Archive for the ‘Random stuff about NJ’ Category

New entrants to the NJ animal HOF

In other news, there’s a NJ Animal HOF. Who knew? Apparently Samson the Pony beat out Christie the Jackass.

NJ Animal HOF home page

Apparently Batman is from NJ

According to this Buzzfeed article, a 1990 atlas of the DC universe revealed Gotham to be in Jersey.

#insert chris christie fatman joke here

Thunderbolt raceway gives fans a chance to drive fast

It’s safer then driving Route 80

David Epstein wore a bright red fire-retardant racing suit and helmet as he stepped into his red Ferrari F430 for a few 140 mph spins around the track at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The experience “puts a big smile on your face,” Epstein, 47, the president of Novartis Oncology, said before pulling away. “If you’ve had good training with good coaches and you don’t do anything crazy, it’s not really risky. … It’s probably safer than driving down Route 80.” Five years and $50 million in the making so far, the newly opened facility in Cumberland County is New Jersey’s only road-racing facility, and one of the few in the nation to have two full racetracks.

The 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway kicked off its first spectator event this weekend, with the Sports Car Vintage Racing Association competition. The twisting, turning track hosts high-profile road races such as the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, as well as car clubs and training programs such as the Performance Drivers Association, which Epstein enrolled in as a student. The smaller Lightning Raceway opened in July. Last week, 11 thrill-seekers zoomed around the 1.9-mile circuit’s steeply banked hairpin turn in Lamborghini Gallareos — one in bright orange, the other in yellow — as well as Aston Martins, Porsche Turbos and Ferraris, in a one-day driving program called Supercar Life.

Even the park’s 1.1-mile go-kart track is designed for speeds of 55 mph, or more. But the 700-acre facility is not just a place to zip around in fast cars, according to its operators. “This is a theme park,” said Donald Fauerbach, general manager. “The theme here, of course, is the motorsports lifestyle.” Condominiums overlooking Thunderbolt are on the market for $450,000, and 38 of the planned 182 total have already sold, Fauerbach said. Twenty suites overlook Thunderbolt’s pit lane. A 450-seat banquet room has fielded inquiries about wedding receptions overlooking the track’s straightaway, Fauerback said. A pool, tennis courts, and eventually a stock-car racing oval and all-terrain vehicle park are in the works, he said.

“It’s a country-club-style racetrack,” said Chris Economaki, 87, a longtime auto-racing commentator who lives in Midland Park. The facility attracts wealthy sports car fans who are flown by helicopter into the adjacent Millville Airport, as well as drivers of more modest means who rumble onto the track in souped-up Ford Mustangs, Mazda Miatas and Subaru Imprezas. The circuits are located in a sparsely populated section of Millville, a few miles from the sleepy downtown. Some residents were nervous when they heard about the plans five years ago, said Don Ayres, the town’s director of economic development. “There were concerns about noise, concerns about rowdy racecar drivers rampaging through town,” he said. But the town has heard only “one or two” complaints, with most residents saying they barely notice the noise and welcome the free-spending visitors, he said.

Local restaurants have been so busy they’ve occasionally run out of food, and the town is in talks with five hotel developers, Ayres said. “It’s the noise of the economy improving, that’s what I say,” he said. Even so, the track installed sound walls so it wouldn’t disturb birds during their mating season, as part of a legal settlement with environmentalists, Ayres said. Many proposed racetracks fail because of community opposition, with noise and traffic being the main concerns, said Matthew Pace, a sports business attorney with the firm Herrick, Feinstein. But the NASCAR-style, oval tracks that draw huge crowds are the main focus of such protests, he said. Such circuits make up about 85 percent of the country’s 1,400 racetracks, he said.

Long, twisting, hilly road circuits — which make most of their money from high-spending drivers and sponsorships, rather than spectators — tend to attract less opposition, he said. Even the economic downturn and high gas prices are unlikely to hurt the road-racing business much, he said. “If you’re driving a Ferrari you probably don’t have to worry about the $100 you’re going to spend on gas to drive it around the track all day,” he said. Road courses, which make up only 5 percent of the nation’s racetracks, are “a little bit more gentlemanly, a lit bit more leisurely” than NASCAR-style tracks, with spectators roaming from vantage point to vantage point, said Tim Frost, a motorsports consultant. “I would compare it to going to Saratoga as opposed to going to Belmont,” he said.

Naima Rauam, a silver-haired watercolorist who drove from New York City in a Corvette Z06, said it didn’t bother her to be one of the few women, and one of the older students, in the Performance Driving Association training program, which includes classroom lessons and high-speed laps around Thunderbolt with an instructor in the passenger seat. “You’ve got everything from your hotshot 18-year-olds to people much later in life,” she said. High-performance driving attracts all kinds of students as well as all kinds of cars, said Joe Casella, who runs the training program. “We had a gentleman who would bring his Volvo station wagon, and when he went home his wife would go to the grocery store with it,” Casella said. The racetrack has a way of equalizing things, insisted Steven Van Blarcom, whose In the Seat Driving Experience program rents Mustang GTs to Casella’s students. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for someone in a Mazda Miata to beat a Porsche,” Van Blarcom said. “Skill wins out over horsepower.”

No more GSP tokens

The token is being phased outGet rid of them beforen they become Ebay fodder

Garden State Parkway toll tokens will cease to be accepted in payment of tolls in the new year, signaling the end of an era for an early mode of automatic toll payment. The tokens were last sold Jan 1 2002 but motorists hoarded so many – an estimated 50 million – they continue to be used in small numbers in the Parkway’s automatic coin machines. Sold in rolls of 30 for $10 vs $10.50 for the same number of cash tolls they have offered a 4.8% discount over coins since 1989.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority which runs the Parkway has announced a “token redemption program” to buy up remaining tokens. It is offering $5 for a minimum of 15 car tokens and $1 for others handed over in multiples of 3. That’s 33.3c/token (for the arithmetically challenged.) The car tokens are redeemable at the Montvale (MP171), Cheesequake (MP124) and Forked River (MP76) service plazas on select days in December and by appointment at the head offices of the Authority in Woodbridge. Bus tokens are also redeemable by appointment. or tel 732 750 5473

Officials think there may be about 16 million tokens out there still. One rationale for not accepting tokens as payment is that they just add to the complexity of counting the coins. Their elimination also helps pave the way for elimination of coin machines entirely in a few years time – though that is not an official explanation. But we’d wager it won’t be more than a few years before video tolling will take over for those without transponders and toll collection becomes all off-road, all-electronic. Also the planned toll increases provide a windfall to token holders and a loss to the toller. Tolls are rising from 35c at two-way plazas to 50c, and at the one-way plazas from 70c to $1. The toll increases are scheduled for around Dec 1.

The NJTA has scheduled a second round of toll increases of 50% – 50c to 75c – for Jan 1 2012. Tokens are not that old on the Parkway, though they have been used in subway turnstiles and for telephone calls going back 50 years. They were introduced in the early 1980s on the Garden State Parkway in anticipation of a toll increase beyond the quarter. When the toll was still a quarter rolls of 40 tokens were sold for $10 so there was no discount. Tokens didn’t serve much purpose. From 1989 on when the toll was finally increased to 35c tokens came into their own. Rolls of 30 tokens were sold for the same $10, making them cost 33.3c each.

For commuters the single unit throw of a token a much surer thing than the throw of a quarter and a dime, or the quarter and two nickels, let alone three dimes and a nickel. The rule with coin machines has always been: the more the number of coins thrown and the smaller the coins the greater the incidence of hangups – coins not making it down into the mechanism from the basket. Dimes have always been especially troublesome. They are so small they hang up easily. Then the tollpayers gets delayed. There are frustrated and angry motorists.

Jersey writer Anthony Buccino wrote: “We’ve always wondered if the old wives who said misery loves company ever spent time, endless smog-filled rush hours in line, attempting to pay a toll on the Garden State Parkway. In countless hours of studying the pained expressions of obsessed drivers queued before the flashing red and green lights at the roadway obstructions, we have never recorded a smile other than the maniacal grin as someone launches a round metal missile at the urinal shaped receptacle…” (see

New Hampshire Turnpike stopped accepting tokens in toll lanes Jan 1 2006, but one stubborn Bostonian is challenging the legality of that. Graham Thomas Jensen of Braintree MA subsequently offered two 25c tokens to a toll collector, and when the collector refused to accept them in payment of a 50c toll, Jensen drove off. Hit with toll evasion he was fined $150 but refused to pay and spent three days in jail. His lawyer says that the tokens have no expiry date stamped on them and that the packaging of the tokens also contained no warning of any expiry date. He argues since the tokens were sold to his client without any expiry warning they remain a legal obligation of the issuer indefinitely.

By common law contract Jensen’s lawyer says the tokens sold without an expiry date must be acceptable in payment. This, he argues, overrides a June 2005 law which ended sales of tokens Sept 1 2005 and made tokens invalid as toll payment from Jan 1 2006.

A history “The First Five Years of the Garden State Parkway: 1954-1959” published by the New Jersey Highway Authority (which operated the Parkway until 2003) mentions “automatic toll collectors” (what we call ‘automatic coin machines’ or ATMs nowadays) as having been introduced very early – “as an experiment in late 1954.” They had spread to most toll plazas and ramps on the Parkway by 1959. We’ve heard elsewhere that these were machines from Cooper & Taller of Brooklyn NY and the pioneers of coin machines with their characteristic coin ‘basket’. A toll veteran of that era told us the Garden State Parkway was the first place in the world that ACMs were put into regular service.

The official history says they could take any combination of coins including pennies, but that a bunch of pennies tended to jam them. First tolls were collected on the GSP manually Jan 15 1954 at the Union Plaza when toll collector Edward Circhoswski was handed a quarter by motorist George R Vranken of Linden NJ, the official history says. Traffic had been traveling for free for three introductory days previously. This was in the first section of the Parkway completed – between US22 and the Essex-Union County line. Tolls were 25c for cars at barrier plazas. That’s $1.91 in 2007 dollars ( Based on the eleven mainline toll plazas then in use toll plazas were an average of 16 miles (26km) apart, making the toll 1.6c/mile (1c/km). In 2007$s that’s 12.2c/mile, 7.6c/km.

Toll revenue in the first year was $9.3m, almost doubling after five years ($18.1m in 1959). The history says that first year revenue was just 3% over forecast by “traffic engineers” (Maybe that’s the problem with modern traffic and revenue studies – they’re done by finance & economics guys like Ed Regan not traffic engineers?) Actual revenue in subsequent years was further ahead of the forecasts made when the toll revenue bonds were sold for construction.Toll tickets in booklets of 80 were sold from 1956 onward. At first they offered no discount but they provided a handy way of claiming expenses and avoided the need to have coins handy.

We’d guess – there are no plans we know of – that the ACMs will last until about 2011 on the Parkway and that cash collection via human collectors and machines will cease in time for the 2012 toll increase.The Turnpike recently sent a bunch of tokens to the Smithsonian Museum. They should make sure some coin machines are preserved for history too.

$117K can still buy you a house in Montclair

It is a fixer upper of course…

The tiny, circa-1890 frame house on the narrowest of lots — just 18 feet wide — is as modest as a single-family home can get so close to Montclair’s stately Estate section, where a handsome six-bedroom colonial with “old world craftsmanship” is listed at $1.49 million. The mini-house with its small red deck is also less than a mile from the town’s most expensive real-estate listing, the $7.75 million, 30-room mansion that was once home to former Giants star Michael Strahan. But this little old house on Cross Street is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is, in fact, at just $117,500, believed to be the lowest-priced listing in town.

“I’ve been in business 20 years, and I’ve never had one that cheap. … It needs, hmmm, basically decor,” said Lenore “Lee” Robinson, the listing agent with RE/MAX Village Square. While it has a lot of traffic from potential buyers, it is still on the market, a sign of the real-estate slump. Its price has been slashed from its summer listing of $175,000. “I would have thought it would have sold right away,” she said. “I just think people are so afraid.” Last month, just eight houses went under contract in Montclair, compared with 25 in December 2007 and 21 in the same month a year earlier, said Linda Grotenstein of Coldwell Banker’s Upper Montclair office. About 85 single-family homes are on the market in Montclair — once a hotbed for multiple bids during the market’s more heady days. The number of listings swells to about 150 when condos are counted.

Still, Adriana O’Toole, a Montclair agent who serves with the West Essex Board of Realtors, said that’s about right for this time of year. And regardless, buyers, she said, are taking their time. “They’re very discerning,” she said. So discerning that the 16 single-family homes now under contract have been on the market an average 115 days, slightly ahead of the Essex County average of 107 days. The least expensive house offers a red deck off the first-floor living room and a single second-floor bedroom, with sliding-glass doors. “It looks like a little chalet,” Robinson said in real estate agent speak. “The Hobbit house” is how one interested party described it, Robinson said.

There have been open houses. Prospective buyers walked through the first-floor 9-by-13 living room and the kitchen. They ascended the staircase to the sole shower-only bathroom and single bedroom. They went around back to a stockade-fence enclosed yard, just a few feet deep, to enter the full basement. Just a week ago, RE/MAX agent Roy Castor showed the house to yet another prospective buyer. “He really liked the house. It’s like the perfect size for a single person.”

Little is known about the house’s history. It isn’t included in Montclair’s otherwise exhaustive 1981 historic preservation survey, and it hardly could qualify as a carriage house once capable of holding horses and wagon. But a larger house, just a couple doors away on Cross Street, is described as a place built for “servants of wealthy landowners on nearby Union and Gates avenues.” Ceil Adkins, who remodeled her larger Cross Street home down the block, said some homeowners on the street have connections going back generations. One of her elderly neighbors, she said, told her that her grandparents once lived in what is now being called a chalet, not far from the 2.25-acre Porter Park.

“It’s a very rare block. There is no other block like Cross Street. This is the only street for the servants that is right in the heart of the Porter Park area,” she said. “We’re surrounded by all these big beautiful mansions.” It’s something Robinson can relate to. Her 1897 St. Luke’s Place home, she said, once belonged to a coachman, a man who handled the bridles and such for a gentleman’s or lady’s transportation. One of those nearby mansions near Cross Street was once the home of James J. Fielder, who served as New Jersey’s governor after Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913.

The little house’s listing does describe the place as a “fixer-upper,” something potential buyers seem to shy away from nowadays, said Roberta Baldwin, an agent at RE/MAX Village Square in Montclair. But just around the corner, on Orange Road, a 4-bedroom 1880 colonial being marketed at $650,000 “needs TLC,” according to the listing. Besides, someone might like the little “chalet” just the way it is.”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Baldwin said. “A little love nest?”

the greatest pumpkin chucker comes from Bergen County

Punkin Chunkin is a contest where people design trebuchets and catapults to launch pumpkins 250-400 MPH more then half a mile. The competitions is fierce but fun and drives people to outdesign the next guy. The designers typically come from rural areas because to test the design you have to be able to launch it a half mile and not hit anybody or anything. Surprisingly the world champ pumpkin chucker comes from one of the most densely populated counties of the most densely populated state in the country.

Team chucky trains at a farm in Hunterdon County.

If I can, I’m going to try to get to see Chucky up close.

The NJ State House Activity Book

Let’s kids learn about the state and have fun simultaenously! Color in the capital building, fill in the blanks, word searches and more! Get yours here