From “Deal Yourself a Winner” to “A Pile Driver Talks About God”

The ad above is another Offshore Technology Conference ad from the early 1970’s.  It was aimed at its industry: the oilfield was well endowed with hard-drinking, card-playing people, a simple fact that doesn’t fit into some peoples’ idealisation of the past.  The onshore construction industry wasn’t much different, although the higher risks–and rewards–of the oilfield made everything more intense.

Contrast this with the following forty years later from Rusty Signor, then President of the Pile Driving Contractors Association and President of TX Pile, LLC, in an issue of Pile Driver:

In my last message, I ended with a different, more positive view on the news in our current world situation. This time, I am going to do another first: a book review. The book is Seven Men and The Secrets of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.

Certainly advice on engineering techniques, safety practices and legal tips are very important for our pile driving business; however, personal character development is also something to consider for most. You may or may not know of all the seven men in this book, but the ones you thought you knew are viewed from a very different standpoint than how you probably learned about them in school. The book focuses on their complete reliance on their spiritual calling. Since this is not a government publication, I can use the word God.

For instance, everyone knows about George Washington and the story of the cherry tree. However, did you know that he was a deeply religious man and that he relied on his faith in helping him make  decisions? He prayed on his knees several times a day with a Bible before him. Washington believed that God had a special purpose for his life and that providence saved him from being killed. In one battle alone, three horses were shot out from under him and he had bullet holes through his hat and clothing. He empowered his men with God-filled inspiration and they would follow him anywhere. I bet you never read that in grade school.

Another man mentioned is Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I recently watched the movie about his story, 42. Again, the movie didn’t really focus on Robinson’s critical reliance on his faith in God to be able put up with and finally put down all the Jim Crow nonsense. He had extraordinary athletic talent in basketball, football, baseball, tennis and track and field. Robinson also had a tendency for anger explosions dealing with racial injustices. His mother and preacher led to a deeper faith that controlled his anger and justice allowed would him only to be see won that with the restraint path to and love. The manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers was an extremely religious person who was looking for this sort of man: someone talented in baseball, but who also had a strong, Bible-based character. Everyone knows the rest of the story, but generally not the one centered on God.

In the business world, sometimes we get too caught up in our challenges with competition, problems with equipment, governmental codes, etc. We just need to stop and look up like these men did – to result in your success and happiness.


“Offshore pile driving is a high-risk activity as delays can be financially punitive”

I’ve had experience on both the practical and “academic” sides of offshore pile driving and installation, but I’ve seldom seen a blunter and more accurate summary of the topic in the published literature than what’s above.  Vulcan certainly experienced that during the offshore years.

The entire paper can be obtained here.  The complete abstract is as follows:

Offshore pile driving is a high-risk activity as delays can be financially punitive. Experience of pile driving for offshore jacket structures where pile diameters are typically < 2m has led to the development of empirical pile driveability models with proven predictive capability. The application of these methods to larger diameter piles is uncertain. A major component of driveability models involves estimating the static resistance to driving, SRD, a parameter analogous to pile axial capacity. Recent research on axial capacity design has led to improved models that use Cone Penetration Test, CPT data to estimate pile capacity and include for the effects of friction fatigue and soil plugging. The applicability of these methods to estimating pile driveability for larger diameter piles is of interest. In this paper, recent CPT based axial capacity approaches, modified for mobilised base resistance and ageing, are applied to estimating driveability of 4.2m diameter piles. A database of pile installation records from North sea installations are used to benchmark the methods. Accounting for factors such as pile ageing and the relatively low displacement mobilised during individual hammer blows improves the quality of prediction of pile driveability for the conditions evaluated in this study.

The paper is Byrne, T., Gavin, K., Prendergast, L.J., Cachim, P., Doherty, P., and Chenicheri Pulukul, S. (2018) “Performance of CPT-based methods to assess monopile driveability in North Sea sands.” Ocean Engineering, 166, 76-91.  Emphasis in abstract is mine.

Vulcan 3100 Hammer: Specifications and Information

Like the 060 and even more the 040, the 3100 was a major step up for the company.  Even though it became the “gateway” to the company’s largest hammers, itself it was a dead end offshore for reasons that weren’t fully appreciated at the time, at least not by Vulcan or some of its end users.

The specifications:

The first 3100 was built for McDermott.  Even though the 560 had been introduced earlier and was lighter for the same energy, McDermott felt that the traditional “heavy ram-low striking velocity” approach was better, and also had the crane capacity to handle this size of hammer.  The hammer was ordered in the fall of 1973.

The road to completing the hammer was a rough one.  That fall was the occasion of the first oil shock, which was great news and bad news at the same time.  It was great news because the oil price spikes made the oil industry very active during that decade and early into the next one.  It was bad news because the demands on the supply chain of foundries and forge shops, coupled with the energy shortages that resulted from the oil shock itself, made lead times immensely long.  And, of course, patterns had to be built for all of the major castings.

The hammer was finally completed on 11 June 1975, but there was another twist: it was assembled on the deck of McDermott’s Derrick Barge 8 in Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana.  Vulcan traditionally preferred to ship their hammers assembled, but freight and delivery issues forced this method.  It was successful, not only making it simpler to ship the heavy hammer parts in pieces, but also to familiarize the end user’s personnel with the hammer itself.  By the 1990’s it became the standard method of delivery for hammers going to the Gulf of Mexico.

In spite of its difficult production road, the 3100 was successful from the beginning, with fewer of the “growing pains” that some of the earlier hammers had experienced.

As was the case with the 040, Vulcan used the hammer for advertising purposes, both then and many years later.

The general assembly is below (the hammer was so large, it required a two-sheet drawing.)

In spite of its success the 3100’s main claim to fame was to be the basis for the 5100.  Why was this so?

The first was obvious: the 560, virtually the same energy, was lighter and more economical to produce and operate.  The second was that, with offshore high-impedance steel piling, the higher impact velocity, problematic with concrete and wood piles, was actually preferable, albeit harder on the hammer.  The hammer never went much past its origin, in spite of the celebration that surrounded its inception.

Vulcan 060 and 360 Hammers: Specifications and Information

The success of the 040 was soon left behind by the deeper and deeper water conventional platforms were being installed into.  That in turn called for larger hammers, and Vulcan rose to the occasion with the 060.  The first 060 was built for J. Ray McDermott and delivered in the summer of 1968, a summer memorable for many other things.

First, the specifications:

The 060 had the usual growing pains, although Vulcan applied many of the lessons of the 040.  Nevertheless it became a popular hammer; in addition to McDermott, J.H. Pomeroy, Ingram, Fluor, AGIP, and Movible Offshore purchased and used the hammer.  Some photos are below.

General arrangements are shown below.

Vulcan 360

Like the 040, the 060 “became” the 360, with its conversion from a steel to an iron ram and many other modifications.  The first 360 was sold to Brown and Root and delivered in the summer of 1973.

Vulcan 040 and 340 Hammers: Specifications and Information

Vulcan’s personnel brought back many colourful stories from the field.  One of those came from Jesse Perry, Vulcan’s senior field service representative.  Offshore pile driving is a brutal, unforgiving business; offshore piles are tip elevation piles, and the expediency of “beating the pile to death” to get done in the high hourly barge rates was hard on hammers, especially those new in the product line.  One of those end users vented his frustration on Jesse, who responded by throwing his wallet on the table and telling the customer that he’d bet its contents that the hammer would work.

I never knew that Jesse ever lost his wallet in that way.

In a sense, however, Vulcan itself “threw its wallet on the table” with the 040 and 060 hammers; the 040, more than any other hammer, brought it in to the “big leagues” of offshore pile driving and, through its growing pains, made Vulcan the “stamp of quality offshore everywhere.

First, the basics: the 040 specifications.

The first 040 was sold to Ingram in August 1965; below are some photos from their barge.

Many other offshore construction concerns joined Ingram in using the 040, including McDermott, Dragados, DeLong, Santa Fe, Movible Offshore (soon Teledyne Movible Offshore,) Fluor, Brown & Root, AGIP, Creole Petroleum (now PDVSA,) and Humble Oil.

Offshore wasn’t the only place where the 040 could be found.  One of the most significant projects it was involved with was the long I-10 bridge across the Atchafalaya from Lafayette to Breaux Bridge, LA, built in 1969.

The 040 underwent many changes as it went along; early 040’s have many versions, as is evidenced by the general assemblies below.

Being the seminal hammer that it was, the 040 was useful for advertising, a usefulness that went past the Vulcan Iron Works itself.

340 Hammer

In 1972, with the introduction of the 560, Vulcan decided to rename the 040 the 340 hammer.  Vulcan also made some other important changes, such as moving to an iron (as opposed to a steel) ram.  The first 340 was delivered to McDermott in early 1973.  Specifications, a general arrangement and a photo are shown below.  It turned out to be the last hammer the Vulcan Iron Works produced, sold to PDVSA in 2000.


The Stamp of Quality…Everywhere

Vulcan frequently produced an ad for the Offshore Technology Conference.  Probably the best one was the “Stamp Ad.”  The “stamp of quality” theme had appeared in Vulcan’s literature for many years before that, but Vulcan’s graphic artist Carol Carr took it to a new level with this one in the early 1970’s.  It was unusual in many respects; it was in colour (colour wouldn’t become standard in Vulcan literature until late in the decade) and it was an 11″ x 17″ fold-out.

Snippets of Carol’s artwork have been on this site since its beginning in 2007, such as the masthead below:

It’s also in the current masthead as well.

The back of this ad is here:


Soils in Construction (Sixth Edition) Now Available —

It’s here a last: Soils in Construction, the Sixth Edition, now available from Waveland Press. Many of you (and especially those who are familiar with the companion site are aware that I’ve spent much of my career in geotechnical engineering and deep foundations dealing with contractors. As such I am both sympathetic with their […]

via Soils in Construction (Sixth Edition) Now Available —

The Vulcan Extractor Photo that Made a Civil Engineering Textbook

Vulcan hammers appear often in geotechnical engineering textbooks and other reference material.  It’s rare that it would happen outside of that discipline, but happen it did.

In 1960 the first edition of Mechanics of Materials by Archie Higdon, Edward H Ohlsen and William B. Stiles was published with the 1200A extractor photo shown above.  The purpose of including it was to illustrate concentric axial stresses through the connecting links on the side from point A to point B, and specifically through the plane c-c.  Vulcan granted permission to use the photo the year it left Chicago and moved to Chattanooga.

Evidently the illustration “made an impact;” it was retained through the Fourth Edition in 1985, by which time they had picked up two additional authors, John A. Weese and William F. Riley.  It was in the Second Edition when this webmaster discovered it while taking Mechanics of Materials at Texas A&M in the mid-1970’s.

The 1200A had been introduced a few years before it appeared in this textbook and Vulcan went to some pretty silly lengths to publicise it.  The textbook was one of the more sober ones.  Below are the specifications to all of Vulcan’s extractors.

1200A Extractor_Page_6

An Overview of Driving Accessories

The photo above shows an overview of driving accessories for Vulcan onshore hammers from the 1970’s, from Vulcan Bulletin 68M.  These apply both to the Warrington-Vulcan single-acting hammers and the Super-Vulcan differential-acting hammers.

More information on driving accessories can be found here:

STADYN Wave Equation Program 8: Effective Hyperbolic Strain-Softened Shear Modulus for Driven Piles in Clay

It’s been a while, but we hope it’s worth the wait: the monograph Effective Hyperbolic Strain-Softened Shear Modulus for Driven PIles in Clay is now available.  It was presented at the Research Dialogues for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 9-10 April 2019.  The abstract is as follows:

Abstract: Although it is widely understood that soils are non-linear materials, it is also common practice to treat them as elastic, elastic-plastic, or another combination of states that includes linear elasticity as part of their deformation. Assuming hyperbolic behavior, a common way of relating the two theories is the use of strain-softened hyperbolic shear moduli. Applying this concept, however, must be done with care, especially with geotechnical structures where large stress and strain gradients take place, as is the case with driven piles. In this paper a homogenized value for strain-softened shear moduli is investigated for both shaft and toe resistance in…

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