Vulcan “00”: The Big Hammer That Wasn’t

2942In 1912 Vulcan produced the first Vulcan #0 hammer. With its larger cylinder, columns, ram point, cushion diameter and leaders, it represented an important step upwards from the #1 and ultimately was the progenitor of a long line of Vulcan hammers, including the 0R, 08, 010, 012, 508, 510 and 512. (Specifications for these are found in the Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.)

But Vulcan had other “big ideas” in mind. In the same year Vulcan put together the general arrangement (right) of its “00” hammer, prepared by Arthur Jenks (later Vulcan’s General Manager.) This was a far leap in many ways:

  • It had a ram weight of 10,000 lbs.
  • The stroke was 54″ (4 1/2′,) far beyond the 39″ (3 1/4′, or almost one metre) of the #0.
  • The striking energy was thus 45,000 ft-lbs, almost the energy of the 016.
  • The jaws were 30″.
  • The cylinder was 19″ in diameter, considerably larger than the #0. (Vulcan proposed using this cylinder diameter again for its 525, which was never built.)
  • The entire hammer weighed 20,000 lbs., not much more than the #0.

Unfortunately this behemoth (by the standards of the time) was never built. The immediate cause was one that Vulcan (and any other construction equipment company) experienced frequently: it couldn’t make delivery on the inquiry, in this case from Canada. Frequently contractors do not order equipment until a job is secured, a sensible decision for a contractor but not always from a manufacturer’s standpoint, who must invest in a wide variety of equipment to anticipate future demand. (This is one of the factors driving the rise of rental equipment in the construction industry.)

As it turns out, the “00” shown wasn’t the last time a hammer along these lines was proposed. In 1927 Vulcan proposed to Raymond Concrete Pile a 12,500 lb. ram, 50,000 ft-lb (4′ stroke) hammer (basically an 012 with a 4′ stroke) on an “0” frame. Additionally it proposed a “California” style hammer, which would have resulted in a higher blow rate (60 BPM vs. 46 BPM for the single acting hammer) and the energy savings that resulted from using the steam expansively, as the California hammers did. But Raymond did not take Vulcan up on that either.

Vulcan went on to make the conventional #0 part of its line, but did not produce a larger ram for the “0” frame until the OR after World War II. It did not put forth a hammer of any kind this large until the differential acting hammers were first marketed in the late 1920’s. Moreover, when Vulcan finally moved up to producing a single/acting hammer in this range, it used the 140C and 200C differential hammers as the basis of the 014, 016 and 020. This resulted in a heavier hammer than would have resulted from the “0” frame (which explains in part the lacklustre acceptance of the 014 and 016. The offshore hammers were mostly based on the “C” frame, which did make them more robust for the application.)

Additionally, Vulcan never built a hammer with a stroke (or an effective stroke) greater than 3′ or 3.25′ until it introduced the 560 in 1973, more than sixty years after this proposal.

It’s difficult to know for sure why this hammer was never built. Relative to Raymond, who would have been a major potential user of such a hammer, a couple of possible reasons may be set forth.

One reason probably related to the sour relationship between Raymond and Vulcan. This went back to around the time of the “00” proposal, when Raymond approached Vulcan about building hammers to its own specifications. Although Raymond was prepared to underwrite the changes, William H. Warrington, Vulcan’s President, refused to produce the hammers. Raymond, rebuffed, went on to develop an entire line of hammers based on the “0” frame with the larger cylinder, which included the 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 and 8/0, incorporating many changes, some of which Vulcan eventually put on their own hammers. (Specifications for these are found in the Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.) Raymond did buy Vulcan hammers from time to time after that, more intensively after Raymond decided to go with Vulcan hammers for their offshore construction operation in the 1970’s.

Another, however, may relate to the stroke of the hammer. Although the Step-Taper piles drove like steel piles, Raymond also installed a large number of concrete piles. With the longer stroke, the compressive stresses increase (this is explained here) and thus the tensile ones do also, leading to the tension cracking so critical to monitor with concrete piles. Although it wouldn’t be until 1931 when David Victor Isaacs would identify the cause of this to be related to wave propagation in piles, it’s possible that Raymond’s people were instinctively leery of a longer stroke, even in 1912. (It’s noteworthy that Raymond’s biggest hammers, the “X” series, had only a 30″ maximum stroke.)

The “Vulcan 00” is an interesting study in the “what-ifs” of technology development, and how commercial and even personal factors can get in the way of that development.


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