Archives: A Grand Old Ditch

More Locks and Funiculars

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: the power of the mule.


The Ramp Rules & The Ditch is Cool

A Boat on the Grand Old Ditch

Construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, also known as the C&O Canal and the Grand Old Ditch, began in 1828 and finished in 1850.

It reached a final length of 184.5 miles, extending between Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC. Coal was the primary good shipped—though businesses also shipped lumber, limestone for construction, sand, flour, salt, and much more.

The canal operated until 1924, when it was finally shut down due to competition from the railroads, along with major flood damage that year.

Interestingly, the mule-drawn barges were often operated by families that lived on them, especially in the earlier years of the canal. The families would all work together to run these barges; not surprisingly, the mothers were the main figures in running everything. They steered the boats, raised the children, and did all the housework.

The men just took care of the mules and the heavy lifting.

If you've never tried to raise children while running a house, well, let's just say I'll take the heavy lifting any day. (I've never had any illusions about Maggie being the most important part of my family.)

While it operated, though, the C&O Canal contained some of the most impressive engineering designed for a canal. To aid ships in moving uphill, the canal held 74 canal locks, or enclosures: ships sailed in, the lock closed behind them, then fill slowly with water, raising the height of the ship to the next elevation level. They also built 11 aqueducts for crossing major streams and more than 240 culverts to cross smaller ones.

In addition to this was the Paw Paw tunnel, which stretched nearly a kilometer in length, the construction of which almost bankrupted the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. They were forced to end construction early, failing to get all the way to Pittsburgh.

My favorite part of the canal, though, was the C&O Boat Elevator. It served to lower boats down past Georgetown, where traffic jams tended to build up. It operated exactly like a funicular, only for boats—lowering them 600 feet on the diagonal and 40 feet in elevation.

The downward journey was entirely powered by gravity, while water powered turbines would lift the empty boat carrying caisson back to the top. It's a big step up from the Diolkos. Another great example here of human ingenuity in action.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Moving by Mule

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy makes what might be the funniest segue yet into promoting inventory.

Click HERE. I dare you to not at least smile.

Archive: Helium-Filled Holiday Wishes

What a Gas

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: the essential nature of helium.


The Ramp Rules: Helium

Zeppelin: Unleaded

The federal government has maintained a helium storage program since WWI, with the express purpose of making sure that America never falls behind in, um, a zeppelin arms race.

The Federal Helium Program is often viewed as one of the biggest boondoggles the government keeps funding. Both Reagan and Clinton tried to get rid of it. They couldn't have been more wrong, though.

Even apart from the fact that the program pays for itself with the proceeds of the helium it sells to U.S. companies, the helium program has plenty of other benefits to keeping it around.

First off, helium provides 42 percent of the nation's supply of unrefined helium gas. Second, it's already all stored in a huge porous rock formation below the Texas Panhandle, so there isn't a lot in terms of maintenance fees.

Even if we did need to harvest more, it's not that difficult. Among other things, helium is a byproduct of harvesting natural gas in the Midwest. Most importantly, helium is surprisingly essential to industries across the board.

Here's a non-exhaustive list of helium's uses:

  1. Airships are making a major comeback (see HERE), and they obviously need lots of helium.
  2. Cryogenic purposes. Not just freezing dead bodies, but cooling the magnets in MRI scanners and other similar uses. Helium makes an extremely effective coolant and is part of the process of making oxygen-hydrogen rocket fuel.
  3. Creating stable pressurized atmospheres. Deep sea divers often use atmospheric mixes that include helium.
  4. Arc welding materials that are contaminated by air or nitrogen.
  5. Supersonic wind tunnels.
  6. Gas chromatography—a method of analyzing the components of chemicals.
  7. As a protective gas in growing silicon and germanium crystals.

Last, and certainly not least: those party balloons that float and hug the ceiling? Filled with helium. I just bought 30 of them for my grandson’s birthday party. Birthdays just wouldn’t be as fun without helium.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: The Forklift Factor

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy provides some truly remarkable news about forklifts.

Click HERE to be uplifted.

Archives: Gorge-ous

Or: Hooked on Fishing

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series:something fishy is definitely going on.


The one that didn't get away.

Fishing: It predates civilization…even the human race. (Birds fish, after all.)

There are plenty of ways people fish, ranging from fishing spears (which are really, really difficult to use) to nets. The best way, or at least most fun, is with a hook and a line. And it's a very old way.

The oldest fish hook in existence was carved out of shell. Fishing hook hunters (or stumble-uponers) found it in East Timor, and it dates back to as much as twenty-three THOUSAND years.

Shell was an extremely common material for ancient fish hooks. Our ancestors crafted hooks from bone, wood, horns, stone, bronze, and eventually iron. Each one of them, however, had problems of its own. Wood, for instance, floats, and that necessitates weights, or heavier bait. One common workaround was using multiple of these materials to leverage their strengths.

Fishing hooks became more common in the archaeological record around 7000 BC. Many of the early fishhooks lacked barbs, which would have made it much more difficult to fish with. In fact, one of the earliest types of fishing hook, known as a gorge hook, wasn't even curved.

The gorge hook is a small stick tapered to a point on each end. A small groove is cut around the middle, where a cord is tied. The cord is then wrapped along the length of the gorge hook, securing a piece of bait to it. When the fish grabs the bait, the cord comes unwound, which then results in the gorge hook turning sideways and lodging in the fish's throat.

This does require you to know the average length of fish in the area, though. The gorge hook has the distinction of being one of the few hooks that aren't prone to stabbing into your thumb.

Fishing with an antique-style hook is definitely a challenge. But the satisfaction you get makes it worthwhile.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Pricing Transparency

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy admirably shows how transparency and honesty go hand in hand.

Click HERE to discover the best surprise.

Archives: Living Bridges

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: if only our own infrastructure were as strong and natural as living bridges.


I've blogged a lot about bridges, I know (Sir Bridges Blog-a-Lot, eh?) but I haven't yet explored living bridges.

Meghalaya, a state in north-eastern India, is one of the wettest places in the world, getting close to 500 inches of rainfall a year. Almost three-quarters of the state is forested. One of the indigenous tribes living there, the War-Khasi, build living foot bridges from the roots of the Ficus elastica — a variety of rubber tree.

thebridgePhoto by Arshiya Urveeja Bose [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To grow the bridges, the Khasis create root guidance systems out of halved and hollowed betel nut trunks. The roots are channeled to the other side of the river, where they are allowed to bury themselves in the soil on that side.

The bridges take 10 to 15 years to grow strong enough for regular use; once they do, they last incredible amounts of time with no maintenance: since they're still growing, they actually continue to grow stronger and stronger over time. Some of the older bridges are five centuries old. Many of the older, stronger bridges can support 50 or more people at once.

mfthought

Sometimes I think about crossing a bridge.

The most famous of the bridges, the Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge, is actually two of those bridges, with one stacked directly over the other. Local dedication to the art has kept the bridges alive and prevented them from being replaced with steel. (Steel, frankly—and with all respect to those dealing with, ahem, yard ramps—doesn't have anything near the lifespan of the root bridges and aren't nearly as sturdy.)

The root bridges aren't the only living bridges around. In the Iya Valley in Japan, there are bridges woven out of living wisteria vines. They're much less common, and only three remain. They're built by growing immense lengths of wisteria on each side of the river before weaving them together—a process that must be repeated once every three years.

These wisteria bridges are much less sturdy than the Khasi root bridges, with wooden planks spaced over seven inches apart, and they apparently shake wildly while you're on them. By all accounts, these things are terrifying to cross, which makes sense: they’re widely thought to have been designed originally for defense. The original bridges didn't even have railings.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Industrial Protection

This week my friend The Yard Ramp Guy makes a compelling case for worker safety.

Click HERE to peruse his perspective on proper planning.

Archives: Traffic Flow

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: zippers for roads? You betcha.


All traffic isn't created equal.

Zippy Traffic...via Zipper

For example, you've likely noticed that the morning rush hour often has greater traffic coming into the city from the suburbs and that the evening rush hour traffic clogs up the outbound lanes.

So, we tend to have traffic moving much more slowly in one direction than the other.

Accidents and our tendency to rubberneck them also cause the traffic to bunch in one direction. (Yes, we can keep listing these reasons for a while.) Unfortunately, building new lanes for our roadways can be prohibitively expensive, and it often isn't even possible, especially where bridges are concerned.

There is a fascinating solution, though:

Road zippers are heavy vehicles that have the ability to move concrete lane dividers across a lane, widening the road for one direction of traffic, narrowing it for the other. This requires a special type of moveable barrier, with shorter segments linked together by flexible steel connectors.

The road zipper, plus new barriers, are far, far cheaper than an entirely new lane. They actually pick up the segment lines using a little conveyor system, essentially acting on the same principles as a screw or a ramp (though Jeff Mann, The Yard Ramp Guy, might think I'm stretching that definition a bit).

Road zippers can move the lane at up to a top speed of 10 mph, depending on traffic, and is much safer than trying to manage traffic with cones and lights. They're especially useful on bridges. Crews on the Golden Gate Bridge have been employing a road zipper since 2010 to manage rush hour traffic, to great effect.

Any road crew that's worked on a bridge isn't going to have particularly fond memories of dealing with bridge traffic, and the road zipper provides an effective solution. We can also use this method to speed up bridge re-decking projects, moving the barrier to protect the work zone.

Transportation authorities utilize road zippers all around the world, and they're especially popular in the United States and Australia. Many cities use them on a permanent basis, while others lease them temporarily during construction work.

Even if they weren't so useful logistically, I'd still like them: they're just plain cool.

_________

Quotable

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

— Lewis Carroll

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Ramps for Material Handling

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy shows us how yard ramps and strawberry Pop-Tarts are connected.

Click HERE to read about my new favorite connection.