Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Bridge, A Hamburger, and Three Fat Guys on a Golf Course

Location: Heart of Haynesville RV Park, Mansfield, Louisiana
(click the pictures to enlarge)

I retired from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development after 31+ years of service. One of my jobs was that of a Project Engineer. That title is a little mis-leading. It should be Projects Engineer since they usually have at least a half dozen projects assigned to them.  One of those projects was to remove and replace the U.S. 84 Bridge over the Red River at Coushatta, Louisiana. During my time as a PE, I had about 25 +/- people assigned to me as inspectors on those projects.The inspectors were very good at their job and were trained in Concrete, Earthwork, Asphalt and Miscellaneous inspection. They were a great crew and for some unknown reason, the Department called crews like this, "gangs".  I guess similar to a "chain gang", "road gang". 

The U.S. 84 Bridge over the Red River at Coushatta

There are many memories of that bridge being built but very few pictures. Back then, pictures had to be developed and were very expensive if you took 100 a day like I sometimes do while exploring. One of the first items of work on the bridge was to determine how much load (weight) each steel "H" pile could hold after being driven in the ground. They have to hold the weight of the entire bridge plus whatever extra is added in for safety. The way to find that number on this project was to drive a cluster of piles in the ground, build a frame on a few of them and place a large horizontal steel beam connected to the cluster and going over, but not touching, the test pile that you're going to load. A large hydraulic ram is placed between that steel beam and the test pile. The ram will push down on the pile while it is being resisted by the pile cluster and horizontal beam. You then measure how much the test pile goes down under different hydraulic loads. Those hydraulic loads are then converted to weight to determine the length and number of piles to be used on the bridge. The hydraulic load is increased incrementally over about a 24 hour period with measurements taken before and after the load is placed. The pile will usually only move a fraction of an inch.  To take such small measurements, a short ruler is attached to a small mirror, then the mirror/ruler is attached to the test pile. In front of the mirror/ruler are two thin piano wires that are stretched tight and connected to something other than the pile being loaded. The first wire is very close, but not touching, the ruler and the second one is a few inches farther away. To take a measurement, you would look at the ruler and move your head up or down until you saw the reflection of only one piano wire (the two wires would be lined up one behind each other) and then you would read the ruler where the wire(s) crossed it. When the pile goes down under loading, the ruler/mirror attached to the pile will go down with it, but the wires would stay in the same place since they are not attached to the pile being measured. With this system, you can measure the movement of the pile to at least 1/32nd of an inch. 

The first pile to be measured was to be in the bottom of the river. A "coffer dam" has to be built before driving and measuring the pile. A coffer dam is built out of temporary interlocking steel sheet piles driven in a shape where they encircle the area where you are going to drive the permanent piles. Once you have encircled the area with the sheet piles and built a strong frame inside, you can now pump out the water to expose the river bottom. Once you dig out the mud at the bottom, you're ready to drive the test pile and load it up. The location of the test pile set-up was a few feet above the bottom of the river. The coffer dam is constantly leaking so water pumps are going all the time to prevent the coffer dam from flooding. It is loud and wet in the bottom of any coffer dam and this one was no exception. Once the loading of the test pile began, there would have to be a person from the bridge contractor to perform the test and one of my guys watching the pile for the entire time. Although I wasn't required to be there, I decided to take the midnight to noon shift. Lots "may" have been drawn to see who got what shift and I "may" have rigged the outcome of that drawing, but it's been so long ago, I "may" not remember. So, picture this clearly now. In the middle of the night, sitting in the bottom of a coffer dam, a few feet above the river bed, water leaking and spewing from almost every joint of the sheet piles, the constant sound of the water pumps and you have to measure the movement of a steel pile down to the 32nd of an inch. Aw, the life of a State-worker. Sometimes, we did things other than just lean on a shovel.

When my shift ended at noon, my replacement brought me a hamburger from a local burger place in town. I had never had one from there but it was great. It was the best burger I've ever had and I get one every chance I get when I'm in Coushatta around noon-time. I mean it, it is the best burger I've had in my entire 58 years of living. The place has been around for quite a while. It is not a sit-down restaurant. You order what you want and stand around until it is ready. There are a couple picnic tables to eat at, but most people eat it in their cars, or take it with them. Great place. It is a reminder to never, ever, judge a book by it's cover or in this case, the hamburger by the building. 

Bailey Burger place. :)

I got one of the Bailey burgers yesterday before playing a round of golf with two of the guys I worked with before retiring. One is retired and the other is still a few years away from retirement. Both reached positions that are the highest they could achieve. These guys were promoted based on the quality of their work and their character. I would trust both of them with anything I own and am proud to call them friends. It was a good day, thanks guys.

Steve Walker on the left, Andy Long on the right.

I'm not sure why both have a leg out of the cart. LOL

Beautiful day with some of the trees in their fall color.

No drought here.

We had the course almost all to ourselves. 

I was very lucky in my career to always have good people around me. Besides the dozens and dozens of inspectors, maintenance people, lab technicians, business people, trainers, designers, Engineers, surveyors, right-of-way people, traffic specialists, mechanics, electricians, sign specialists and others that I worked with, I was extremely lucky to have three ladies that took care of me. They were the Administrative Assistants that worked with me over my career. Tena Chadwick, Joy Fields and Pat Sanchez were the three ladies that told me where to be and when to be there. All three were excellent at their jobs and were liked and respected by all the people that worked with us. They are three more friends of mine. Because we are best friends, Pat and I retired on the same day. We worked together probably 15 years or so before retiring. I like retirement, but sure miss the people. 

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.   

No comments:

Post a Comment