In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Some Days With The Pile Driving Crew

Decades ago, I was farmed out to a pile driving subcontractor, while the main crew went to pour a bridge a few hundred miles away. We were driving piling for an abutment cap on an overpass. Since I'd never driven pile, I was the F.N.G. and I had a lot to learn.

The piling was 16 inch square, prestressed concrete pile about 60 feet long. To those that don't know what that is, the piling has strands of cable that run the length of the pile. The cables are stressed to a certain amount of tension, before the concrete is poured. After the concrete is cured, the cables are cut at the end of the pile and the holes are filled with epoxy. The cables add strength, and hold the piling together.

The crew was well seasoned, so my tasks were the most menial. If it required someone to wallow in the mud and move something, I was first in line to accomplish this task. After all, other than doing such things, I was damn near useless.

As the week progressed, I learned how the rig was set up, the parts of the hammer and how they would set the batter for the batter piling. All of it was hard dirty work and the constant beating while driving required ear protection. To add insult to injury, the hammer - which was a diesel hammer - "slobbered" oil and diesel. Every day, when I returned home, I was speckled with drops that constantly fell from the running hammer.

The one day I really remember started brutally hot. The humidity was high and the forecast was for heavy evening thunderstorms. The hammer was cantankerous that morning, which meant I had to climb the leads and spray starting fluid in the intake. It took a few tries, but the hammer finally fired and I was rewarded with an extra amount of "slobber" as I climbed down the leads. The noise was deafening, even with ear plugs. Since the piling was just resting in the hole we drilled, there wasn't much bearing and the piling was sinking quickly. All I could think of was hurrying down and avoiding getting my hands caught in the pinch points as the hammer dropped.

The piling eventually reached the point where every blow only buried it a fraction of an inch further. The inspector, who was logging the pile, nodded his head and the foreman pulled the compression release on the hammer. We had one done and many more to drive.

It was around 3:30 when I noticed the huge thunderstorm to the south. It was hard to say which direction it was headed, but I had a good idea it was headed our way.

We were setting the leads on another piling, when it became obvious we'd be hit by the storm. The foreman, who didn't want to go through the entire process again, continued setting the leads into position. The thunderstorm arrived before we could finish.

As we tried to secure the rig, lightning started hitting close and often. We secured what we could in the high wind, but were soon soaked by the torrential rain that arrived faster than anticipated. We all cringed when a bolt would strike close. We scattered to our vehicles to wait it out; we still had tools to pick up after the storm passed.

I sat in my truck and dripped while I watched the winds whip the rain. As I watched, the tool shed scooted a few feet. The next gust started it skidding and it soon flipped on its side. As my truck rocked, I began to wonder if a tornado was near.

After about fifteen minutes, a few of the crew left their vehicles and started gathering tools in the still steady rain. Not wanting to be odd man out, I left my truck and started helping. After all, I was already soaked, so the rain didn't really matter any longer.

We finally finished, which was a relief. The packed, clay header bank was now slick as ice and the heavy mud coating my work boots made walking difficult. I was already tired and this wasn't helping. It was time to go home.

As I left, I drove by the tool house, which was turned where the door was pinned. Deciding it didn't need to be locked, I headed home. Tomorrow would arrive soon enough and it promised to have heat even more brutal, with the added burden of slogging in the mud.

I stopped an bought an ice cold beer on the way home. It was one of the best I ever had.

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