“Amos, we’ve got a problem,” I said. “The specs require backfilling and compacting in 12-inch maximum lifts. You’re doing 36-inch lifts. There is no way the dirt in the bottom of that trench will ever even feel your compactor. This crossing is going to be a dip in the road in a few months.”
Amos spitted and testily shifted the cigar butt across his lips. “Now, look here bossman,” he grumbled. “I been pullin’ levers for 50 years, an’ I always do my compactin’ this a-way. Ain’t never had no problem yet.”
Those words, “I’ve been doing it this way for blah-blah-blah years are every engineer’s fingernails across the chalkboard. When I hear them it brings to mind a favorite Uncle Remus story. [“The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus”, Joel Chandler Harris, Houghton Mifflin, 1983]. My condensed (and slightly modified) version follows:
One day Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit were ambling down the big road and happened to notice some geese sleeping by the mill pond.The geese all had their heads tucked neatly under a wing, as is their habit.
“Hey’o, Brer Rabbit,” says Brer Fox. “How come geese allers sleep with their heads off?”
Brer Rabbit smiled privately and replied, “That’s simple Brer Fox. They been doin’ it that-a-way fer fifty years er better. See, ev’y time they settle down fer t’ sleep, Mrs. Goose, she takes off Mr. Goose’s head, an’ then Mr. Goose takes off Mrs. Goose’s head, then they tuck ‘em real neat-like unner their wing fer safe keepin’.”
Brer Fox fetched a grin, and down the road they continued, passing the time of day just like old friends. When he got home, Brer Fox said to Mrs. Fox, “Woman, tonight when we lay down ter sleep, I want you to take off my head so I can tuck it real neat-like unner my paw – jes like the geese down at the mill pon’.”
Mrs. Fox looked at her husband in astonishment and protested his outlandish request. But he would hear nothing of it. “They been doin’ it that-a-way fer fifty years,” he insisted. So when bedtime rolled around, Mrs. Fox went to the wood shed, fetched the axe and did as her husband had asked. Of course in the morning, she was most distraught when she could not figure out how to hook the head back on. Brer Rabbit, who had been spying through a window, got quite a laugh out of the whole affair.
So, now you know why so many trench crossings are dips in the road. It’s because Amos’ crew was on the job, and they’ve been doing it that-a-way for 50 years.
Tim Garrison of ConstructionCalc.com, is a professional engineer, author and software producer for the building industry. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Tim reads every one.
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