When I was a kid, my father’s idea of going on vacation was throwing all four siblings in the back seat of a station wagon and driving to a construction site. He drove us to airports to watch the planes take-off and to the Pennsylvania countryside to watch the farm reapers and count the cars on mile-long freight trains. As one of the youngest, I had the privilege of sitting in the way-back with the backwards view of giant pan trucks at major roadway construction sites that were so big they called them earthmovers. I remember seeing huge black rubber wheels that stood higher than a one-story house–as we drove away from the site. When we weren’t on the road, my brothers and I played for hours on end moving and grading hundreds of cubic yards of sandbox sand and backyard dirt with Tonka Truck™ bulldozers and backhoes, carefully grading roads and building bridges leading into a town that wasn’t created yet.
Throughout my life I’ve always been interested in how things worked and how man could build or move something bigger than he could lift. I worked for Rees Jones, son of legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, for 10 years. I walked a survey in the fields of South Carolina in snake boots and had a chance to run a John Deere 350 bulldozer with a tilt blade. I witnessed the design for a golf green and bunkers strategically drawn on a bar napkin, turn into a challenging golf hole on Hilton Head Island by the confidence of the designer in the skill of his shaper with his dozer. I transferred topographic drawings to mylar with an ink pen by hand, elevation by elevation, so we could produce the many levels of working plans that laid the groundwork for various generations of design, cut and fill, grading, drainage, landscaping, and sprinkler system plans that ultimately built a golf course.
I was connected to a construction company and learned the underpinnings of home construction administration and the permitting process through the careful adaptive reuse and restoration of many of the big Victorian homes along the Jersey shore in Allenhurst, Deal, and Asbury Park. As the manager of the NY Waterway ferry terminal in Monmouth County, I learned about everything from dock and vessel maintenance to the effect of a storm on a boat full of passengers commuting between New Jersey and Manhattan’s Pier 11 terminal. I heard first-hand stories of how these floating mechanical machines saved lives from the water during the 9/11 attacks and was on duty while my own captains raced to the rescue when US Airway Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River, then came back to finish their normal runs. None of which could have been possible had the docks and vessels not been properly engineered or maintained.
I have been involved in the tug boat business. I possess a Master 100 ton captain’s license and I know what it takes to move drill rigs and construction material barges around the New York Harbor doing 8-knots against the Hudson River tide, because I’ve done it. It has also given me the unique perspective of what the land and docking structures look like from the water, some of the damage done by Superstorm Sandy, the work that still needs to be done, and why sometimes only a boat can do a truck’s job.
Through my current position as writer for Maser Consulting P.A., a firm with a full range of specialized engineering disciplines, I have a wealth of knowledge and expertise at my disposal. But what I find to be the most interesting aspect, are the details of a project that can make or break its success. Whether it’s a field innovation, new technology being applied in an unconventional manner (because it works), or just good old due diligence, sometimes the success of a project hangs in the balance of minutiae. Every day something interesting comes across my desk and I plan to share this information even if it is explaining why one tiny tree frog can still hold up a $10 million construction job.
I am not an engineer, but I know their language and this is my view from the way-back.