Personal Rapid Transit…..in Ann Arbor!

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

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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:

“FIRM DEVISES DRIVERLESS VEHICLE CONTROLS

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!

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“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.

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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?

 

 

 

 

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“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.

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

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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):

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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?
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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!

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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.

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YOUNGSTERS PARADE AGAINST NORTHBELT” Courtesy of AADL and the Ann Arbor News

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” )

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Courtesy of the Houston Press

USGS Gage data from these reservoirs is shocking:

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Total Precipitation at Barker Res.

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

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Water Surface Elevation in Barker Res.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

Some Great Photos of Construction Around the County

 

What are you doing reading blogs? You should be outside enjoying our amazing weather right now before the county turns into a furnace!

High summer is high construction season. Personally that means every road I drive on is torn up, gridlocked or has some part of it closed but in the end it means (hopefully) better infrastructure for us all. Things will (again hopefully) be getting better! Don’t be like this guy who drove around the cones and ended up causing a huge sewage spill on a job-site.

On Flickr I found some great construction photos from about 10 years ago by U of M Prof. Emeritus Robert Carr from around Washtenaw. Some favorites posted below. Check out his page for the rest and I hope you’re having a great July!

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Courtesy of Robert Carr (this is the Dixboro Bridge just downstream of Geddes Dam)

 

 

 

 

Soil Borings at the Geddes Dam (1917)

Geddes Dam is located on the Huron River just east of US-23.

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Image Courtesy of Google

The current dam (shown below) was constructed after the previous dam failed in the great flood of June 1968.

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Geddes Dam from Dixboro Road

The previous Geddes dam was constructed in 1918 as part of a plan by the Detroit Edison Company to harness the Huron River for electrical power for all of Metro Detroit. The Argo, Barton and Superior Dams (among others) were constructed for this purpose as well.

I am very interested why the Geddes Dam failed in 1968 and in attempting to research the failure was led to the papers of Gardner S. Williams at the Bentley Historical Library. Williams designed the old Geddes Dam and oversaw its construction on behalf of Detroit Edison in 1918.

Before his design and construction efforts began however, he commissioned a site exploration to determine the soil conditions beneath the proposed dam site. Below are images of the first two pages from that study. The first page describes the methods used to complete the soil borings and the second describes some of the results.

 

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Page 1 – Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library 

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Page 2 – Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

On Page 1 we find that Detroit Edison used a four-man crew to drive a 1-1/4″ pipe into the ground. The driving block was a 6×8″ by 3 foot piece of Oak dropped onto the pipe and suspended from a tripod. To collect the soil samples, they probably had to pull the whole pipe back out and then drop it back in to collect the samples at each recorded interval. Old boiler tube was also used as an outer casing to keep the hole from caving in the soft river sediments. Very simple, elegant and much more labor intensive when compared to the drill rigs currently used for soil investigations.

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A Modern Drill-Rig (Courtesy of the Central Mine Equipment Company)

Although the methods were a bit different, the results found on Page 2 of Williams’ Geddes Dam investigatoin are largely similar to soil investigations of today. Complete descriptions of soil types, layer thicknesses, salient features and other defining characteristics are all detailed to give the engineer and designer as complete a picture as possible of the subsurface conditions.

To highlight this, below is an example page from a modern soil investigation (courtesy of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission):

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The results are much more formalized in this modern example (from almost 100 years after the Geddes Dam borings) and much more data is provided but the general outline is the same. Concise information on soil conditions as compete as possible for the designer and engineer.

Although this was not the intent of my research, discovering the soil boring records for the old Geddes Dam was a very cool find as it provides a historical context for modern soil investigation practices and also a strong connection with those engineers whose shoulders we are standing on (and whose roads, bridges, dam, etc… are still used today).

 

 

 

Closed Bids for Local Projects

If you are ever interested about what exactly is going with local construction projects and infrastructure improvements, most local government agencies post their requests for proposal (RFPs) for their large projects at a few, easily accessible websites making it very simple to search for a large amount of historic projects throughout Washtenaw County.

The Michigan Inter-governmental Trade Network (MITN) is the largest of these bid-aggregation websites. If you register you can view the open bids, but past bids can be viewed without needing to do so.

Closed bids by Agency within MITN can be found here

As an example of this, I’ll select the City of Ann Arbor from the list of participating agencies.

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There is a huge list of RFPs here so i’ll pick a relatively recent one. I’m interested in seeing what the City plans to do for their “West Liberty Street Reconstruction, S. First St. – N. Main St.” so I click on that link and get more project details.

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The plans and specifications for this project are attached in the “document” attachment so i’m able to learn exactly what the City has planned here. Other agencies may just give you a list of plan holders that need to be contacted to request the plans or make you jump through a few more hoops to see the actual plans.

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Pulling up the plans we have the complete plan-set available for viewing.

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This is a simple example, but neatly illustrates how we can (with the internet) quickly learn more about the infrastructure projects around us.

 

The USS Washtenaw County

This post is a bit tangential to infrastructure but I thought it an interesting enough story to tell anyways. And since the name of our fair county is mentioned, this is as good an excuse as any to continue.

There was/is actually a ship in the U.S. Navy named after our county. Landing Ship Tank (LST) #1166 the USS Washtenaw County was laid down in 1951 in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, launched in 1952 and then commissioned in 1953. Below is a photo of her from an exercise in South Korea in 1962.

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Courtesy of Wikipedia/US Navy

Serving in the Pacific, the Washtenaw County eventually saw extensive service in Vietnam transporting troops and supplies. The LST’s and other small ships like her were the heavy lifters of close-in Naval efforts during the Vietnam War with their shallow drafts and large cargo capacity.

Here is a cool aerial shot underway. #1166 is just visible on the bow.

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Courtesy of Wikipedia / US Navy

In 1968 she was in the Mekong Delta supporting the Mobile Riverine Force as shown below. The Hueys on the deck are pretty cool.

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Courtesy US Navy / navsource.org

After that it was continued service in the western Pacific until 1973 when she was turned into a minesweeper to help clear Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam as a part of Operation “End Sweep”. After that the Washtenaw County was decommissioned and sold.

 

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“Washtenaw County” is barely visible under the 2 on the Stern (courtesy US Navy / navsource.org)

The next 30 to 40 years were spent in commercial service before she ended up in the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon (as of 2003) being restored by a non-profit to be turned into a museum ship.

It’s apparently been a slow process with scrappers, lack of funding and hazmat remediation slowing the process down. The name Washtenaw County has been painted on her again at least.

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courtesy navsource.org / Erik Martin

Here she is as a rusting hulk in 2016 – not the best representative of our County in the Pacific Northwest.

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courtesy of navsource.org / Harvey Golden

She’s pretty easy to find on Google Maps, just west of the Lewis and Clark Bridge on the south bank of the Columbia.

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I hope the Washtenaw County has better days ahead of her. It would be cool to visit her in Portland if she’s ever fixed up.

If you would like to read more about the USS Washtenaw County, Wikipedia and Navsource.org both have great “bio” pages about the ship with much more detail than I’ve presented here. There is also http://www.lst1166.com/ which has a bunch of great information (and many more photos of the ship). If you’re in Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw County Courthouse has a permanent display about LST 1166 as well.

If you’re in Muskegon and want to actually visit a preserved Landing Ship Tank, you can visit the World War 2 era LST 393It’s a bit older than the Washtenaw County but gives you a great sense of what life on an LST was like.