Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant: Sweet Concrete

by kfrego

In the late 1960’s there were jobs to be had everywhere. If you wanted to work construction in the border areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont it was easy to get hired. You went to the little town of Bernardston, MA, found the Bernardston Inn, drank a few beers, shot a little pool, and put out the word you were looking for work. There was always somebody around from one of several large projects looking for good people. Jim Melgie was the concrete superintendent on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant being built on the Connecticut River just below Brattleboro, VT. He hired me along with Johnny Joe Kaska and Lee Atkinson to work on his concrete crew at Vernon. Jim later moved me to swing shift as a foreman with a 22 man crew preparing areas for concrete placements. My crew and a small carpenter crew were the only people working nights. Most of my crew were local college kids working nights and going to school at Putnam College during the day.

One of the most memorable experiences at Vernon was the result of stupidity by a day shift laborer. The day shift crew was placing concrete with a crane and four yard bucket very late in the afternoon. The concrete was for a second story floor slab about 12 feet above the first floor. The forms supporting the new concrete were setting on top of staging and timbers erected from the first floor. The staging and form work is designed to support the weight of the concrete plus a significant safety factor. The crane was lowering in a bucket and a laborer was standing on a form above the new floor area. As the concrete bucket passed the laborer he jumped off the form, grabbed the dump handle on the bucket, and dropped four yards of concrete onto the deck at one time. The forms went down about an inch, bounced up, and totally collapsed from the shock load of so much weight hitting at one time. The previously placed 18 yards of concrete also went down with the forms. There was concrete, staging, forms, and rebar all mixed together. We had one carpenter with a dislocated shoulder and a few scrapes and bruises. We were lucky.

We sent two pick-ups to Brattleboro and bought every bag of sugar in town. It was mixed with the concrete to retard setting. My crew worked from 6 PM until 5 AM cleaning up the mess. We rotated people between shoveling and washing with fire hoses. Every time somebody stepped back for a break I would put my hand in the middle of their back and shove them back into the concrete. I called home and Linda made us a bunch of sandwiches.  We rotated through short sandwich breaks during the night. All of the concrete was removed before it set up on the first floor.

The college kids got a workout in the concrete…………..a third of them never came back.