. Here in Central New York, though, our major east-west railway line often parallels the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River:
There are no online specs of the West Canada Creek railway bridge’s span. But just upstream is the much loved and long abandoned Herkimer Trolley bridge, which is 1,023.5 feet long. The bridges appear to be approximately the same length.
The Herkimer Trolley Bridge and the West Canada Creek Railway Bridge
Herkimer Trolley Bridge (just below Rt. 5 highway bridge), and West Canada Creek railway bridge (bottom).
Given the DOT-111’s horrific history, many if not all the cars would breach, potentially spewing 484,000 gallons, or 15,242 tons of toxic chemicals into Herkimer’s air and water. Other DOT-111 cars that fell onto the embankments would also breach. The immediate nature and extent of the disaster in the Herkimer area would depend upon the cars’ contents: explosion, fire, poison gas or all three are possible. Whatever the outcome, it wouldn’t be pretty. And the rest of the hellish stuff would quickly flow 1/2 mile down the fast-moving West Canada into the Mohawk River and from there on into the Hudson River. It wouldn’t be the BP Oil spill, but the Hudson’s not the Gulf of Mexico.
The Hudson River Watershed
Of the 65 major tributaries of the Hudson River, the Mohawk River is the largest, entering the Hudson near Albany. The Hudson River Watershed is comprised of 11 major sub-watersheds that drain approximately 13,400 square miles. About 60% of the water in the watershed is used for commercial or industrial purposes and is home to about 5 million people. Such a massive toxic spill would destroy marine ecologies and impact the health and livelihoods of the 5 million people who live in the Hudson River Watershed for a very long time. hudson-river-watersheds
the herkimer meth bridge today
The good news: since last winter law enforcement action at the Herkimer Meth Bridge, the bridge has seen a lot of much-needed rail bed improvement, and upgraded electronic safety features.
Most nights you can see several drones on station over West Canada Creek near the railway bridge, with others patrolling through the sky in every-changing surveillance patterns. Sometimes they hover lower, as one did last night in the vicinity of Herkimer’s Eureka Avenue. (They don’t have to leave their navigation lights on. And probably sometimes don’t. That’s just a friendly hello. )
why herkimer has surveillance drones
It’s not just the bridge incident. That was but symptomatic of the anarchy spawned by Herkimer’s lawlessness and its rich tradition of failed governance.
It’s made the Village of Herkimer a pirate haven harboring all sorts of criminals, notably narcotics and child traffickers. Then came the threat of mass destruction posed by a potential rail disaster, mindlessly touched off by Herkimer’s cop-coddled criminals. So Herkimer is now guarded by drones. Lots of them.
Depending on the type of drone, operators can track up to 65 different targets across a distance of 65 square miles. Drone cameras have infrared, complemented by heat sensors, motion detectors and automated license plate readers. Military and police drones integrated with facial recognition technology and multiple databases make it possible to remotely identify persons of interest.
the battle for herkimer
The battle for the Herkimer Meth Bridge was but part of the battle for Herkimer and the future of New York. From a broader perspective, New York appears to be aggregating resources to Central New York in anticipation of climate change driving industry and people inland and north. Worldwide, we’re facing the largest migration of populations since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Our region has a wealth of natural resources. Herkimer’s strategic location astride principal transportation routes with quick access to major metropolitan areas are what attracted the organized crime and now, the state and federal governments. The team with the biggest stick wins. Care to bet?
The Herkimer Post would like to thank the officers of the New York State Police and agents of the US Department of Homeland Security, without whose vigilance and dedication to duty this series would not have been written. Also a grand tip of the hat to Night Court and Trapper Ron.
“Ice is nice and will suffice” Robert Frost, Fire and Ice
Despite Night Court’s warning to stay out of the woods, a few days after alerting the New York State Police to the danger, we set out to return to West Canada Creek and the Herkimer Meth Bridge. It’s a ten minute walk from our home in Herkimer Village’s Camera House.
Despite it being mid-winter, there was only a dusting of snow. Bear leading the way, we turned from the CSX access road and onto the cornfield road that goes to the bridge. And stopped, confronted by an alien landscape. Neither we nor anyone else was getting to that bridge until after the Spring thaw:
The ice was neatly sculpted, as became more apparent when a few months later it began to melt:
The other side of the bridge had been given the same treatment, preventing land access from the south:
Only a few days before, an unharvested field of corn had filled the huge cornfield. The corn was gone. The field looked as though it had hosted tank maneuvers:
Folks who hadn’t recently ventured over to the village’s cornfield road told us the ice was a natural occurrence–West Canada Creek was subject to flooding that would often lay swathes of ice along its banks.
If this was the river god in action, he’d perfectly laid out the ice along the road, paralleling the tree line and the flood control levee. And he’d used some truly impressive equipment.
Other areas of cover and concealment near the cornfield road had also been scrubbed:
After the ice melted the bridge sprouted earthworks, blocking vehicular access:
the hammer of god quickly falls
The response to the threat was on the order of the Hammer of God. We were astounded by its scope and speed and the resources it must have required. It may have been drawn from a contingency plan, but there’s many a slip between plan and execution. It was a rapid, meticulous and flawlessly executed, multi-agency effort, probably involving the State of New York, the Federal government and possibly the Army Corp of Engineers.
The law enforcement agencies responsible knew what was traveling across that bridge day and night: the angel of death of the rails, the DOT-111 chemical tanker car. Hundreds of them roll across the Herkimer Meth Bridge every day. No wonder the Big Red Button was pushed.
Late January of this year in Central New York was unusually mild. Linda, dog Bear and I were happy to continue our morning walks in and around historic Herkimer Village.
On one of those winter walks, we discovered Herkimer’s abundant drug traffickers and manufacturers had also taken advantage of the nice weather to cook and distribute meth from beneath the safety of a major CSX railway bridge. The bridge passes over West Canada Creek, about 1/4 mile from its confluence with the Mohawk River. It carries about a thousand chemical tanker cars a day. The criminals had no idea and even less concern for the catastrophe they could have unleashed.
Drug traffickers had been largely absent from Pleasant Avenue, Herkimer’s principal drug street, since mid-November, after we published a series of videos documenting and analyzing one night’s drug trafficking along Pleasant Avenue, and shared it with the New York State Police. (With the drug traffickers mostly gone, Pleasant Avenue is again looking pleasant.)
A well-traveled public path runs beneath the bridge, paralleling West Canada Creek and a few hundred yards later, both it and the Mohawk River, moving down a narrowing spit of land between the two to their confluence, known locally as The Point. (West Canada Creek at the bridge is wider than many rivers.)
herkimer meth makers move – a bit
Driven from Herkimer Village by the state and the feds, Herkimer’s meth makers had brazenly set up a semi-permanent encampment in plain sight of the public path, hidden from aerial observation by the CSX railroad bridge. As the Herkimer Police had never troubled them in the village itself, their only concern would have been the New York State Police and the DEA, who probably relied heavily on aerial observation for activities outside the village.
The path under the bridge gets a lot of foot traffic–it’s the remains of an old road predating the Erie Canal, and a pleasant walk or easy ATV drive to The Point. Herkimites have long known to mind their own business when signs of drug and child trafficking appear, or risk an intimidating visit from the Herkimer Police or nighttime visits from neighbors. And despite its closeness to the village proper, no one goes to the CSX railway bridge area after dark.
For ease of transport, the bridge could be quickly reached by vehicle from Herkimer’s East State Street via a dirt road running past an adjacent cornfield and flood control levee. We’d noticed the tent shown in the below photo for about a month, but hadn’t given it much mind. It was just another feature of the desolation zone near the railway bridge, a bleak and eerie place scattered with the derbies of stunted lives and failed hopes.
herkimer’s eerie desolation zone
Herkimer meth bridge encampment
When we’d last noticed the tent, there’d been no large plastic tarp, no translucent storage box filled with what appeared to small plastic envelopes of some crystalline substance, nor discards typically used in methamphetamine production.Whatever heat source was used for a night’s meth cook could have easily been removed by pickup truck.
We didn’t look to see if there was anyone in the tent, but thought if we opened the plastic box, we might find out. We’d seen identical boxes confiscated by the New York State Police during an early morning drug raid on Herkimer’s Pleasant Avenue. Also, it seemed likely someone might soon be by to pick up the box of valuable goods. So we left.
Exchange with the New York State Police
I emailed a narrative and a raft of photos of the encampment to the New York State Police command center in Albany. I noted that one of the photos indicated possible scorching of an adjacent concrete bridge abutment, adding:
The bridge is well-built and itself probably impervious to a typical meth explosion, IMO. But any explosion under the bridge could trigger catastrophic consequences: e.g., a panicked train operator jamming on the brakes at an explosion and the sight of [fire] erupting from beneath the bridge could trigger a derailment. As you’re aware, hundreds of tanker cars filled with deadly, highly volatile chemicals cross that bridge daily. Were one or more of them to fall into West Canada Creek so near its confluence with the Mohawk, it could cause an environmental cataclysm from here down to NYC.Our village leaders often speak of “putting Herkimer on the map.” That would do it.
The state police quickly replied, asking me not to say anything until they could deploy resources. Which they did. I’ve kept silent till now, but if you look up at night sky you’ll see a solution is in place, providing comprehensive surveillance of the bridge, local waterways and Herkimer.
I sent a copy of my email to the state police and the photos to an old friend from Army Intelligence, Night Court. (“Some justice is best meted out in the dark.”)
Night Court has a key role in US counter-terrorism. I thought he should know that while all eyes are elsewhere, meth heads in Herkimer New York
had put a major railway bridge and the Hudson River watershed at risk of an ecological 9/11. What damage, I asked, could people who knew what they were doing cause? “It’s the Wild West here. Deadwood had more law and order than Herkimer. And it’s the backdoor to NYC and the rest of America.”
I was confident that the New York State Police and DEA would deal with immediate threat with their usual efficiency, but release of counter-terrorism funds–a bottomless treasure chest–to expand their operations might help provide the resources necessary for a permanent solution. Not that they’d be shy to ask, but if anyone could help catalyze that, it would be Night Court. The US takes any threat to its rail and waterways very seriously, especially since 9/11, and the Herkimer Meth Bridge represented both.
Night Court wrote back: You might want to invest in a MAC 10. That’s dangerous work for someone of our age.[He has long enjoyed pushing my buttons.] Speak for yourself, Night Court! I’m not entirely convinced you’re always in that nice office. There seems to be a notion that we dodder about in the woods, looking for stuff. We don’t. Those pictures were taken along a popular trail from the village to the point of land where West Canada Creek and the Mohawk meet. It’s about a ½ mile from our home and Herkimer Village proper.
I added that we would be going back along that public trail to the bridge in a few days. And nothing, as our neighbors can attest, stops us from asserting our right of way.
Only later did I wonder if Night Court had known what we’d be walking into.