My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

Category: Sixties

Grande Isle

Grande Isle, VT installed a water system in the fall of 1969. The system was picking up water out of Lake Champlain and distributing it to the local communities. The water lines followed the local streets and roads. I worked for the contractor doing the drilling and blasting of rock to get the required depth of the water line. The lines were four or five feet away from the pavement and eight feet deep. My job was to drill test holes at twenty five foot intervals to determine rock depth. If the rock was within the area to be excavated I would drill and blast the rock with stick dynamite and electric blasting caps. Each hole contained only enough powder to break the rock in the bottom of the trench. Most areas to be blasted had less than five feet of rock. The drilling and blasting was done before the ditch was excavated so the soil overburden would function as cover over the blast of the rock. The heavy soil contained the blast.

There was no traffic control, no construction signs, no blasting signs, and no blasting warning signals. I commuted from Lyon Mt., NY daily on the Lake Champlain ferry. All my tools, dynamite, and caps stayed in my car with me. My boss would bring five or six boxes of powder as needed. We drilled along the side of the road, through driveways, across lawns, and past the rural mailboxes. At the end of each day I would shoot every thing that was drilled. I would knock on peoples doors and tell them to stay inside away from windows, look each way for traffic, and shoot the dynamite. Never had any problems or complaints. At the end of the day the drill and compressor were parked on the side of the road.

My sister Judy’s husband Mickey was my only employee. He drove a big old Pontiac car. We had our vehicles backed into a field across the road from our blast area one afternoon. Mickey was moving the drill and compressor away from the blast while I finished loading the holes. The air track drill was hooked to the compressor which had a front steering axle and a fixed rear axle. The drill would jerk around and it was trickey backing up the compressor without breaking the hitch. Mickey was turning around. The foot on the boom of the air track got hooked on his car bumper. I couldn’t figure out what was giving him so much trouble. I looked up just as Mickey tried to back up and turn the compressor. The drill didn’t have enough power to drag his car and couldn’t turn the compressor. Mickey never looked forward as he rocked the drill back and forth trying to make it move. Every time he jammed forward and back to make the drill move, another piece of chrome or trim would fall off of his car. All I could do was kneel on the side of the road and laugh. Even Laurel and Hardy couldn’t have pulled this stunt. When Mickey finally looked forward he went into shock. The grille, one headlight, and the bumper destroyed on his car.

Mickey was a good worker………………… long as he went straight ahead.


Chimney Hill

Myself and Al Goodwin went to work for Forest (Brad) Bradbury when we left Vermont Yankee at Vernon. Brad had a drill and blast contract at a development named Chimney Hill just out of Wilmington,VT. Chimney Hill was a far cry from the huge projects at Northfield and Vermont Yankee. The developer would survey and pioneer all the future roads with a bulldozer. If the road hit rock before final excavation grade we would drill and blast the rock. Every road required a deep trench along the sides for water and electric lines. The developer would stake the lines and we would drill and blast the areas in rock. It was a two man job, myself and Al. Our drill was a Gardner Denver air track. The compressor was a 600 CFM Gardner Denver with a hundred feet of two inch air hose. We drilled two and a half or three inch holes. The powder magazines were on top of the mountain. If drilling conditions were wet, stick powder was used. Bagged ammonium nitrate prill was used in dry conditions. Electric caps were used for initiation of each blasted hole.

The job was pretty straight forward. Drill most of the day, load the explosives, and blast going off shift. We used barrels to haul our fuel each day, carried tools to repair mechanical problems, and maintained our own equipment. On payday I would call Brad’s wife, give her our hours, get our deductions, and write out our own paychecks. Brad would come by every couple of weeks.

We used an old car with no back seat to haul our powder up and down the mountain. All the powder went on the back floorboards. The caps went in the trunk. It wasn’t very pretty, not really legal, but it worked for us. The ammonium nitrate prill was very corrosive and we didn’t want it in our personal vehicles.

When we first started at Chimney Hill my blasting had all been done in underground tunnels and excavations. Miners are notorious for using too much powder. In the first week at Chimney Hill we shot ten foot deep ditches that the bulldozer could drive through without hitting the sides with the blade. We also put some random three and four foot pieces of rock out 100 feet into the trees. It didn’t take long to determine proper drill hole spacing and amounts of powder per hole. One of us would block access to the blast area. The other pulled the shooting line up into the trees, hunkered down behind a big tree, and detonated the shot. Some of the shots made you hug the tree pretty tight to avoid the fly rock.

Drilling and blasting can be challenging and fun…………………but you can’t hide your mistakes.


Vermont Yankee: Grouted

While working on the concrete crew at Vernon we had lots of fun with Johnny Joe Kaska. We placed concrete for the reactor containment building on a regular basis. This is the large domed shaped building which encloses the massive steel reactor of a nuclear power plant. We had a new truck mounted hydraulic concrete pump parked at the edge of the building.  Five inch concrete slickline pipe delivered the concrete to the various placements. We were always several hundred feet away from the pump and could never see the pump. An electric signal bell was used for pump operator communication. The slickline pipe ran up, over, and around many obstacles to get the concrete to us. We often had to spread the reinforcement steel with come-a-longs to get the line inside a placement. The slickline was installed with a ten foot rubber flex hose on the end. We could place the concrete accurately with the flex hose. As the forms were filled we would remove ten feet of solid pipe and reinstall the rubber flex hose on the end.

When the slickline is charged with concrete a lubricant has to go ahead of the concrete. The lubricant was normally a very thin sand cement grout with water. The concrete would not get through the dry pipe without plugging if the lubricant wasn’t ahead of it. We were starting a concrete placement near the top of the circular dome around the reactor. We had massive amounts of #18 reinforcing bars on both sides of the placement. The rebar followed the curvature of the reactor and had about four feet of open space in the middle. Our slickline was close to the end of the placement. Johnny Joe was tagging the flex line as we rang the pump operator to send our grout followed by the concrete. When we got the grout we would bend the flex hose in a wide arc to flow the wet grout behind us. The grout would act as a slurry between the new and existing concrete. We would signal the pump off to put the flex hose back in position to place the concrete.

We started getting grout. Johnny Joe picked the end of the flex hose straight up about five feet and flopped it backwards. He had a hard kink right in the middle of the hose. As he flopped the hose back he knocked our signal bell off the rebar where we couldn’t reach it. The grout stopped coming because of the kink. Each time the concrete pump stroked the flex hose behind the kink got a little bigger. So did John’s eyes. There was no way for us to get to John to help him. We couldn’t get to the bell to shut off the pump. Finally the pressure lifted John off his feet, the kink came out, and grout went twenty feet in the air out of a five inch hose. A large area and thirty to forty people below us with all their tools got covered with grout. The only reason we didn’t get our butts kicked was because they couldn’t get to us.

We were lucky none of us got hurt…………………and nobody killed Johnny Joe.



Vermont Yankee: On the Ground

Morrison-Knudsen bought a new state of the art P&H 90 ton truck mounted crane while constructing the nuclear plant at Vernon, VT. The crane came with two hundred feet of boom and a twenty foot jib section on top of the boom for light work. There were several cranes at Vernon that could pick more than 90 tons, but they didn’t have the mobility of a truck crane. The bright yellow and black truck crane was the best and the biggest in it’s class of crane. The crane arrived in Vernon and was assembled on site by local crews under the supervision of P&H factory representatives. The crane was continuously tested and documented during assembly. The final phases of testing were test picks of verified weight loads of 90 tons with a safety factor. As more boom sections were added the test picks verified the ability of the crane to safely handle designed load capacities. On Friday the crane was certified to be placed into service on site. It was rigged up with all the boom and the jib.

Early on Monday morning the crews started moving the 90 ton P&H from the assembly yard to the work area of the nuclear plant. The P&H would follow the west access road along the perimeter of the plant. The road was cluttered on each side with construction materials. Both sides of the road on the west side of the nuclear plant were lined with the crew shacks of the various trades and vendors on site. The P&H had to make a pretty tight turn on the access road to get onto the straight stretch going through the crew shacks. The crane was backing down the road. About half way through the corner the crane operator made a swing to line the boom up with the road. When he made an adjustment of angle with the boom, the boom brake failed. The crane operator beeped his horn to signal the driver in the truck cab to stop moving. As the boom fell it was out of control. The crane operator swung the crane to keep the boom lined up with the road between the crew shacks. The two hundred feet of boom and the jib made a tremendous crash when it hit the ground. It was ten minutes before start time of normal shifts. There were around 300 people in the shacks attending their safety meetings when the boom hit. Not one person was in a position to get hurt. The crane operator had his sliding door open. He grabbed the front door jamb with his left hand just as the boom hit. The door slammed forward and broke his hand. A subsequent investigation found a small defective weather strip had allowed rainwater to drip on the friction brake during a week end thunder storm. The boom and jib on the ground were nothing but wadded up scrap iron.

The smooth, smart, calm crane operator saved the day……………………he couldn’t do much for the boom.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant: Sweet Concrete

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.

Northfield: Fans and Fools

When you have a construction project with multiple drill and blasts tunnels being excavated through a single portal and access tunnel, things can get crosswise in a heartbeat. The tunnels are ventilated by a system of forty eight and fifty four inch lightweight steel fanlines. The air for ventilation is moved through the fanlines by huge inline axial fans powered by high speed electric motors. The fans are reversible and can blow air into the tunnels or pull air out of the tunnels.  The axial fans are often bolted end to end in tandem to increase volume and efficiency. Adequate ventilation is required to remove diesel exhaust fumes, powder smoke, and other air contamination. Operations have to stop when no ventilation is available.

We used Koehring Mine Dump trucks at Northfield. They had a double set of controls in the cab. When the dumpy was going forward the teamster faced forward and drove like a conventional truck. When the dumpy went backwards the teamster rotated his seat to the rear and used the reverse facing steering wheel and controls. You would think driving a dumpy in a tunnel would be pretty straight up and simple. Not so. We were on graveyard one night with several crews working in different areas. The tunnel power flickered and all the ventilation systems shut down. We soon received word to cease all work. A dumpy returning to the portal after emptying his load of muck never lowered his dump bed. He hit the portal with the bed up at normal speed and wiped out all the ventilation facilities including the fans mounted in the roof of the 24 foot tunnel. I would have loved to have seen the expression on his face when he hit that portal.

When shooting a normal twelve foot production round in the tunnels we would turn off the fans during the blast. Once in a while somebody would screw up. When the explosives detonated in a delay sequence they created a series concussions and vacuums within the tunnels. If the ventilation system was pulling air out of the tunnels the vacuums would cause the fanline to collapse. Often we would have to remove and replace twenty or thirty pieces of fanline because no one shut the system down.

The ventilation system gets more sophisticated as work progresses further into the mountain with more tunnels and excavations completed. More fans are added underground to compensate for the distance and areas requiring ventilation. The fans have to be shut down and started in a rigid sequence to prevent system damage. It never fails. Somebody would start a fan in the wrong direction, create a vacuum, and collapse a bunch of fanline. The only thing you can do is cease production until things are repaired. The repairs could take several shifts.

Our project supervision didn’t appreciate the shut downs…………………….but the local bars appreciated the extra business when miners couldn’t work

Northfield: Miners and Acrobats

While mining the tunnels and powerhouse at Northfield there was always something exciting, stupid, or interesting going on. It was never boring. We always had a full crew on day shift, most of the time on the afternoon shift, and seldom on graveyard shift. We rotated shifts every two weeks so we were constantly adjusting our eating and sleeping habits. People who drank never adjusted their habits as there was always a nearby bar open at the end of every shift. There was a lot of camaraderie amongst the miners and a lot of competition between the crews and between the miners within a crew. We all worked to finish drilling our blast holes first and it was real let down to be the last one finished drilling. If you allowed your drill to get hung up in a hole and lost your drill steel it would cost you a round at the bar for the whole crew. The cost wasn’t near as bad as the harassment from the other miners. Whenever somebody on the crew owed a round at the bar all twenty three members of the crew would be there regardless of what shift we had just finished. It wasn’t uncommon for the afternoon and graveyard shifts to be short handed. If we didn’t have enough crew to be efficient the shift superintendent would go to the local bars and gather up the needed crew members. They would reluctantly come to work. They wouldn’t let their crew down. If we were only a few hands short everybody would pitch in and get the work done.

Donald Sorrell was a young kid from Lyon Mt. working on our crew. His nickname was Jumbo. We were working graveyard shift and it was just after daybreak in the morning. We brought our drill jumbo outside for cleaning, restocking, and repairs before day shift started. Several of us were working in the yard near the jumbo and Donald was washing off the decks of the jumbo with a one inch water hose. Under normal working conditions the top deck would have the safety railing installed. It was laying on the deck as Donald diligently washed the top deck. Donald was walking backwards slowly as he washed the deck. When he got to the end of deck he stepped right off of it backwards. He flopped around like a rag doll and hit the ground in a near prone position. He had just fallen about 15 feet. He jumped up, brushed himself off, climbed the steps back to the top deck, and finished washing the jumbo. We didn’t even have time to react before he was on his feet and going again. All we could do was shake our heads.

Donald aka Jumbo wasn’t old enough to drink……………..but he earned the privilege of buying the crew a round for demonstrating his acrobatic skills.

Northfield: Basket Case

Linda and I bought a new mobile home and set it up in the Riverview Mobile Home Park in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. We were married in Nov 1968. Many of the supervisors from Northfield also lived in the park. It was pretty nice because the company sent a snowplow early every morning when there was a storm. They didn’t want anyone to have an excuse to miss work. They plowed the streets in our park and cleared the driveway of everyone employed at Northfield. There were about six of us from Lyon Mt living at Riverview. We could look down on the Connecticut River and see the construction on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant from our lot.

We had a large dryhouse at Northfield. We went to work in our street clothes. We changed into our work clothes at the dryhouse. Every miner had a large metal wire basket suspended on a rope in the dryhouse. We kept all of our small personal tools, clothes, and shower gear in the baskets. When not in use the baskets were hoisted close to the ceiling and tied off. The fans and heaters were always on in the dryhouse to ventilate and dry the clothes.

We entered the dryhouse one afternoon for our swing shift. While lowering my basket the basket behind me fell. I never heard anything until it hit me on the head and drove me to my knees. Had a pretty good gash on my head. When I arrived at the on site nurses station it was full of people. It was shift change time. All the sick, lame, and lazy employees were checking in or out. The bleeding had all ready stopped from the cut on my head when the male RN looked at it. He cleaned it up, put butterfly bandaids on it, and covered it with a gauze bandage. Just before leaving he took me outside and sprayed it with a can of Aeroplast to keep dirt out. The smell of the aeroplast was worse than my wound. The big knot under my hard hat was uncomfortable. A nagging headache stayed with me all through the shift.

After getting into my street clothes, I reported back to the nurses station as they had requested. The nurse on duty commented about having everything ready for me as he checked the wound for dirt. He gave me a medical form to give the emergency room where my stitches would be put in. It was 15 miles in the opposite direction of my home. They knew the gash had to be stitched, but didn’t want me to miss work. Now that my shift was complete it would take the other half of the night in the emergency room.

The nurses were looking out for the company……………….and I let them know where to stick their Aeroplast.

Northfield Mt. Project

In 1968 and 1969 there were about 20 people from Lyon Mt. and Merrill, NY working on the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Hydro Electric Project near Greenfield, MA. Most of them were on the same crew. Northfield was a $183 million construction contract. Morrison-Knudsen had the civil construction. Main features of the contract included excavation and embankment of a 300 acre reservoir (capacity 5.6 billion gal) 800 feet in elevation above the Connecticut River. An upper intake structure with a 1000′ long x 20′ angled shaft. Underground 700′ were four 12′ diameter penstock tunnels, an underground power house (300′ long, 80′ wide, 150′ high), four draft tubes, a tailrace tunnel (4400′ long, 40′ wide, 40′ high), and an intake structure into the Connecticut River. Twenty miles of the river between the dams at Turners Falls, MA and Vernon,VT would function as the lower reservoir for the project. An access tunnel (2500′ long by 24’high by 30′ wide) was required to access the underground power house. Other access tunnels and shafts were required for maintenance and construction access.

I decided to quit my job as a correction officer at Green Haven and went to work for Allie Chase at Northfield. All of the tunnels at Northfield were excavated by drill and blast methods. The large drill carriers were called jumbo’s. We had a jumbo which was built around the frame and cab of a R-35 Terex off highway rock truck. The steel beam frame was about 50′ long and the upper components were about 20′ high. It was huge and heavy. We often had to use a D-7 Cat to assist moving the jumbo’s. The drills were Gardner-Denver 123 hammers mounted horizontally on 14′ guide shells. The drills were air powered and used water for dust control and hole flushing. Hydraulic cylinders were used on the drill booms to position them. The top deck of the jumbo had three drills, the center deck had four drills, and the bottom three drills were operated standing on the ground.

A few weeks after starting at Northfield we had a loose slab of rock on the upper face of the tunnel. It was a hazard for the crew when drilling. Ally Chase, Tommy Sims, and several others worked diligently to dislodge the slab of rock. They rattled it with the drills and worked with scaling bars on the top deck of the jumbo. The rest of the crew was busy preparing to drill. When the slab came loose, it was in slow motion. It was also much larger than anybody anticipated. The slab slowly tilted off the face and on to the top deck of the jumbo. The top deck slowly collapsed as it took the weight. When the deck hit the center drills underneath, the weight of the slab caused the front of the jumbo to go up in the air until it hit the top of the tunnel. Everything on the jumbo slid off as the crew vacated for solid ground. When it was all over no one was hurt. We used a bull dozer to pull the jumbo out from under the rock slab and out of the tunnel.

I was on the top deck when the slab came down……………..but not for long.

“Tail Lights”

Rusty Wilson worked as a correction officer at Wallkill, NY while I was working at Green Haven. Rusty knew everybody in seven counties. Things were seldom quiet or boring when Rusty was around. He didn’t like to drive when he was drinking so he didn’t drive much. Rusty was everybody’s friend. We made a lot of trips from Wallkill to Lyon Mountain when our days off hit at the same time. I always did the driving and we always sipped a few cool ones along the way. The radio was always on and the more we drank the louder Rusty would sing. He was great company.

Rusty liked to stop and have a couple beers at Lake George during nice warm weather months. We’d pull into Lake George around nine at night and hang out a couple hours. We always ran into somebody Rusty knew. By the time we got back onto Interstate 87 it was usually foggy in the valleys and low areas going north. We had a system for driving through the fog that saved us a lot of time. The fog was often very heavy and you couldn’t see the pavement or markings on the road.

My full concentration was required to look out the forward portion of the door window at the illuminated broken lines on the pavement. I couldn’t see the lines over the hood, but it was very bright from the headlight reflection beside the car. While concentrating on the lines it was near impossible for me to see any traffic ahead of us. That was Rusty’s job. Rusty would watch straight ahead while sipping his beer and singing along with the radio. When Rusty hollered “tail lights” I would pull to the left lane, pass the car, and pull back over to the right lane. Traffic was normally pretty light and Rusty didn’t have to holler much. When we were in the left lane it was very hard to follow the continuous solid line. It was hard to discern the real line from the reflections. The intermittent broken lines came fast enough to keep us oriented as we buzzed through the fog ten miles over the speed limit in the right lane.

We learned how to handle driving in the fog………………but we enjoyed seeing the moonlight and stars too.