Dumping Snow in the Huron River – 1965

What do you do after a blizzard when you have too much snow in your city in 1965?

Go to the old Whitmore Lake Road Bridge and dump it in the Huron River!


“Road Crews Dump Snow Into The Huron River After Record-Breaking Storm, February 1965” Photo is looking south across the Whitmore Lake Road Bridge with M-14 in the background. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library/Ann Arbor News

This image was immediately shocking to me because in 2018, dumping anything into a river is almost unthinkable.  If this snow was collected from the streets, you are potentially polluting the river by introducing oil and other waste from all the leaky 1960’s car straight into the Huron. From an engineering perspective it doesn’t really seem to make sense either – shouldn’t they be worried about potentially damming the river with all this snow?

Discharges like this today are regulated under various Federal and State statutes – many of which were enacted a few years after this photo was taken in the early 1970s (i.e. the Federal Clean Water Act to name one). The environmental movement of the 1970s is a fascinating subject for many different reasons but many of the protections (or onerous regulations depending on your viewpoint) that we have today are a direct result of that era.

If one so desired today to dump a bunch of snow in the Huron River (and not be in violation of current environmental law), they would need to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). These permits are public information that can be searched very easily on the MDEQ’s MiWaters site. Although I did not find any permits for snow discharge, I did find a complaint against the Village of Lake Linden way up in the Keweenaw Peninsula for dumping snow into Torch Lake.

Looking further out, I was able to find a general discharge permit for the the Town of Boothbay, Maine to discharge “waste snow” into marine or estuarine waters only. They must get a ton of snow there and not a lot of places to put it to submit to the NPDES process!






Vehicle Ownership in Michigan Pt. 1 – Registration Data


Fall Beauty in the Rearview Mirror” via Flickr – courtesy of Yooperann cc2.0

I’ve recently been thinking about cars. I spend a lot of time driving on one of the busiest roads in Washtenaw County (Washtenaw Avenue), and like many of the driver’s around me, am usually the single occupant in a vehicle that can seat five. The car itself spends 95% of its time parked and not in service. How does this make sense? Especially considering the huge investment that car ownership is in terms of the initial buy, insurance, maintenance, parking fees and gas (to name a few of many associated costs).

There are also all these secondary costs like increased property taxes from your new garage addition, the time it takes you to shovel your driveway, the time it takes you to find a parking spot etc… As a state, 6.5% of our total expenses in 2016 were related to “Transportation” which is primarily roads. We pay to be car owners and drivers in a lot of different ways!

As of 2016, there are 8,332,895 registered vehicles in the State of Michigan (cars, trucks, publicly owned, privately owned etc…) and an estimated population of 9,992,830 Michiganders. That’s one vehicle for every 1.2 people. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Census, we can put this in historical perspective and graph how the number of registered vehicles in Michigan has changed with its population – from the first 360 vehicles registered in 1900 to the 8 million plus in 2016.


Total registered vehicles and total population in the State of Michigan from 1900 to 2016.  (USDOT Highway Statistics and U.S. Census Data)

The trend in vehicle registration is relentlessly positive with the growth of the state’s population. There are places where we do see temporary drops however (despite population gain) and they probably can be correlated to larger historical forces impacting the state.

  • The Great Depression (declines in years 1930 to 1934). 1929 levels of vehicle registration are not reached until 1937.
  • World War II – number of registered vehicle declines ever year from 1942 to 1945 (car makers are not producing new models during the war).
  • Early 1980s – years of peak auto loan interest rates (15% and higher) (1980-1984 see drops of vehicle registration)
  • The post-2003 trough (discussed below)

The high point for vehicle registration in Michigan came in 2003 when 8,540,325 vehicles we registered (excluding the anomalous 2010 and 2011 registration values which are approximately 700,00 higher than previous year – if anyone could tell me why that is?).

The number of registered cars generally decreased from 2003 to 2012 and have been building back since that time. This may correlate to how badly Michigan was hit by the Great-Recession and how it started earlier here in the State than elsewhere. 2003-2004 was also the high- point in terms of State population, breaking the 10 million mark before dipping back down to 9.8 – 9.9 million.

Overall, the trend in the number of registered vehicles in the State appears to be:

  • 1900 – late 1920s – rapid growth with the introduction of this new transportation option
  • 1930s through 1945 – relatively steady during the Great Depression and World War Two as outside pressures discourage new car sales
  • 1945 – 2003 – massive postwar growth in the 1950s and 1960s gradually slowing to a peak in 2003
  • 2003 to present – a large fall-off from 2004 to 2012 with a steady rebound following

This last trend is much more apparent when we focus the above graph on the years 1990 to 2016.


Total registered vehicles and total population in the State of Michigan from 1990 to 2016.  (USDOT Highway Statistics and U.S. Census Data)

Other than those two points in 2010 and 2011 (which I don’t understand), you can see that the peak in registered vehicles roughly matches peak Michigan population (around 2003-2004). When the population began to fall after 2004, the number of registered vehicles fell at a much greater rate. Almost as if the people who were leaving the state were the ones with all the vehicles.

I would like to expand on this idea and think more about why the number of registered vehicles peaked in the State in 2003 in my next blog post.



Willow Run Bomber Plant Water Supply



B-24’s rolling off the line at Willow Run, 1944. Courtesy of the Henry Ford Archives (THF118593)

During World War Two, the Willow Run Bomber Plant was entirely supplied by water from three wells located along the north side of the Huron River just east of Ford Lake Dam.

A USGS Report from 1949 describes the wells as such:

“The wells are at the north edge of the Huron River, just east of the Rawsonville Dam* and power plant of the Ford Motor Co., and they penetrate medium to coarse gravel. The wells are closely spaced…They range in diameter from 24 to 36 inches and in depth from 81 to 97 feet to the bottom of the screens.

The wells are equipped with deep-well turbine pumps with a maximum capacity of about 4,000 gallons per minute each.

Treatment – The water receives complete treatment in a modern treatment plant. The plant as six rapid sand filters, each with a capacity of 1 million gallons a day at a rate of 2 gallons per minute per square foot of filter surface”

* Rawsonville Dam is now known as Ford Lake Dam

Below is a 1949 DTE Aerial of the Will Run Bomber Plant water well Site. Ford Lake Dam is clearly visible separating Ford Lake on the left from the Huron River on the right. The North – South Road bisecting the image is now known as Bridge Road.


Courtesy of DTE

The well locations and water treatment site are identified in the below image. We have six rectangular sand filters (as described) and three or four structures that may enclose the well heads.


The report also states that average daily pumpage in 1943 and 1944 was approximately 4 million gallons a day. This amount began to decline after September 1944 with decreased B-24 production. The daily average for the first six months of 1945 was 2.90 million gallons. To put this number in some perspective, the average total industrial withdrawal for all of Wastenaw County in 2010 was 1.89 million gallons per day! (according to the USGS Estimated Water Use). Despite this massive withdrawal of groundwater, observation wells showed only a slight decline in water levels meaning there was a huge capacity for recharge here.

The well logs for these three wells are also provided in the previously mentioned report and are consistent with glacial setting of the area. The sand/gravel/boulder layers are great water bearing layers.

Well Log.GIF

Ypsilanti Township currently owns Ford Lake Dam and the adjacent property where the Willow Run Plant wells were/are located. Well logs for these (or subsequent) wells exist in the MDEQ database but it is not clear if they are still active. They do not appear to be visible on any imagery which makes me think they have been abandoned.


Willow Run Bomber Plant (Courtesy of the Henry Ford Archives P.833.82126 and P.833.801822)

Personal Rapid Transit …. in Ann Arbor! Part 2

In Part 1 of examining the development of Personal Rapid Transit …in Ann Arbor, I looked at the work of the Bendix Corporation on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor with autonomous vehicles and how they directly supported the development of 1970s era PRT systems which are still in use today.

In this post, I would like to look further at the test track Bendix built in Ann Arbor to complete this testing and development.


 COMPUTER CONTROLS VAN: Program analyst Bob Comfort operates controls which guide a driverless Swedish van along a 5,500-foot roadway at the Bendix Corporation’s Transportation Control Laboratory on Plymouth Road. From his seat inside the computer control center he can watch the vehicles as they make their way along the asphalt roadway. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor News/Ann Arbor District Library

One of Bendix’s Ann Arbor offices (now demolished) was located on Plymouth Road on the Northeast side of the City just west of Green Road. Bendix built their approximately $13,500,000 Aviation Systems research laboratories ($126 million today) in 1958 at this location after moving out of their former (and likely temporary) offices in the old Masonic Temple Building on Liberty Street (where the Federal Building now resides).


Bendix Aviation Corporation moves to new Systems Division building on Plymouth Rd, August 1958. Courtesy of Ann Arbor News/Ann Arbor District Library

Here is a good image of the new office building in relation to Plymouth Road and the Water Tower. In 1958 this area was largely undeveloped. The “Old News” Archive of the Ann Arbor District Library has a bunch of other pictures of the new building and it’s very mid-century office interior .


“Bendix’s new Systems Division plant nears completion, June 1958” Courtesy of the Ann Arbor News and the Ann Arbor District Library

A PRT/Driverless transit track was completed in August of 1971 to the south of Bendix’s new office for a (Bendix) quoted cost of $150,000 ($929,000 today) after they began accepting contracts from the Federal Government and prime contractors for systems control technology for a Personal Rapid Transit system.


Courtesy of the Ann Arbor News/Ann Arbor District Libary

The completed track is clearly visible in aerial imagery from the time.

Bendix Track

Courtesy of Washtenaw County

The large white structure on the North portion of the track is the Control Building that the Bendix employee in the first photo in this post is sitting in (the photo was taken looking east).

Bendix Track 2

Courtesy of Washtenaw County

Bendix’s investment in Personal Rapid Transit and other driverless technology was sadly short lived. As the Government contracts dried up, so too apparently did Bendix’s interest in the technology. The Ann Arbor News reported in October 1974  (less than four years after the track was built) that Bendix was considering selling their entire 43-acre site on Plymouth Road. In an April 1975 article, grim sounding Bendix management stated “the situation [at the Plymouth Road Offices] will be reviewed every six months” and that “We hope the business picture will stabilize.” In 1983 the University of Michigan bought the Bendix building and acquired the test track with it.

It is not clear if the University ever used the Test Track or just sat on the land for their future use. Imagery from 2010 shows portions of it largely overgrown. The road itself also appears in poor condition with large cracks and joints. The Bendix building itself was torn down around 2006 but the track control building remains.

Bendix Track 3.GIF

Courtesy of Washtenaw County

I don’t know if stories about abandoned driverless test tracks can have happy endings  but in an ironic(?) twist or other bit of coincidence, in 2015 U of M built their 16 acre “Mcity” automated and connected vehicle test track directly adjacent to the old Bendix PRT test track.

Bendix Track 4

The new “Mcity” Test Track next to the old Bendix Track (or what is left of it) Courtesy of Washtenaw County

It is certainly unique that a new generation of automated vehicle technology is being tested in largely the same place where Bendix was testing the same thing 45 years ago. Hopefully this new track is in use for more than four years!





Personal Rapid Transit…..in Ann Arbor!

I came across the below image in AADL’s “Old News” Archives:


Courtesy of Ann Arbor District Library & the Ann Arbor News

“COMPUTER CONTROLS VAN: Program analyst Bob Comfort operates controls which guide a driverless Swedish van along a 5,500-foot roadway at the Bendix Corporation’s Transportation Control Laboratory on Plymouth Road. From his seat inside the computer control center he can watch the vehicles as they make their way along the asphalt roadway. Published in Issue: Ann Arbor News, June 30, 1972

That caption got my attention. Based on the timing of the story (early 1970’s) could Bendix have been testing a Personal Rapid Transit system? The corresponding newspaper article confirmed it:


June 30, 1972

Imagine being able to push a button to summon a vehicle which – without a driver – could take you to the high spots of Ann Arbor at any time of the day for relatively low cost.

It would beat having to wait on a corner for a bus, paying a high fare, and then ending up at a place which required you to walk a while to get to your actual desired destination.

Such a low-cost rapid transit system is still in the dream stages and Bendix Corp. Transportation Systems don’t really promote the idea when they talk about their Transportation Controls Laboratory which has been in operation at the Aerospace Division, 3300 Plymouth Rd., since November 1971.

Yet, such a system might be a long, long-range possibility that could come out of tests now being conducted at the lab.

The lab consists of a computer control center, three Swedish Kalmar small delivery vans and a 5,500 foot roadway which includes a 2,000-foot inner loop mainline, all on a 15-acre site.

The lab is testing controls for what Bendix calls Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) Systems. Such systems would consist of relatively small – perhaps 20-passenger – vehicles which would be fully automated, completely controlled by programmed computers and operable without a driver.

The Transportation Controls Laboratory “has nothing to do with the development of vehicels [sic]. It deals in controlling the vehicles on guideways through use of computers,” Charles Weatherred, director of Bendix’s Transportation System Department, told the News. “It really wouldn’t matter what type of vehicle we used on the track (roadway).”

The three electronically powered (20 horsepower) Swedish driverless vehicles make their winding rounds on the track under the strict guidance of a computer which is in the computer control center located at the side of the roadway. The computer is programmed to decide a quick, safe route for the vehicles.

Wires below the asphalt roadway keep the vehicles in communication with the computer.

Though the Transportation Control Laboratory is not specifically involved in the development of vehicles to be used in a PRT system, it has devised controls for a PRT vehicle, which was built for demonstration at the International Transportation Exposition (Transpo-72) held May 27 to June 4 in Washington, D.C. That bus-like vehicle was built by the Boening Co. under a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Please don’t call the vehicle a bus,” exhorts Weatherred. It is an air-conditioned, 31-passenger, carpeted vehicle.

Under another phase of the same Department of Transportation grant, Bendix has been providing controls for a PRT system being built as the first of its kind in Morgantown, W. Va., near the West Virginia University campus.

The “personal” in PRT refers to the fact that the passenger presses a buttom [sic] to summon a vehicle and then directs the vehicle to the station destination of his choice.””

The article continues on about how excited Bendix is about the prospects of PRT systems but this is a good place to stop.

With the demise of many existing urban mass transit systems in the 1940s and 1950s (i.e Street cars), the collapse of passenger railways and soaring levels of traffic congestion and air pollution, the Federal Government in the mid-1960s began looking for new mass transit solutions to alleviate traffic problems endemic to major metropolitan areas. The Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) was created in 1964 to begin tackling these problems (the agency now known as the Federal Transit Administration).

Planners at the time believed one of the key drivers of the failure of existing mass transit systems was their inherent inflexibility when compared to the mobility and independence that the car provided. So rather than promote traditional mass transit options, the UMTA focused on developing new systems that combined the independence and flexibility of automobile travel with the efficiency and economy of scale of mass transit system. Hence the PRT model which is explained much for in-depth here. The UMTA also funded the creation of people mover systems like the Detroit People Mover (which still runs!) and Bus Rapid Transit systems  but I want to focus on Bendix and their Personal Rapid Transit Work…. which really came to nothing except for the one notable example mentioned in the Ann Arbor News Article.

The only large-scale PRT system built in the U.S. was the one built in mid-70’s in Morgantown, W. Va. which Bendix provided system controls (as the Ann Arbor News article states). And 40+ years later it’s still running!


“Please don’t call this a Bus” (according to Bendix)  – a PRT Pod follows it’s track on the Morgantown/University of West Viriginia PRT. Courtesy of “Jen & Elwood” via Flickr

There are five stations on the 3.6 mile closed route and the flexibility of the PRT system allows you to go from one station to any other you want to directly. No intermediate stops, no set routes, at your starting station you simply press the button for your desired destination station, wait for your pod-car to arrive and then travel straight there.


Beechurst PRT Station, courtesy of  Paula Cristina via Flickr

I wonder how much of Bendix’s control system is still in use or has been replaced? It’s very cool to think that parts of this amazing mass-transit system from the past (and future) was developed right here in Washtenaw County. Below is a great video tour of the Morgantown PRT system (with ride-along!). How do we push for one of these in Ann Arbor?





“Detroit’s Own” 16th Engineer Regiment and Construction of Camp Williams, Is-sur-Tille France, during World War One

This is a thin thread here connecting this story to Washtenaw County but I was able to find it. Writing about Army Engineers with a connection to this area is interesting enough to me that I wanted to at least justify posting it on a blog about engineering, infrastructure and construction in Washtenaw.

What will eventually end France starts with my thread, University of  Michigan graduate Thomas W.P. Livingstone. This his him below from the 1913 Michiganensian Yearbook (on the left or right – not really sure which) – as found on HathiTrust.


Here is an update of Mr. Livingstone’s whereabouts four years later from the December, 1917 Volume 24 of the Michigan Alumnus:


Lieutenant Livingstone was serving as the Regimental Adjutant for the 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France.

And this was the connection I was looking for to be able to say something about the 16th Engineers!

The 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) was formed in Detroit, Michigan, following America’s entry to the “Great War” and was comprised of seven companies and a medical detachment totaling approximately 1,200 men. In April 1917, The local Detroit District Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to form a reserve Engineer Regiment to be immediately sent to France to “operate, maintain and construct” railways and trackage in preparation for the imminent arrival of millions of American servicemembers in the AEF. The technical expertise needed to accomplish this mission was not available in sufficient numbers in the Regular Army so the War Department immediately turned to recruiting from industry and the construction trades.

On May 7 the first recruiting notices to form the 16th were put out in local papers in Southeast Michigan and by May 27, the Army had received all the recruits it needed to form the unit. Among the papers that reported on these recruiting efforts, the German Language “Detroiter Abend-Post” even picked up on it – from their 8 May 1917 headline (found at loc.gov):

abend post1.GIF

“12,000 volunteer railway-troops for France” – article goes on to describe how railway regiments are being formed across the country (with one in Detroit)

An incredibly wordy recruitment poster is also included in the 16th’s official history book which was presumably posted around the city.



Wow – that is a lot to read! It actually doesn’t say much about wanting people with expertise in railways, I thought that was the whole point of this regiment.

Following activation, the new recruits camped out at the Michigan State Fair Grounds where they were inducted, trained and drilled. The official history seems to describe things as pretty on-the-fly and improvised. Everything from barracks, to messing, to training was hastily thrown together. Weapons didn’t arrive until June 26 and all that could be scrounged up were obsolete Krag-Jorgensons from the Spanish-American War. Below are recruits getting measured for uniforms outside one of the buildings on the fairgrounds.


Even the Regimental leadership had little military training. On Page 19 of the Regiment’s history it is stated that:

“Few of the Officers had had training other than a few weeks at Fort Sheridan….Most of the officers were engineers, contractors, or business executives, but they required additional and immediate military training. Major Pool therefore opened an Officers Training School in order that the officers might remain a jump or two ahead of the enlisted men”.

On July 29 (less that two months after being constituted) the Regiment embarked on passenger cars from sidings at the Fairgrounds and started their long journey to France, arriving in Le Havre approximately a month later as one of the first units of AEF to set foot in the country.

The regiment was immediately put to work to prepare the logistical and support footprint of the AEF, constructing hospitals, bed-down facilities, camps, trackage, spurs, cut-offs and everything else needed to support the arrival of millions of Americans. Within a few weeks, the Regiment was tasked to complete Camp Williams which began on September 26, 1917.

Camp Williams was located near Is-Sur-Tille, France about 20 kilometers north Dijon in the Cote-d’Or department. Shown at the location of the pin below, Camp Williams was built to be the advanced logistical base for the American portion of the Western Front and was so situated to maximize the use of low-traffic rail lines from the American port at St. Nazaire (just west of Nantes) to a location close enough to the front lines allowing for easy distribution to all points along it. In France all roads lead to Paris so it took planning (and new construction) to come up a path that avoided these congested mainlines.


Is-sur-Tille at the Pin Point. Courtesy of Google Maps

Situated in a broad valley, the Camp/Depot that the 16th built was massive. It was called “the “neck of the bottle” through which, with few exception, supplies from the ports and base and intermediate depots had to pass.” (from Historical report of the chief engineer, including all operations of the Engineer Department, American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919).


By the end of the war the base had 390 buildings giving 2.1 million square feet of floor space, 48 warehouses with 1.3 million square feet, accommodations for 18,000 men, 109 miles of railroad track, and much more. It was an enormous construction operation that the 16th undertook!




By the end of April, 1918 (when the 16th were sent to the British Front), the Regiment had completed the following Tasks:

Track Work

  • 46,300 cubic yards (cyd) rock excavation
  • 145,900 cyd earth excavation
  • 215,000 cyd embankment
  • 271,579 linear feet (lf) track (lined and ballasted)
  • 211 switches
  • misc. supporting work

East Depot

  • 19 x Standard Warehouses 50 x 500 ft
  • 2 Ordnance Warehouses 240 x 500 ft
  • 2 Root Cellars 25 x 50 ft
  • 1 Powder House 30 x 40 ft
  • 1 Ordnance Machine Shop 49 x 131 ft
  • 1 Engineers’ Shop 50 x 127 ft
  • 1 Ordnance Repair Shop 50 x 150
  • 2 Small Dynamo Houses
  • 1 Balloon Shed 43 x 196 ft
  • 41 Abincourt Huts for Officers
  • Roads and Walks

Permanent Camp for Depot Troops

  • 1 Quartermasters’ Warehouse, 50 x 196 ft
  • 4 Stables, 28 x 108 ft
  • 2 Officers’ Mess Halls 6 x 30 meters
  • 1 Officers’ Mess Building
  • 10 Officers’ Barracks 6 x 30 meters
  • 4 Hospital Barracks 6 x 30 meters
  • 1 Headquarters Building 6 x 30 meters
  • 119 Barracks for Enlisted Personnel 6 x 30 meters
  • 1 Officers’ Bath House 16 x 25 ft
  • 2 Mens’ Bath Houses 16 x 99 ft
  • 1 YMCA Building 50 x 169 ft
  • 12 Abincourt Huts, misc. purposes
  • 1 Machine Shop, 50 x 56 ft
  • Roads and Walks

Permanent Camp for Casuals

  • 52 Adrian Barracks

Temporary Camp for Construction Troops

  • 52 Adrian Barracks
  • 17 Abincourt Huts

Water Supply

  • 1 50,000-gal tank
  • 1 75,000-gal
  • Pumping Station on River Tille
  • Distributions System for Camp
  • Distribution System for Hydrants for Depot

Below is the best map that I could find of the Camp as it appeared. You can see that it’s largely a railway classification yard with a camp built around it. Which would make sense considering that rail was the prime mover of good and supplies from the Port and the way in which goods and personnel would continue to as close to the front as possible.

The Eastern Depot is shown below as part of a larger map that was cut off while scanning.



The Library of Congress actually has some images of these warehouses.


Camp Williams, Courtesy of the Library of Congress (taken September 1918)


Courtesy of the Library of Congress.  Original Caption: “American Red Cross officers directing Russian helpers in American Red Cross warehouse at Is-sur-Tille”. Also note that the posts for the warehouse are just unfinished tree trunks!

Even though this all happened 100 years ago and the buildings are long gone, it’s still possible to see traces of the camp. Below is a Satellite image of the area where Camp Williams once stood.


Courtesy of Google Maps

The town has grown a bit, but many of the major area roads still appear to be in the same location as shown on the original map of the Camp. It looks like you can still see where the railroad sidings used to be in the green farm field. Zooming in on that we can clearly see that the lighter impressions in the field matches the location of the sidings in the first map. Very Cool! Traces of what these engineers from Detroit and southeast Michigan are still visible.


Courtesy of Google Maps, former location of the west depot sidings still visible in the green field. It may not be possible to see but the road that bisects the images is the “Route du Camp Americain”

So Hurrah to the 16th Engineer Regiment! Toiling away a hundred years ago today in preparation for the American and Allied victories of 1918 that would end the disaster that was World War One.

And hats off to the Town of Is-sur-Tille for keeping the memory of Camp Williams alive!


The 16th Engineers Return to Detroit, May 1919. Courtesy of Wayne State University 




Saving the Saline Dam Part 1, 1947

Heavy rains and floodwaters from a rapid snow melt in early April 1947 nearly destroyed the Saline Mill Pond Dam. Fortunately, the dam was saved (which was not the case in 1968) and the Ann Arbor News was on the scene to document the flood fighting efforts. Thanks to the Ann Arbor District Library, these images can be viewed today and are presented below.


Volunteers sanbagging the earthen embankment. Note wooden flashboards installed on dam crest to help prevent overtopping. Image courtesy of the Ann Arbor News and Ann Arbor District Library. 

Saline 2.jpg

Looking west along the dam embankment. Water appears to be near the top of the flashboards. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor News and Ann Arbor District Library. 


Water passing over the concrete spillway. Looking from the US-112 (Michigan Ave.) bridge. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor News and the Ann Arbor District Library. 

The Ann Arbor news reported that 75 volunteers assisted to help save this dam which had existed (in some form) for 100 years by the time this flood occurred. The earth embankment dam with concrete spillway that we see in the photos was completed by Henry Ford in 1934 as part of his plan to use the adjacent mill for soy processing. Ford sold the plant in 1946 to Soybrands which owned it and the Dam at the time the flooding occurred.

According to the Ann Arbor News: “Volunteers, about 75 in number, erected an emergency coffer-dam [e.g. the Flashboards] above the dyke this morning, sandbagged threatened areas and reported at 1 o’clock this afternoon that the battle appeared won.” Under a photo caption, the reporter stated that: “In mid-morning it appeared that the battle was a losing one; but the crest was believed to be reached at 10:45 and the dam was still holding out.”

So hats off to the volunteers who saved the Saline Dam! It had to have been a nerve-wracking morning for all parties. Not knowing if your efforts would succeed until the crest elevation finally stabilized. These people knew what they were doing – especially with the flashboards. That is a floodfighting technique that is still regularly used (but would not be employed when the dam failed in 1968). Their efforts should be remembered and commemorated.

There are two interesting things that I notice in the photos as well:

  1. The “sandbags” that the volunteers are passing in the first photo are 100-lb sacks of Dow Chemical “Dow-Flake” (Calcium Chloride). This product was commonly used in dust-mitigation on dirt roads. Considering how Calcium Chloride is really water-soluble (dissolves really quickly), it’s unlikely that the sacks are filled with the stuff but were possibly donated by the local road crew and then filled on-site?

Heavy sandbags! Courtesy of AADL and the Ann Arbor News

2. In the foreground of the photo from the top of the embankment, it is clear that the water is actively seeping through the flashboards and sandbags (and possibly overtopping them?). This illustrates a great point about Dam flood-fighting. Although it’s troubling to see this, the flashboards and sandbags are doing exactly what they’re supposed to by reducing the amount of uncontrolled water that is passing over the earth embankment and the speed of that water thereby minimizing the potential for erosion and ultimately bank failure. You just hope it doesn’t go on for too long!


Water right up to the top of the flashboards. Image courtesy of AADL and the Ann Arbor News

Have a great weekend!


Wines Elementary Kids Protesting US-14/M-14/Ann Arbor North Belt Construction

Ann Arbor District Library’s “Old News” section recently published some Ann Arbor News photos of Students at Wines Elementary protesting the possible construction of the “North-Belt”/US-23/M-14 Freeway right next to their school in March, 1962. It would be fascinating to know the backstory of these images, whether the “protest” was staged for the Ann Arbor News, if it was organized by the Students or if some Teachers came up with it. It looks like maybe only two or three classes are participating.



The early sixties were the time in our county when the Freeway system we now know (and drive on) today was being put together. I-94 was complete, US-23 was being constructed in pieces and plans to create a “ring” of freeway around Ann Arbor (of which the “Northbelt” was a part) were being considered.

Of the protest signs, I can make out:

“Down with the Northbelt”

“Plan Ahead”

“Up with Mackie” (probably a reference to John C. Mackie – MDOT Commissioner at the time)

“Stop the Northbelt”

“Loosen the belt”

“Let’s keep it quiet”

“Change Northbelt”

“No Noisy Northbelt Needed”

“Don’t ….. Woods” (middle word unclear)

From these signs it appears that their school was not at risk of being demolished to make way for the new Highway’s alignment but was about to have US-23/M-14 placed right next to it. In the truest sense of “NIMBYism”, these students didn’t want a highway built in the school’s backyard!
I am sad to report however that these little protesters efforts were for naught and the new freeway was built right next to the school as shown in the below Aerial image from 1965. It is unknown to what effect that defeat shook these kids’ faith in participatory democracy. Hopefully they went on to long careers of protesting and making their opinions known :).

The early ’60s aren’t generally known to be a time when planners were sensitive to the problems and disruptions highways would cause and pretty much placed them in locations that were the most politically expedient, had the cheapest easements and connected points A and B in the shortest distance.  That sensitivity would only come later (if at all) due to oftentimes citizen-led protests (see the United States “Highway Revolts” )


Courtesy of Washtenaw County, Aerial Image from 1965

So in 1965 Wines Elementary found itself immediately adjacent to the newly constructed US-23/M-14. There doesn’t look like there’s any trees or other separation. Just school and highway right next to each other which had to have been pretty bleak to the students playing on the ball fields or playground.

As of today, a band of trees provides some separation as shown in the below Google Earth image but sound walls or other forms of separation have not been put in place. The highway is very much a presence at Wines and a reminder that infrastructure choices have immediate and long-term consequences!


Wines Elementary (2017) – Courtesy of Google Earth





What’s Happening in Houston Right Now is Completely Insane (with data)

What’s happening in Houston right now is mind-boggling. Since August 25, parts of the City have received upwards of 32 inches of rain. That is so much rain. In our county we worry about flash floods when storms bring a few inches and here we have 32 inches with more said to come. I can’t even wrap my head around that.


Rainfall Totals for Western Houston as of 8/28 (Courtesy of Harris County FWS)

With all this rain comes the floods and the flood waters are 10 feet or more above their banks in many parts of the city.


Addicks and Barker Reservoirs,   large flood control structures operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (shown below and large green area on image above) almost immediately filled up with the start of the heavy rains. It’s gotten to the point where water is being released from the reservoirs in order to prevent them from being overtopped and possibly destroyed. The releases are exacerbating the flooding in the city (along Buffalo Bayou) but are ultimately necessary to protect then and prevent a catastrophic release from a failed levee or other damming surface.

Houston 3.jpg

Courtesy of the Houston Press

USGS Gage data from these reservoirs is shocking:


Total Precipitation at Barker Res.


Total water stored at Barker Res. from nothing to nearly 140,000 acre-feet (46,000,000,000 gallons) in three days


Water Surface Elevation in Barker Res.


Water Surface Elevation at Addicks Res.

Even with the releases from the reservoirs, the water levels in them continue to rise (as of 8/28 at 9:00 pm). The emergency spillway elevation on Addicks and Barker is at 114 feet which would be the next line of defense for these reservoirs, although one that may cause permanent damage to the reservoirs if used. The crazy thing about the reservoirs, and the flooding in Houston in general is that all this excess water has to pass through the city to get to Galveston bay. The city of Houston is between the water and where it wants to go. Addicks and Barker release into Buffalo Bayou which goes straight through the city before heading to the bay.


Although the area downstream of the reservoirs looks green in the above image, it is completely populated and now mostly flooded. Stream gauges along Buffalo Bayou show that it is currently two to nine feet above the banks. You can get a sense of the immensity of the flooding from the below Twitter posts.


We can only hope that the forecasted rains will stay away and that the floodwaters will recede quickly. And also that Addicks and Barker hold!


World War One


I saw the gravestone recently and was struck by it. Of all the things that William J. Ira was during his life, he is meant to be remembered as a doughboy. Standing at attention with his weapon in his right hand and bayonet hanging off his pistol belt. Campaign hat and puttees, the perfect embodiment of soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War One. His parent (and town) were clearly proud of his service.

100 years ago this August, General Pershing and the first elements of AEF had already begun to arrive in France. They wouldn’t begin to see combat on the Western Front for several more months but the United States was committed to war.

In Washtenaw County, preparation for war was in full swing. As recounted in the History of Washtenaw County from “Historic Michigan” (1928)

“The people of Washtenaw, inspired with the patriotism of Americans
responding to the call to arms, availed themselves of every opportunity
to pay reverent tribute to the Stars and Stripes during that trying first
year. As each quota of Washtenaw men left the county the people
turned out to bid them God’s speed,’ and if, at times, there was an ab-
sence of cheering it was a feeling of respect and reverence that was man-
fested rather by a bared head than in an exhibition of lung power. The
people had awakened to the seriousness of thewar, had begun to realize
that the country was about to engage in a terrible struggle terrific in
its dimensions, demanding the sacrifice of the lives of many of the boys,
with its attendant suffering and misery, but still with that feeling deep
down in their hearts as expressed by one old soldier in addressing a meet-
ing of the citizens when he said to them: “I know that it is hard for
you to see your boys go away to war but I also know that there is not
a mother here who would not be ashamed if she thought her boy was
not prepared to do his duty.” How well the boys of those mothers
did their duty has been told. ”

I’m pretty sure the author never heard an “old soldier” say that and the prose is a bit jarring to our modern ears but Washtenaw County was in the war.

This blog is rapidly turning into one pretty much just about history but World War One is really important. When the “Great War” was over, the men and women of this generation were the ones who made many of the tangible infrastructure decisions that are still with us today. From road alignments, highway planning, industry creation and a thousand other small things. I hope to have time to explore many of those threads but now, during the hundredth anniversary of the War, I want to remember the war itself.