My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Month: September, 2013

Getting Even

It is amazing in this day and age how many people still dwell on the Civil War. The large construction jobs usually have a contingent of diehard rebels and diehard yankees no matter what the project geographic location. It gets even worse when you’re in the northeast or southeast areas of our country. Most of the sentiment is displayed as humor or light bickering between employees of northern or southern origins. It is just having fun and not taken serious. There are occasions when tempers flare, but they are rare. The following is one of my favorite gigs received while working in Virginia and South Carolina “You yankees are like hemorroids……you’re all right when you come down and go right back up… but when you come down and stay you’re a pain in the ass.”

While working at Bath County Linda, myself, and several other couples attended the bluegrass festival in Huntersville, West Virginia. Huntersville is a mountain town located in an area of several civil war battles. It’s also in the heart of true bluegrass music country. Banjo’s, fiddles, mandolins, and guitars played the old way. The site is a large open area with a single stage and vendors at one end. Campers set up randomly throughout the site and parking is at the very rear near the entrance. Everybody dances on the ground in front of the stage. The festival goes all weekend. The first thing that catches your eye after sundown is the number of people walking around with gallon milk jugs full of moonshine. It’s proper etiquette to take a pull on the jug of people you know. It’s a great party.

One group of campers had a big confederate flag mounted on a small tree pole about twenty feet high. They had a spotlight on the ground with wiring connected to a car battery. If you were in the area of the stage and looked back towards the camping and parking area the illuminated flag was all you could see. It was pretty impressive. As the night went on myself and Steve Plante were discussing the flag. We decided it would be a good joke if a couple yankees went home with it. We made a couple passes past the camp to check things out as the night passed. Just as our group was heading for the parking lot, Steve and I went after the flag. We belly crawled to the spot light, disconnected the wires, and took a break. No body payed any attention to the light going out. There were several people sleeping in sleeping bags close to the flag. We quietly slipped in, cut the guy ropes, lowered the pole, and removed the flag. All was quiet as we headed towards the car in the parking lot. I felt sorry for the redneck rebels the next morning, but not enough to return their flag.

Wouldn’t it be funny ……if they knew a hemorroid stole their flag.

ChainSaw Batteries

Myself and Walt Dzeima worked jointly with Kolden Zerneke and Gene Palmer from Harza Engineering’s geotechnical section. They were both in their sixties and well respected by everybody. Our core drill worked exclusively on drilling for exploratory rock information and installing various geotechnical instruments in the foundations and ridges surrounding the Bath County Project. We were the only two individuals on the project with factory training on the installation of some very sophisticated geotechnical instruments. No one else could install them.

Our core drill was operated by two brothers named Phil and Bob from West Virginia. They were rednecks extraordinaire. Their father was an old time bootlegger, their hunting season never closed, and they were related to everybody in seven counties. They knew where to get the best harvest of ginseng for selling on the black market and the best alfalfa fields to knock down a deer in the middle of the night. They were also excellent drillers and workers. If Phil and Bob liked you it was for real. If they didn’t you were totally ignored.

Harza hired a college geology student to work with Phil and Bob on the core drill for the summer. Phil and Bob really liked the kid, which amazed myself and Walt. He was an exact opposite of the two brothers. This kid was city raised, had zero mechanical aptitude, showed very little confidence, and for all practical purposes was an over educated dummy. He took his job serious, he just didn’t have any common sense. One of the things that saved the summer was the kids personality. You couldn’t help but like him. Another thing that helped was the kid had a full time pick-up truck. He could get supplies for Phil and Bob.

Bob would pick-up the chainsaw, leave the switch off, and pull the starter rope a few times. He would explain the battery was dead and ask the kid to go get one. The kid always jumped at a chance to help. While the kid was enroute Bob called the warehouse with his order including snacks etc. The poor kid spent a lot of time chasing chainsaw batteries, rubber wrenches for core tubes, sky hooks, and assorted things which didn’t exist. Everybody at the warehouse liked him too.

We were installing 600 foot deep open standpipe piezometers along the rim of the upper reservoir. Harza special ordered a 600 foot steel tape for monitoring water levels in the piezometer pipes. The kid thought the 600 foot tape was the best thing he ever had. Phil and Bob tried to convince him not to put the tape down a deep hole until the installation was complete. If something caved or fell off the side of the hole he would lose his tape. The kid wouldn’t pass up a chance to measure a deep hole and ended up with the tape hung up 500 feet down a hole. It broke trying to pull it through the obstruction. The poor kid sat down and cried on the deck of the drill.

The kid was a good sport………..he just didn’t know any better.

Bottomed Out

The six unit powerhouse at Bath County sits at the base of a mountain and was excavated over one hundred feet deep. The excavation was approximately four hundred feet long and a couple hundred feet wide. All of the rock excavation was accomplished with air track driils and explosives. Rock bolts were installed for ground support and safety bolting of features which might present safety hazards during construction. The area was separated from Bad Creek waters by a bentonite clay slurry wall which extended from the original ground surface to the bedrock along the side of the creek. Electric pumps and steel discharge lines maintained the dewater of the excavation. The pump positions were constantly changed to accomodate the drill, blast, and excavation needs. The pumps always required a sump lower than the excavation to collect the water.

When the powerhouse excavation was approximately twenty feet from bottom the twenty foot tunnel for each of the six units had to be mined. A bench wide enough for the tunnel work was established so the tunnels could be driven while the remainder of the powerhouse was excavated to grade. Most outside blasting is accomplished after day shift shuts down to minimize production delays. Tunnels are just the opposite. They are blasted immediately to maintain production activities. Our crews were soon very efficient at watching the miners and having a predetermined place to take cover when one of the tunnels was blasting. When the miners started sounding blast warnings on their air whistle you better get out of harms way in a hurry. They might pull the trigger on the third whistle or the tenth whistle. As soon as the blast went off old Gene Hailstone wanted the shot rock headed for the muck pile. More than one person hugged the nearest thing available to protect themselves from fly rock during the blasts.

We were close to being on grade with the powerhouse. It was late afternoon and a big thunderstorm moved in over the project. It dumped heavy rain on us. There was no way the pumps could handle the amount of water mother nature was laying down. When the rain started all the powerhouse drill crews picked up their gear and headed for the house. Myself, Walt Dzeima, and Cliff LaFountain went to check the equipment in the powerhouse. The six air track drills were in three feet of water with the water coming up fast. The control levers were above water, but you couldn’t see the undercarriages and tracks. The two inch air hoses were floating. We waded in and walked the drills to high ground in the pouring rain. In some places the water was four feet deep as we walked the drills. Water was running into the powerhouse from everywhere.

We didn’t complain about the drillers lack of foresight……….we were just doing our job.

CrossWired

Keeping pace with all of the electrical requirements for construction crews on a project as big as Bath County is a nightmare. You have a project distribution system to provide most facilities power. There are also many portable generators throughout the project providing temporary services to the individual remote work areas. It’s a harsh environment for the electrical equipment providing the power. Anybody can plug in a cord, but you need somebody with experience and knowledge to properly install the numerous 440 volt pumps, motors, and equipment scattered all over the project. My crews maintained and used a dozen 30 to 60 horsepower submersible dewater pumps in various excavations and locations of the project. They were provided power by a mix of overhead line power and mobile generators. Pat McCoy’s crew’s also had multiple large pump installations.

One of Pat’s installations was in a pond used to provide construction water to different areas. The 60 hp pumps were mounted in a floating metal basket with 55 gal barrels for floatation. The basket allowed the pumps to move up and down with the water level of the pond. The crew had a small rowboat to get back and forth to the basket. One of the pumps needed repair. Pat brought in a crane to exchange pumps. An electrician with an apprentice pulled out and exchanged the power cords at the disconnect a hundred feet up the hill from the pond. The electrician left the apprentice to power up the pump when Pat was ready. The crane completed the pump exchange and went on to other work. Pat and two men hooked up the pump in the basket to the discharge pipes.

When installing a 440 volt, three phase, electric motor you need to check the rotation of the motor. This is a very common task performed by all electricians. The pumps at Bath County all had arrows indicating proper rotation direction. The new pump rotation was backwards when Pat had the electrician turn it on. The apprentice turned off the power and assured Pat he could properly change the connections for rotation. Pat and the two men with him relaxed on the float while the change was made. When the apprentice was ready Pat told him to turn on the pump. Pat and the two men leaned on the metal railing looking at the pump when the 440 volt electric hit them and froze them to the railing. When the apprentice finally realized what happened he threw the disconnect to the off position. The three men on the float all fell lifeless to the metal deck. They gradually regained consciousness, but didn’t dare move for fear of being shocked again. They talked, but remained motionless until the journeyman electrician returned and verified the power was off. The boat at the float was the only access so Pat and his men had to row themselves to shore. Their only long lasting implication was all had received instant gray hair. They were back to work after a couple days rest.

We never saw the apprentice again………but I don’t think the crew killed him.

Industrial Illusions

When a $1.6 billion construction project like Bath County is being constructed there are numerous unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The designers put their best efforts forward to come up with a finished product to accomplish the owners needs. Just making the transition from a project concept to project blueprints takes millions of manhours and several years. The blueprints tell you what you are going to build in detail. The construction team has to come up with the means to accomplish the building of the project. The Bath County Project from top to bottom had one of the best construction teams ever assembled on a single project. As a superintendent on such a project you have to constantly adjust your manpower, methods, and resources to the daily challenges. The best superintendents are the ones who make the right decisions, at the right time, to keep the work moving forward. All of your decisions are based on your knowledge and understanding of your work. Sometimes it’s a gamble which call to make. The most successful superintendents are those with the highest percentage of good decisions.

Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) owned and operated power plants. Their team supporting the construction at Bath County was outstanding. Like everyone else they weren’t perfect. Somewhere along the VEPCO corporate chain a very smart consultant convinced them to implement an Industrial Engineering (IE) program on the project. The IE program would assign an identification number to every crew on the project signifying the trade, supt, and foreman. Every worker on the job would wear the numbers on each side of their hard hats. The IE department would employ roving observers to patrol the project and randomly observe every crew for productivity. All of this information would be incorporated onto a spreadsheet to tell how productive every foreman’s crew was over a period of time. A compilation of the foreman’s numbers would provide the productivity of the supt’s. The people doing the observations and compilations had no construction experience at all.

We soon learned to adapt to the IE program just like we overcame our other daily problems. The secret to good productivity reports was to recognize the IE observers. If an observer was in the area everybody had to be moving. Not productive, just moving. The observer didn’t know if a person was walking for a snack or walking for tools. As long as they were walking they were productive. If equipment operators were on equipment they were productive. The equipment could be idle, but it was being operated. When the IE program was introduced it was met with a lot of skepticism by field employees. I vowed my crews would learn to play the game and play it well. We always had good IE productivity reports and became very proficient at manipulating the program. I often wonder how much money could have been saved if all the IE program supplies, vehicles, and people could have been used to do something productive.

Good superintendents and foreman don’t need productivity reports……….you can see what they accomplish.

Knotted & Dangling

The high scaling crew at Bath County used bars and tools to remove safety hazards from the high rock excavations. We operated our own informal school for new high scalers. Only people who requested to work on ropes were trained to high scale. Often people were refused for the school because of their attitudes and personalities. Walt Dzeima and I trained the scalers for our crews, but I was never much of a scaler. I got around on the ropes, but never got comfortable enough to dangle on the belt while working with both hands scaling. I always had to have that false security of one hand on the rope. The scaling ropes were one inch manilla rope with a wire core. Each scaler used two lanyards of the same type rope with a sliding knot for climbing or descending. We drilled and installed steel pins to anchor the ropes on top.

A young laborer from West Virginia had been scaling for several weeks at Portlock quarry after finishing training. Jeff wanted to be a scaler from the day he went to work on the project. He was a hard worker, got along well with everyone, and was always happy and smiling. I got a radio call just before lunch to go to the quarry.  The call didn’t reference any emergency, but wouldn’t have been made if something wasn’t wrong. Jeff was scaling about half way down an eighty foot rock cut working on a slab of loose rock. The rock could be wiggled from the top with the scaling bar, but was keyed in and couldn’t be pried loose. He used the six foot scaling bar to work along the sides and was making progress working it loose. Jeff worked down low on one side of the rock and got a good bite with his scaling bar. The rock was hanging precariously and nearly dislodged. He went to the opposite side and the rock started leaning out to fall. At the same instant Jeff’s scaling bar popped out of the joint in the rock. He swung like a pendulum on the rope right over the center of the leaning rock slab. As the rock leaned out and fell it shoved him away from the wall. The tip of the jagged rock raked and scratched his chest while tearing his shirt to pieces.  As the rock continued to lean out and fall it flipped him upside down and rotated him around his rope hook-up. He couldn’t get upright.

Everything appeared normal as I entered the quarry. The haul trucks and drills were all working normally and several scalers were on their ropes working. When in a position to see Jeff it looked like he was hanging unconscious. Walt was talking to a group of laborers not far from where Jeff dangled upside down. Jeff’s shirt was mostly gone and the blood from the cuts and scratches was dripping off of his neck. It took thirty minutes to send two scalers down to help Jeff. They got his legs untangled and straightened out his rigging. He descended under his own power and was only bruised.

We didn’t reprimand or lecture Jeff……… just made him spend a couple weeks flagging traffic.

Bath County

The Bath County Pumped Storage Hydro Electric Project was a $1.6 billion construction project about 60 miles from Roanoke, VA near the West Virginia state border. Bath County is a scenic picturesque area of steep mountains and fertile valleys. The project included dams, tunnels, shafts, a six unit powerhouse, construction living quarters, and two large reservoirs. The project was privately funded, designed, and constructed. The only government participation was through regulatory agencies. Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) owned and financed the project. Harza Engineering was the principal designer. Daniel International was the general contractor and construction manager. Gates and Fox had the subcontract for all the shafts and tunnels. Phillips and Jordan had the clearing contract. General information for the project is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk2YL46ewo0 and

http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_County_Pumped_Storage_Station

While Linda and I got settled in to our home in Covington,VA it was like old home week. There were several people from the area of our home town in Lyon Mountain,NY on the project along with numerous others who were employed on projects in Massachusetts with us. Clifford Lafountain, Nick Walker, and Mike Rabideau from Standish,NY,, Ray and Timmy Atkinson from Riverview,NY,, Walt Dzeima from Reedsboro,VT., and Pat McCoy from Greenfield,MA were old friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while.  At work I was always walking into somebody I hadn’t seen for years.

At work my crews were installing forty and sixty foot rockbolts in the backslope of the powerhouse excavation, installing dewater systems for future powerhouse and dam excavations, supporting haul road construction activities, setting up field offices, supporting drill and blast rock excavations, and supporting initial quarry excavations. Myself and Walt Dzeima ordered supplies for core drilling and installation of geotechnical instruments.

I worked under Ron Maxwell and Jim Scott supporting the excavation and civil activities. Sometimes it required odd jobs like providing support and services to archeology students from James Madison University. They used an abandoned house for living quarters while digging on the project. We had to provide porta-johns, drinking water, garbage removal, and general support for them. The old three story house had undrinkable water, no furniture, a refrigerator, and a washing machine. It was like camping indoors with thirty people including some very young children. They did a good job on their dig sites and investigations, but they reminded me of a misplaced hippy commune more than educated young adult students. Most of them could care less if the sun shined. Others loved to complain about everything and anything. By the end of spring and summer breaks we were happy to see them go back to their classes.

Keeping sixty to one hundred laborers safe, busy, and productive is one thing………..playing nursemaid to a bunch of adult kids is another.

 

EastBound

In early March of 1978 I received a phone call from Daniel International who had a large construction project mobilizing in northwest Virginia. Many of my old supervisors and crew from previous jobs were on the project.  I accepted a superintendent position on the project. Tom Miller’s silver mine was progressing on a second tunnel several hundred feet away from the tunnel which had caved in. Tom accepted my two weeks notice. He hated to see me go and thanked me for the good work. A few days later Daniel gave me a purchase order for Atlas Van Lines to move us from Idaho to Virginia. They would come in, pack us up, load, and deliver everything we owned to Virginia. Within a week Pat McCoy, an old friend from Massachusetts, had located and rented a home for us in Covington, VA.

Linda and I had made several one day moves on our own with all of our vehicles and the kids. Traveling from Idaho to Virginia was a little different. We arranged to have my mother fly out so she could accompany Linda on the trip. When we departed Linda drove our station wagon and I towed the pick-up behind our camper bus. The weather was sunny and warm as we crossed Wyoming headed east. Our camper bus had mechanical problems just outside of Kemmerer, Wy. We stayed at Little America, Wy while searching for repair parts with no luck. A local car dealer allowed us to store the bus for no fee. We left the bus and continued with the pick-up and our station wagon.

We followed a winter storm across eastern Nebraska and into Iowa. We made it to Iowa City, Iowa passing numerous cars and trucks stuck or wrecked from the sleet and ice. Once settled into the motel, Linda and Mom had to go out shopping for dinner. They also had to buy everything we needed to celebrate Easter at the motel. After our three children retired for the night it was time to hide the eggs and set out the baskets. This was an Easter we would never forget. The date was March 26 1978. After having the kids Easter and attending church we were back on the road headed east. The scenery was spectacular with the mid morning sun shining down on everything covered with an inch of crystal clear ice. Cars and trucks still littered Interstate 80 for the next sixty miles. Linda threatened not to drive another mile in Lexington, KY as we drove from Iowa City to Covington, Va. We were all tired. Our furniture was all ready in the house when we arrived.

Tuesday morning i went to the job for my physical and indoctrination.. The doctor took one look at my back surgery scar and said I wasn’t eligible to work on the project. You should of seen his face when I told him the company hired me as a superintendent by phone and moved us to the job from Idaho.  It didn’t take me long to meet all the big brass on the job.

The back surgery turned out all right………..nobody wanted to write the purchase order moving us back to Idaho.

DayLighted

While Tom Miller recovered from his punctured lung myself and his two other employees kept mining on the 10 x 10 foot tunnel out of Oakley, Idaho. We stayed in pretty competent ground, but it required wood timber sets all the way. Tom returned to work and the progress on the tunnel wasn’t bad. By the time we got several hundred feet into the mountain the ground took a change. We got into a zone of crushed altered rock from a shear zone or fault. The zone started on the lower left side of the tunnel and as we progressed it moved up into the quarter arches and crown. As the bad rock got closer to the crown we shortened the distance between our wood timber sets. Tom bought a load of hay bales to use as softener on the sides outside of the solid three inch lagging. Like any owner Tom was doing his best to minimize timber quantities used for cribbing above our timber sets. He wanted to stay safe, but he wanted to save timber cribbing too. As the tunnel advanced the bad ground was in the right side crown and going up at about a 45 degree angle. It was blocky, fractured, and dry. Our progress was slow. We had about 300 feet of cover between us and the surface of the mountain.

Each time we advanced a round in the tunnel there was deterioration of the ground behind us as the fractured ground dribbled around the cribbing. This isn’t uncommon and normally the caving ground will fill the voids and choke itself off over time. I would use my mine lamp to inspect above the timber behind us every round. The ground was working, but didn’t appear to be a problem. The caps and posts didn’t show any significant weight from the ground above us. We shot a round and I was about half way mucked out with the little 910 Cat loader. I had about half a bucket of muck when I felt a minor air blast in the tunnel. A rounded two foot rock blew through the three inch lagging about four feet above the floor of the tunnel fifty feet behind me. As I backed out the loader wouldn’t climb over the two foot rock. I went forward and scraped enough muck to fill the bucket. I was wide open as the loader bounced over the rock on my way to the portal. Trickles of dust and sand were falling everywhere and several log caps on the timber sets broke as I retreated. The caps were 16 to 20 inch diameter logs framed ten feet across 12 inch log posts. They sounded like a cannon when they broke. I cleared the portal, parked at the edge of our dump area, climbed on the roof of the loader, and watched as I listened. The tunnel caved full of muck and I suspected the bad ground would cave to the surface. The crew outside came running. They knew the tunnel caved in, but couldn’t understand what I was watching on the mountain. When the sagebrush started disappearing in an ever widening circle they knew the ground had daylighted.

I was running on adrenalin once I felt the small air blast………and thankful for the opportunity to be outside watching the sagebrush drop out of site.

 

 

Strapped

Tom Miller was a geologist who decided to start his own silver mine east of Oakley, Idaho. To get to the mine we drove the gravel roads from Idaho into Utah, then cut back into Idaho on a single track dirt road. The old timers had mined some excellent silver from the property around the turn of the century. They got into heavy shale mining conditions and abandoned the mine because they couldn’t hold back the heavy ground. Tom researched and mapped the property, plotted the original workings, and planned a new mine which would avoid the heavy shale. He bought a forest service timber sale near Challis, logged the timber, and sent the logs to a sawmill to make the lumber for his mining needs. When my employment started the site was complete and the portal was established for the new mine. The 10 x10 foot tunnel was turned under in pretty good ground. We drilled with jacklegs and mucked with a little 910 Cat loader. We used log caps and posts for our timber sets and capped of the sides and crown with three inch green lagging from Tom’s timber sale.

We were in a little over a hundred feet and shot a round about mid day. We had quite a bit of overbreak in the right upper crown going up about 45 degrees over the right side of the tunnel. The ground wasn’t working, but had to be caught up before advancing the tunnel. I left the center pieces of three inch lagging out for access and worked off the top of the timber. Tom was in the loader bucket, standing up through the hole, passing me the cribbing timber. The other two men were passing the cribbing up to Tom. The ground dribbled a little while timbering and I would step back and watch before going back to work. There was room to move and the open center of the crown gave me an escape route. Just as I started capping off the overbreak it caved towards the crown. Without hesitation Tom and I bailed out of the timber set. I recall hitting the loader bucket on a roll while heading for the floor of the tunnel. The two bottom hands were long gone, the ground above us was still working, and Tom was laying against the side of the tunnel in obvious pain.

When Tom bailed out of the hole and dove for the ground his ribs had bounced off the corner tooth on the loader bucket. As I pulled Tom away from the face of the tunnel and out of harms way he was white as a ghost. My first thought was heart attack. Tom had a couple broken or bruised ribs. We all took off our outer shirts, wrapped them around Tom’s ribs, then strapped him up with our belts to help keep him erect. We had to go twenty miles of rough road in a stiff four wheel drive pick-up to get to the hospital in Oakley. Tom never opened his eyes the whole trip and groaned constantly. Tom had a punctured lung, several broken ribs, and lots of bruises.

The doctors said we should never have strapped Tom’s chest with broken ribs……..but it saved his life because it stabilized the rib puncturing his lung during the rough ride.