My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

Month: July, 2013

Bear Swamp: Cherry Picker

My crew hand drilled and installed hundreds of forty foot rockbolts with jackleg drills during the excavation of the tunnel portals and road cuts at Bear Swamp.  Most of the rockbolts were drilled and installed from a crane basket attached to the rigid boom of a Pettibone 30 rough terrain crane, referred to by the nickname Cherry Picker. The little crane weighed about 40,000 pounds and could get us as high as forty feet to work. The basket was large enough for four men and two drills. The forty foot rockbolts were drilled on an 8 foot by 8 foot pattern from the top of the rock cuts to within 20 feet of the ground. We spent 8 to 12 hours a day in the basket, regardless of weather conditions, to maintain the excavation schedules. We always raced each other when drilling and it was very competitive. Both holes had to be complete before the basket could be moved. If you finished your rockbolt installation first, you had to take a break until the other driller finished.

The terrain was often very rough and we would have to push the cherry picker with a bulldozer to get it into working position. We stacked wood cribbing under the four outriggers to keep the crane stable. Sometimes it didn’t work as planned. We were working about 40 feet high in the corner of a portal rock cut. While swinging to the right the right front outrigger fell off the cribbing. The cherry picker tipped to the right front laying the basket into the corner of the excavation. The left side outriggers were both two feet off the ground. Nothing was damaged, but we were in a precarious position. Blackie, our operator, slowly extended the boom straight out to force the crane back close to level. He would jerk the boom back in slowly. Each time he jerked the boom our basket would slide a couple feet down the rock face. When the tipping got precarious again, Blackie would repeat the procedure. It took a while to get us to the ground and Blackie was sweating profusely. We reset all the cribbing and finished our rockbolts.

The cherry picker gave us a scare while working underground. Three of us were working about 30 feet high in one of the tunnels mounting some instrumentation. We were the only crew in the area. We had half a days work before moving the basket. One of us looked back at the crane and smoke was rolling out of the engine compartment. A small flicker of flame could be seen. Dick, our crane operator, was laid against the cab door sleeping like a baby. We jumped up and down, waved with out flashlights, and banged tools on the boom. All the commotion never bothered Dick a bit. We always made noise and banged things around while working. The flames were two feet high when somebody came walking by and woke up Dick. He got us to the ground safely and after a few spent fire extinguishers the fire was out.

Dick and Blackie were excellent operators……………………….and the cherry picker tested them frequently.


Bear Swamp: Crane in a Hole

An underground powerhouse like the Bear Swamp Project is a very large excavation. Once excavated, the powerhouse is built very similar to all large structures. A normal building has access all around the outside perimeter for construction. The only access to an underground powerhouse is normally an access tunnel into the top of the powerhouse. The access tunnel is mined to the powerhouse and used to excavate the crown of the wide excavation. When the powerhouse is complete the only access will be through the access tunnel.  While the access tunnel and crown of the powerhouse were being mined a pair of tailrace tunnels were mined from the surface into the deepest section of the powerhouse called the draft tubes. Raisebore drills reamed four foot diameter holes from the draft tubes up 150 feet to the floor of the access tunnel in the powerhouse. As the powerhouse was mined from the top to the bottom all the shot rock would be dumped into the four foot holes and hauled out through the tailrace tunnels in the bottom. When the powerhouse was excavated 20 feet lower than the access tunnel, the equipment used for excavation was trapped in the powerhouse. Supplies were lowered to the mining crews from the end of the access tunnel above them with a small crane. Stairways provided personnel access.

My crew was assigned to take a Manitowoc 4000 crane into the bottom of the completed powerhouse excavation, get it rigged up, and operational for erection of structural steel.  The moving of the crane and set-ups are a normal heavy construction activity. Transporting, arranging components in proper sequence, and rigging up in an underground powerhouse is much different. All of the components from the top of the boom back to the house of the crane must be positioned exactly where needed for erection. The last piece to come underground is the house (main body) of the crane. The house is 40 feet long ,21 feet wide,18 feet high, and weighs 200,000 pounds. It propels itself on a set of large tracks with flat pads. Turns and re-aligning the travel direction are slow cumbersome operations. The house filled the 24 foot tailrace tunnel as it crawled to the powerhouse.

When the crane was completely operational in the powerhouse it had 165 feet of boom. There was room to swing the crane 180 degrees near each end of the power house. A small crane was used to position the structural steel where the Manitowoc 4000 could make the picks. The structural steel columns were installed vertically along each side of the powerhouse and attached to 2 inch rock bolts installed 40 feet into the rock during excavation. Four foot beams were installed on top of the columns high in the powerhouse. The beams had a rail on top. They would support the permanent 880 ton overhead crane which would service the powerhouse. The Manitowoc 4000 installed some of the structural steel for the various floor elevations in the powerhouse before breaking it down and removing it from underground.

Large cranes with 165 foot booms working underground aren’t common………………………..they are a result of leading edge design and engineering.

Bear Swamp: Jumping Oiler

Bear Swamp was a fun place to work. My crew averaged seventy two hours a week and never complained. The work was challenging, interesting, and very well managed. The crew did a lot of work out of crane baskets as the excavations were completed. One of my great adventures was a result of some rock bolts which required a 90 ton crane with 200 feet of boom to reach the installation area. We rock bolted all the time, but these rock bolts were for safety in an area not designed for large crane access. The only way to do the work was to take the 90 ton truck crane up a steep access road. The access road went to a new road under construction a couple hundred feet above our normal work area. The sixteen percent grade for several hundred feet far exceeded the grade recommendations of the manufacturer of the crane. After several meetings a plan was in place to get the crane up the grade. The only persons participating in the actual move would be myself, two of my crew members, the crane operator, the crane oiler, and two bulldozer operators.

We waited until 9am to allow everybody a chance to get what they needed before closing the road for the crane move. We held a very detailed meeting with everybody involved. The crane was mounted on a huge truck frame which was driven by the oiler. The crane weighed 130,000 pounds, was 11 feet wide, 46 feet long, and had 200 feet of boom installed. The crane operator would remain in the crane cab for repositioning the crane as needed. We rigged a D-8 bulldozer (80,000 pounds) to the tow shackles on the front bumper of the crane with very short cables. A D-7 bulldozer (59,0000 lbs) would follow within a couple feet behind the crane as a precaution. While we were rigging up for the move a grader smoothed the hill. Prior to moving the crane everybody on the job came to take a look. We hadn’t moved ten feet and their was no one in site anywhere.

We crawled up the hill with the D-8 keeping a small amount of tension on the crane. It was slow and everything went smooth. At the top of the hill the grade transitioned onto the flat road used to travel the area. The D-8 slowly traversed the transition grade. As the tracks broke over to the new flat grade it made the rear of the dozer come up. When the dozer cables went up they lifted the front of the crane which was still on a steep grade. The dozer tracks were sitting flat on the ground while the front of the crane rocked gently up and down. When the crane rocked up it would lift the rear of the D-8 about three feet. The oiler locked the brakes, threw open his door, jumped six feet to the ground, took off running , and never looked back. The crane sat there gently rocking up and down with an empty truck cab. It took me several hundred feet to catch the oiler and tackle him. A half hour later we coaxed him into the cab so we could get onto the top road with the crane.

The oiler didn’t enjoy the ride……………………………and we didn’t tell him he had to drive back down the hill in a couple weeks.

The Hoot, Toot, and Whistle

The Bear Swamp Pumped Storage Hydro-Electric Project was located at the east end of the Mohawk Trail near Charlamont, MA on the Deerfield River. It was just a few miles below the Vermont border and about fifty five miles from my home in Hinsdale, NH. The main features of the project included a 600 megawatt two unit underground powerhouse, upper reservoir, upper intake structure, 770 foot vertical shaft, power tunnel, penstock tunnels, tailrace structure with gates, and earth filled lower dam, Two smaller relocated power houses with a total of 25 megawatts were also part of the project. The electricity produced during peak power usage could provide enough electricity for 400,000 to 550,000 average homes. A pumped storage power plant operates by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir using excess power during low demand periods. The water is dropped back down to produce power during peak demand periods. Each of the two units at Bear Swamp pumped 65,824 gallons per second up to fill the reservoir. When generating power the units used 80,410 gallons per second each. The upper reservoir was 770 feet higher than the bottom reservoir.

One unique feature of the project was the Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington Railroad. It ran the full length of the job along the Deerfield River. Purchase of the railroad was made prior to starting the project, but government approval to abandon the railroad was slow in coming. The first year of the project the HT&W engine with a couple boxcars made the round trip from the Hoosac Tunnel to Wilmington, Vermont. Equipment and laborers were assigned to escort the train on a daily basis. We called the HT&W the hoot, toot, and whistle. We had access roads, river crossings, large rock excavations, and clearing operations all adjacent to the railroad. We could not remove any rail without an approved abandonment by the government. We covered the rails with fine materials for protection as soon as the train passed. We removed any obstacles and cleaned the tracks when the train returned again. The rock and clearing excavations frequently buried the rails under ten feet or more of material. One of the exploration tunnel portals was so close to the tracks we had to keep a flagman when the train approached so equipment wouldn’t back in front of the train. The train was never delayed.

J A Jones was the contractor at Bear Swamp. Gates & Fox had a subcontract for all of the underground excavations. The project was just getting started when I left Boston and took a job on the rock bolt crew. Myself and Cliff LaFountain were the only ones from Lyon Mountain at Bear Swamp. Many of the old Northfield Project employees were at Bear Swamp. The workforce was exceptional compared to those on my crew in Boston. If you didn’t show up ready to work at Bear Swamp you were tramped. If you didn’t like to work every day that was easily accommodated also. Just don’t come back.

Linda and I liked a lot of things about being home in Hinsdale…………………..the best was our final trip home from Boston.

Boston: Invited to Leave

Most people working construction enjoy seeing a project properly constructed, finished on time, and take pride in what they have accomplished. It has always amazed me how a certain percentage of the people on a project could actually care less about schedules, quality, or even their fellow employees. The tunnel job in Boston had a percentage of workers who were more interested in extending the duration of the job so they would be employed longer. It was amazing what some of these individuals would do to impede progress, usually at the expense of their fellow employees.

It was common for tunnel projects to set production goals for the crews. In Boston we could easily get two complete drill and blast cycles in about six and one half hours. Our crews were put on a two rounds and go home schedule. Whenever we finished our two rounds the whole crew went home with full pay plus travel time to the tunnel face. It was pretty simple. You can make the same money for fewer hours worked or you can work the full shift for the same money. We were two miles from the shaft. The single rail line in the tunnel was the only means of getting materials in and out. There were areas where the trains could pass each other. Manual switches were used at these bypasses to keep the trains on the proper rails. You would be amazed how often a loaded train coming or going would run through an open switch and send the derailed cars helter skelter all over the tunnel. When the blast holes were loaded and shot in the tunnel it wasn’t uncommon to find several holes not detonated because somebody didn’t tie them in properly. When these incidents occurred it caused long delays and extended the job duration.

In general my relationship with the crew in Boston was pretty good. My only problem was not hiding my disdain for people who wouldn’t do their share of the work. The union business agent was waiting for me by my locker in the change house coming off shift. He told me he would get me employment on any union project in the United States if I would tell him where I’d like to go. Made no difference to him as long as it wasn’t in his local. There was a large project starting within driving distance of our home in New Hampshire. I said I’d love to go to the new project. The next day he was leaning on my locker holding my work dispatch for the new job on the following Monday.

The business agent was glad to see me go……………….but not as glad as I was to get out of there.

Boston: The Banker

While working in Boston Linda and I rented the upstairs apartment of Mrs Garvey in Marlborough, MA. Our son Jamie was less than a year old. We kept our home in Hinsdale, NH and frequently returned for weekends and holidays. Mrs Garvey was an old time Italian lady. She spent most of every day cooking enough excellent food to feed a dozen people. She was always sending us plates, bowls, and pans of excellent food. She loved having Linda and Jamie for tenants. She was loud, out going, and not the least bit concerned about speaking her mind. She was also a loving, caring, and compassionate women.

Mrs Garvey was a widow. Her older brother was very disabled by parkinson disease and lived in her home. Mrs Garvey was constantly attending him and taking care of his needs. He would have been confined to a nursing home without her. Her brother Vinnie was a serious confirmed alcoholic. Mrs Garvey seldom had many praises for him, but kept an eye on him when possible. Vinnie was a happy drunk and if you came in contact with him when he was half in the bag it was always fun. He always joked about being the black sheep of the family. He had a great personality. I always enjoyed his company. No pretenses, just a genuine good person who happened to be a drunk.

Mrs Garvey’s youngest brother was a complete asshole. He was the opposite of Vinnie. He was staid, talked down to everyone, and snobby. His position as vice president and manager of a small branch of a big bank went straight to his head. His wife drove school bus part time and he spoke to her like she was a bank employee. Even his little children were uppity. Mrs Garvey forewarned me about the banker before meeting him. During a family birthday at Mrs Garvey’s the banker was trying to impress me of his importance and status. He acted like he never talked to a person who made a real living. Sure enough, as the conversation progressed, the subject of money came up. Vinnie sat on the side listening to our conversation. The banker always ignored him. The banker was a little perplexed as to how I could afford a home in New Hampshire, a new car, and rent Mrs Garvey’s apartment without Linda working. He nearly had a hemorrhage when he found out my income was considerably more than that of him and his wife. When he stammered about being a vice president at the bank and not making that much income Vinnie slapped his thigh and broke out laughing. Soon Mrs Garvey was enjoying the bankers distress too. The banker never talked down to me again.

Mrs Garvey had a brother in law who was a physics professor at MIT. His hobby was making wine. They were a great family. Loved his wine and hospitality.

Unlike the banker I don’t look down on anyone………………….and I’m pretty picky about who I look up to.

Boston: Attacked by Tunnel Monsters

One of the funniest experiences of my working career happened during the tunnel excavation in Boston. The drilling, blasting, and ground support all take place at the end of the tunnel excavation. All the production activities are supported by assorted operations on the other end of the tunnel. We had a 160′ deep shaft used to get in and out of the tunnels. At the base of the shaft were dewater pumps to pick up water coming out of the tunnels and pump it to the surface. A hoist and headframe on top of the shaft  allowed a cage to be lowered and raised in the shaft to get personnel and supplies in and out. The upper half of the cage was for supplies and people. The lower half of the cage was a muck skip to hoist out the excavated rock. All of the muck coming out of both tunnels had to be dumped out of the rail cars into the muck skip at the bottom of the shaft. A lot of co-ordination was required by a lot of people to keep things maintained and operating smoothly. If things went bad we blamed it on the tunnel monsters.

As the tunnels got further from the shaft we would periodically walk it and inspect everything in detail. Weak or loose rock which might present a safety problem were scaled down with a scaling bar. The scaling bars are made of high tensile steel five or six feet long. They have a hardened steel point on one end. The other end is a chisel point of hardened steel. The tunnel was out about two miles from the shaft. I was assigned to safety check the tunnel from the shaft to the working face. Most of the tunnel had lights, but some areas had bulbs out and lighting was poor. The mine light on my hardhat gave excellent light to a small area. Everything was inspected while walking along. My scaling bar was used to sound the crown of the tunnel for loose rock. Occasionally a train would pass going in and out of the tunnel.

About a mile from the shaft I was in an area that had poor lighting and a few loose rocks. One rock was keyed into the surrounding rock. I kept moving around trying to get a good bite with my scaling bar. Everything was quiet except a few drips of water and the air moving through the ventilation fanline. Just as I got a good bite there was a flash much like a small lightning bolt and a sharp snapping noise. The scaling bar was hotter than a two dollar pistol. The scaling bar flew one way and I went the other. After running a couple hundred feet up the tunnel it dawned on me that I had been shocked. An inspection, after my pulse returned to normal and the adrenalin stopped flowing, found a broken 220 volt light bulb with the filament exposed. The scaling bar came in contact with it while scaling the rock. It gave me the shock of my life.

I thought the tunnel monsters and my maker had called me……………………but they sent a light bulb to get my attention.

Boston: Tunnel Wise

One of the crew members in Boston was a young Puerto Rican named Raul. He had a very cocky attitude. We were just finishing the graveyard shift one morning when Raul tested my patience and paid the price for it. Their is always competition between crews on a tunnel project. Most projects also get a lot of competition within the members of the crews. Boston was different. The majority of the workers in Boston could care less what was accomplished during a shifts work. They worked enough to hold their jobs, but really had no interest in the work. Many of them were what we called “tunnel wise”. They knew enough about the work to avoid most of it. Raul was tunnel wise.

When standing steel sets in a tunnel the crew who sets the steel on line and grade with the crown bolts tightened receives credit for the steel set on their shift. We used a laser beam projected from behind us for line and grade of the tunnel. The steel ring had to be centered and installed at proper height. Several of us were finishing up a steel set and the oncoming crew was coming up the tunnel. We could see the light of the locomotive. When I placed my tape measure to check the steel set Raul was standing at the back of the jumbo. He stuck his hand in front of the laser beam to block it. The second time he blocked it I walked back and told Raul he would get thrown off the jumbo if he messed with me again. I put my tape up, Raul blocked the laser. I walked calmly back to him. Picked him up by his collar and his belt, then threw him off the back of the jumbo onto a empty flat bed rail car. We finished setting the steel set before the other shift arrived. At the start of our next shift Raul apologized for messing with me. He was just messing around. He didn’t think anybody took their work that serious.

Several weeks later Raul was chuck tending on my drill. When we raised the hydraulic wing to extend the work deck, one of the drill hydraulic lines got pinched in it. Raul stood on the wing while I went to the controls on the ground. The other drills were drilling and it was too noisy for verbal communication. Raul signaled with his flashlight as I dipped the wing down. When the hose was free Raul signaled to raise the wing back up. The whole operation was done in about a minute. I raised the wing and climbed to the top deck. Raul wasn’t visible from the back of the jumbo. As I approached my drill Raul was laying down thrashing around on the wing. His foot was between the wing and the top deck when he signaled me up with the wing. I got another miners attention as I jumped over the side to dip the wing. Raul’s foot at the arch was crushed to less than an inch thick between the two steel plates. He told us it was his own fault as we loaded his stretcher on the locomotive.

Raul deserved to get thrown off the jumbo…………….but there is never justification for a disabling injury.


Boston: Nose to the Water

The tunnel in Boston required horseshoe shaped support steel in many areas. Blocky, heavy, and wet conditions of the rock had to have adequate support to keep the ground in place as the tunnel was mined. The eight inch steel beams were bent for the configuration of the tunnel. Two of the beams bolted together at the crown formed the horseshoe shape. Boards, timbers, and wedges were used to cap off the ground above the steel sets. Normal spacing of the steel sets was every four feet. In bad ground it wasn’t uncommon to have the steel sets on two foot centers. As the tunnel advanced the air, working water, and discharge water pipes were tied off to the steel sets.

The two inch diameter cable for the 440 volt electric Conway mucker was rolled on a reel on the side of the machine. The 100 foot cable was hand spooled off and back onto the reel as the mucker loaded the blasted rock at the tunnel face. The cable tender wore heavy rubber gloves and placed the cable in temporary hangers along the steel sets as work progressed forward. It wasn’t uncommon to get a little trickle of shock when handling the cable in wet conditions. If the cable received damage or excessive wear it was replaced with a new cable.

The crew was taking a lunch brake while myself and Elmer Finch prepared everything to drill at the tunnel face. We had an air C-P Whirley pump running while mucking the face for the bottom holes to be drilled. The pump was extremely noisy and condensation from the air line exhausting from the pump created a lot of fog. We were in an area where air lights provided a dull illumination in front of the drill jumbo. The air started slowly decreasing to the pump and lights. We had our flashlights and tinkered around while waiting for the air to come back on. Slowly we started getting the smell of smoke. As we looked behind us there was a wall of dense, black, putrid smelling smoke. The mucker cable 200 feet behind us had burned out against a steel set and the insulation continued to burn after the breakers tripped. The air being used in our work area had kept the smoke from encroaching on us. When some idiot turned off the air it allowed the smoke to engulf us. We could hear faint hollering behind us, but couldn’t comprehend what was being said. We didn’t know the tunnel ventilation was holding the smoke in the end of the tunnel.

One side of the tunnel was used for drainage and the ditch had about three inches of water running in it. The smoke was laying just above the water. We decided the only way out was to put our noses just above the water and belly crawl through the smoke. We crawled very slow to avoid stirring up the dense smoke. We had no idea how far it was to safety, but the air was sustaining us along the water. It was a huge relief to see lights then clear air as we belly crawled out of the smoke.

The crew thought we were dead…………………..and we wanted to find and kill the idiot that shut off the air.

Boston: Pinned

In 1970 I went to work on a tunnel job in the Dorchester area of Boston,MA. The job consisted of a shaft 160 feet deep with tunnels being driven in two directions from the shaft. One tunnel was using conventional drill and blast mining methods. The other was using a tunnel boring machine manufactured by a joint venture of Ingersoll-Rand and Robbins. The tunnel boring machine was a forerunner of the machines used for tunnel excavation today. The tunnel boring machine was removed before completion of the tunnel due to changing rock conditions.

My normal job was working as a lead miner on the drill and blast tunnel. The drilling was accomplished with a five drill rail mounted jumbo. The jumbo had a single deck about six feet high. Hydraulic wings were used to provide wider work space on the deck. Removal of the blasted rock (muck) was done by a Conway Mucker which picked up the muck and sent it into the rail cars on a short conveyor belt. The drills were operated by air and hydraulics. The mucker was powered by 440 volt electric.

When the drill jumbo was brought to the face for drilling it was attached to a six inch air hose with 120 PSI  air. The wings were raised for the sides of the deck. Each drill had a bank of long handled hydraulic valves for moving and aligning when drilling. The jumbo was brought in one day and hooked up to drill. The driller on the lower right drill was standing beside his drill. One of the control levers on his drill had been broken and the valve was jammed in the open position. When the air and hydraulics came on the drill swung to the right. The miner ended up getting pinned to the side of the tunnel by the drill. He was in a small depression in the rock and the drill had him pinned at his knees. When the drill pinned him he started screaming the most horrific sounds you could imagine. He literally went berserk. He was pinned and panicked.

Myself and Elmer Finch were working at the controls trying to dislodge the broken valve. The only way to get the screaming miner loose was to move the drill. The miners behind the jumbo heard the terrifying screams, ran five hundred feet down the tunnel, and turned off the air supply. Without any air to power the hydraulics we couldn’t move the drill to free the screaming miner. Total chaos everywhere except for myself and Elmer working on the valve. We were hoping the miner would pass out to stop the screaming. If we decked him the whole crew would go nuts. Finally,we convinced the crew to turn the air back on and swung the drill off the screamer. When he stopped screaming it was an eerie silence. His legs were a little bruised and he was exhausted from screaming. We put him in a wire stretcher on top of a locomotive and sent him outside.

The poor miner could have avoided all the screaming…………………one short hop and he would have been over the swinging drill.