The Best Way to Celebrate Your 120th Birthday is With a New Slide Bar Part

On our Engineering at Vulcan page, we posted this general arrangement of the Vulcan #2 dated 1887.

The first extant layout of the Vulcan #2 Hammer, dated 9 February 1887. It’s probably the first extant layout of the Warrington-Vulcan hammer. Until about World War I, it was common practice for Vulcan to lay out the general arrangement and then the shop produce much of the hammer from just that drawing. It’s an indication of both the skill and the decision making ability of those actually producing the product, and also probably of the involvement of those doing the design work.

Little did we suspect that we’d need that drawing, but then these photos from Crofton Diving of Portsmouth, VA, arrived:

The hammer in question is Vulcan S/N 116, originally sold to the Florida East Coat Railroad (not far from the West Palm Beach facility) in 1897.  The distinctive “open” slide bar design was changed about that time to what is on virtually every Warrington-Vulcan and Super-Vulcan hammer made since.  Vulcan Foundation Equipment  was able to make the spare parts Crofton required from the original detail drawings.

“Planned obsolescence” wasn’t the Vulcan way in 1897 or afterwards, which is why a 120-year old product is still driving pile and being useful to the contractor.

Crofton Diving at work: the Crofton I barge driving piles at a marina, Norfolk, VA, 2009.  The pile driving rig is using swinging leaders.

General Arrangements and Assemblies

d35373One of the typical information items Vulcan would send out would be the “general arrangement” (or assembly, to use the Raymond terminology) of a hammer, or a sub-assembly such as a capblock follower. These were also included in the offshore field service manuals. Sometimes they would feature the specifications of the hammer. They are useful for basic clearance and other dimensions or to understand the basic layout of the machine.

Some of these were put in data format. We feature for download some collections of these as follows:

  • Vulcan 020 Offshore Hammer Specification Sheet. Not a general arrangement per se, but a specification sheet (in US and SI units) along with parts of the general arrangement on the back. These were issued in the 1970’s and were very popular for many years.
  • Vulcan 040 Offshore Hammer Specification Sheet.
  • Vulcan Offshore Hammers
    • Auto-Jack Cable Tensioning Device for most Vulcan offshore hammers
    • Vulcan 535 Hammer, 54″ and 80″ Jaws (similar to the 530)
    • Vulcan 530/535 Capblock Follower Assembly (80″ Jaws)
    • Vulcan 560 Hammer
    • Vulcan 5110 Hammer
    • Vulcan 5100 Capblock Follower Assembly
  • Vulcan/Raymond Hammers
    • Vulcan 513 Hammer
    • Vulcan 515 Hammer
    • Vulcan 517 Hammer
    • Vulcan 525 Hammer
    • Vulcan/Raymond 60X Hammer, with and without Vari-Cycle II
  • Vulcan/Foster Vibratory Hammer. Vulcan manufactured L.B. Foster vibratory hammers during the 1990’s on a “private label” basis. These are the general assemblies for the 1050 and 4200.

Some of our general arrangements are in image format; we present some of them below.

We also have an extensive collection of these (including the specification sheets) in other “traditional formats.” If you would like to contact us about obtaining these, click here. We also have extensive information in our Vulcan Data Manual.

About Those Manhole Covers…

Vulcan-Bulletin-20Vulcan received inquiries from all over the world about its products.  One call Vulcan received until the end was about manhole covers.  Although Vulcan’s response was always the same (it didn’t make manhole covers) the fact was that at one time Vulcan did make these humble but ubiquitous products.

On both ends of the twentieth century Vulcan’s letterhead stated that it manufactured “Machinery for Public Improvements.” Although the pile driving equipment certainly fell into that category, it wasn’t the only product line meant for consumption by the public sector.  That included many of its custom products, including the bridge gears it produced for many bascule bridges in Chicago and other areas.  That also included the manhole covers, or more formally designated “Curbs and Covers: Manhole and Catch Basin.”

These items appeared in Vulcan’s general catalogues in the 1910’s and 1920’s.  Eventually when these gave way to the product bulletins of the late 1920’s and beyond, Vulcan produced one for the manhole covers, its Bulletin 20, issued in 1942 (cover shown here, bulletin can be downloaded here.)

The key to this business was having your own foundry, and Vulcan’s went away in the late 1940’s.  Around that time the manhole covers went out of Vulcan’s offerings.  Unfortunately it took a long time for the word to get around, and Vulcan continued to get calls about these for the duration of the company’s operation.  Part of the problem was that there was (and is) more than one “Vulcan Iron Works.”  Vulcan was the god of the forge in Roman mythology; it was a common name for heavy manufacturing in the nineteenth century, an age of iron, steel and classical learning. At least one additional Vulcan Iron Works produced manhole covers, something that added meaning to the word “discovery” at litigation time.

Probably the vast majority of the manhole covers produced by the Vulcan Iron Works discussed by this web site are gone from their proper place.  (One that didn’t is at the top of the page.)  Had Vulcan been swum with the tide more than it did, it probably would have outsourced the manhole covers abroad.  But it didn’t, leaving one part of its product line well in its wake.

Vulcan Iron Works: The First Century

VIW-PMSVery few companies can claim even a century-long existence. Not counting the Cari years, Vulcan Iron Works endured for 144 years from its founding by Henry Warrington until 1996. The portion of focuses on the first hundred years “and then some:” the years the company was located in Chicago, 1852-1960.

During this time, the company went from being a general purpose foundry to the greatest manufacturer of pile driving equipment in the world, this in an era when driven piles reigned supreme in deep foundations.

Come with us as we explore the following:

We also have an entire section which details the company’s greatest adventure after this era, namely Vulcan: The Offshore Experience.

About our Sources

The information in this section goes back more than a century and a half, and has been rescued from the various “downsizings” that Vulcan Iron Works and Vulcan Foundation Equipment have experienced. These sources include the photo library of Vulcan Iron Works, literature, and files from the company’s records. The largest rescues took place in 1999 when Vulcan Iron Works (Cari) sold the 2909 Riverside Drive Chattanooga facility and in 2004 when Vulcan Foundation Equipment relocated the 2501 Riverside Drive warehouse and office. Some of the information was also found in the Warrington family archives as well.

After the Centennial Celebration


The rest of the 1950’s was an era of prosperity and transition for Vulcan. In 1955 Henry Warrington became President; Chester retired to Palm Beach two years later and died in 1961.

Building the Interstate highway system was a boon to Vulcan, but it, along with the growing size range of the product line, strained the North Bell facility. Combined with the increasing costs of maintaining a manufacturing facility in America’s traditional industrial heartland, Vulcan cast about for a new location to build its product line. After an extensive search process, Vulcan decided to relocate the company to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it built a new production facility and moved the company in 1960.

But location wasn’t the only thing changing at Vulcan; the market for its products was shifting to the construction of offshore oil platforms. The smaller “onshore” product line became a smaller–and less profitable–part of Vulcan’s revenue stream. We end this series on Vulcan’s first one hundred years–and then some–by featuring some newer applications of Vulcan’s classic hammer line.

Hammer in action: below, a video of a Vulcan 08 driving concrete piles in downtown Norfolk, Virginia, in November 1990. The contractor was M.R. Welch.

DGH Series Hammers

Note: a field service manual for these hammers is available in the Guide, link above.

DGH-PhotoAlthough the California series hammers were successful and a definite expansion of Vulcan’s product line, they suffered from two major weaknesses:

  • They had a sliding valve that was very difficult to manufacture.
  • They were only suited for driving piles, not for the demolition and compaction work that hammers of their size (especially the “G” hammers) were commonly used for.

Vulcan had prepared to replace the “G” in 1941, but the intervention of World War II put a stop to the project. It wasn’t until 1955 that Vulcan introduced the DGH-100 hammer (shown at right.) The DGH series of hammers made several advances:

  • They employed the rotary, Corliss valve, which had been used successfully with the Warrington-Vulcan and Super-Vulcan air/steam hammers. This simplified manufacture and service of the unit, although the valve chest configuration Vulcan adopted sometimes took a great deal of work to obtain proper alignment and operation.
  • They included a base that allowed the use of demolition and compaction tools.
  • They retained the “G” hammer’s clean, square profile, which made it simple to attach them to excavators.

The naming of the hammer is explained, to some extent, here.

Some of the DGH hammer features are illustrated below, including (from left to right) “pants” for driving sheet piling (see the DGH-900 photo below,) the Universal Backhoe Adapter for use with backhoes and excavators, and leader angles for the U-type leaders common with other Vulcan hammers.

The Universal Backhoe Adapter enabled the DGH-100 to be used with a wide variety of backhoes and excavators without having to develop a custom adapter for each make and model. One of the remarkable things about the DGH-100 is that it was never completely eliminated by hydraulic breakers, which are generally able to use the excavator’s own hydraulic power and eliminate the need for an additional compressor. This is a testament to the simplicity, durability and performance of the product. DGH hammers can be operated at angles down to horizontal, a capability unique for Vulcan products.

Vulcan also developed a DGH-900 hammer, with a larger ram, but this was no where near as successful as the DGH-100. Vulcan continued to produce and market these hammers until the company was divested in 1996.  IHC/Vulcan Foundation Equipment discontinued them in 2005, but the current Vulcan Foundation Equipment provides parts and service for DGH-100 and DGH-900 hammers.

Vulcan At War

George was the only one of the three Warrington brothers to marry; Chester was his only child. In 1933, with James Warrington’s death, Chester inherited a company with which he had had little to do until that time. He attempted to direct it from Washington. The failure of Cord-Auburn-Duesenberg, coupled with a looming war and the demands of production for same, doubtless induced Chet to relocate to Chicago in 1940 and “take the helm” of the Vulcan Iron Works.

Although most people don’t think about it, pile driving equipment has a military application. Moreover, in a time like World War II, vast portions of the civilian production were turned to wartime activity. Vulcan rose to the occasion, not only in its production but in these war bond posters shown. Members of the Warrington family served with distinction both in World War II and the others wars Americans have fought to preserve our freedoms.

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With the war’s end, the promise of one of the posters was fulfilled: the buying power of the country increased. In the meanwhile Chester instituted sweeping reforms in policy and personnel, reinvigourating the organization. As it approached its centennial in 1952, Vulcan was a company on the move, with an extensive dealer network and a product that was already an industry standard.

The Warrington Family: Broadened Horizons

In the deep foundations industry, the Warrington family is primarily associated with Vulcan. But for many years, and especially in the half century between 1890 and 1940, a good part of the family was engaged in other activities.

We invite you to visit our companion site Chet Aero Marine which goes into the family’s involvement in the Civil War on the side of the Union, steam yachts on Lake Michigan, George Warrington’s moving to Washington to serve in the Department of Commerce and Labor, his son Chet’s aviation career in the nation’s capital, and yachting that extended until the end of the 1960’s (as shown above.)

“Super-Vulcan” Differential Acting Hammers, Closed and Open

Most Vulcan air/steam hammers are single acting, i.e., they rely exclusively on gravity during the ram drop to produce the kinetic energy–and thus the velocity–to drive the pile. Before World War I Vulcan had developed the #5 and the California series of hammers that gave the ram “downward assist” during descent, but the Super-Vulcan Differential-Acting hammers were the best known–and certainly the most widely used–pile drivers Vulcan produced that featured downward assist.

Although most people equate the Super-Vulcan line with the “C” hammers, there are actually two series of differential acting hammers, the first closed and the second open. Specifications for both are found in the Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.

Closed Super-Vulcan Hammers

Although James Warrington had proposed designs different from the Warrington-Vulcan hammers, the final design of the closed differential hammers was by Campbell V. “Doc” Adams, Vulcan’s designer for most of the twentieth century.

The operating cycle for these “differential acting” hammers is shown. The lower side of the piston is always “live” (with steam or air pressure.) At the beginning of the cycle (left diagram,) this pressure forces the ram up to what is the “cut-in” point (as opposed to the “cut-off” point with single-acting hammers.) The top of the piston is then pressurised, bringing the ram to a halt at the top of the stroke (right diagram.) The ram is then accelerated to impact by both the force of gravity and the net downward pressure on the piston. Just before impact the valve is turned, exhausting the pressurised air or steam and beginning the cycle once again. In addition to the Super-Vulcan hammers, the DGH series of hammers also used the differential acting cycle.

These hammers were a significant departure from previous Vulcan hammers in three ways:

  • They were “differential acting” as opposed to single-acting hammers. This was also a departure from the double acting hammers such as the “B” series MKT produced. The differential acting principle allowed the use of the same type of Corliss two-way valve while producing downward assist, which simplified the valving considerably.
  • They were a “closed type” hammer as opposed to an open type one. Almost all of Vulcan’s competitors at the time (MKT, Union/Arnott, etc.) manufactured closed type hammers, i.e., ones where the ram and other moving parts were inside an enclosure, thus invisible to the user. The advantage to this was that a closed type hammer could be run underwater (but click here for an open type hammer that can be run in this way.) These hammers are also simpler to run without leaders, which is advantageous with sheet piling.
  • They had about twice the blow rate of the single-acting hammers, approx. 120 blows/minute as opposed to 60 blows/minute, which (in theory at least) increases production of pile driving, important in an era when many relatively small piles were driven for a foundation.

One way where the Super-Vulcan hammers were not an innovation is in their “equivalent stroke.” Vulcan single-acting hammers maintained a drop of no more than approximately 1 metre (and less with the #1 and smaller.) By limiting the velocity, the impulse shape had a lower peak force but was more sustained. This lowered pile driving stresses, especially important in the precast (and later prestressed) concrete piles that were becoming popular. (This issue is discussed in more detail here.) Vulcan could have increased the impact velocity with these hammers but did not.

The closed type hammers opened up new and interesting possibilities for hammer-pile interface as shown below. A 3000 hammer (with, amazingly, a 3000 lb. ram) is shown set up for sheet piles, either in the leaders (left) or using “pants” and without leaders (right.) This opened up possibilities for larger Vulcan hammers that were previously best done with the California series of hammers.

A closed type Super Vulcan hammer on a pile driving rig owned by the Driven Pile Foundation Company, San Antonio, TX. Evidently the piles are be driven for one of the military bases in the San Antonio area. Note the use of the Gardner-Denver air compressor; in the 1930’s, air was already beginning to be used more as a way of powering Vulcan hammers.

As with hammer cycles, timing is everything, and these hammers ended up being sold into the great depression of the 1930’s, which in turn depressed sales. Beyond that, some of the innovations these hammers featured did not fare as well in the market as one would like. To start with, the cast enclosure was expensive to manufacture, more so than the ram/column/base frame structure of the single-acting hammers.

Beyond that, the open hammers, Vulcan’s “signature” so to speak, had one key advantage: one could see the ram stroke, which was another method of verifying the energy output of the hammer during operation. In addition to putting piles in the ground, impact pile drivers were (and are) used as a measuring tool to verify the load capacity of the pile, which is problematic if one doesn’t know the energy output of the hammer. Open hammers are also easier to maintain because the working parts are easily accessible, a major advantage to the contractor.

By the end of the 1930’s Vulcan bowed to market pressure and introduced open type differential acting hammers to the market. (An early concept of this is here.)  The closed configuration was tried once more in the 1950’s with the “Mariner” hammers, but didn’t get very far either.

Open Super-Vulcan Hammers

At first glance, the open-type Super Vulcan hammers (the “C” hammers, for 100, thus the sizes 30C, 50C, 80C, etc.) were similar to the single-acting hammers. (Specifications are found in the Guide to Pile Driving Equipment.) However, many detail changes were made, including the elimination of rubber bumpers, a different style of piston rod/ram connection, and others. In general the hammers were built with more material in the frame than their single-acting counterparts.

The smallest of the Super-Vulcan open size hammers produced, the 18C, with a ram weight of a mere 1,800 lbs.
Like parent, like child, but the size is reversed: a Vulcan 030 single-acting offshore hammer and a Super-Vulcan 30C hammer, side by side, at the plant in Chattanooga. Note the constructional similarities.

The hammers were successful; they were certainly faster than the single-acting hammers and had the traditional Vulcan reliability. But they never displaced the single-acting hammers for several reasons.

The first was that the additional speed brought with it higher air or steam requirements, thus a larger boiler or air compressor for a given hammer energy. Given the contractor and the type (and amount) of work they had, the expense of a larger prime mover wasn’t always worth it.

The second concerned the controversy over Vulcan’s charts of hammer blow rate vs. energy. This is discussed here, but the aftermath of this was that engineers frequently didn’t trust the energy output of the Super-Vulcan hammers. This problem was compounded by the fact that Vulcan hammers weren’t designed to require rebound to achieve their full stroke (unlike the diesel hammers.) Once rebound became significant during driving, it was necessary to reduce the pressure (and thus the output energy) to avoid overstroking.

The third was that the high speed of the hammer, while keeping the piling moving (especially important with cohesive soils,) wasn’t always the easiest for the crane operator to keep up with.

One of the larger differential hammers produced, the Vulcan 200C, with a ram weight of 20,000 lbs.

By the 1980’s production of the Super Vulcan hammers had all but ceased. Their legacy, however, spilled over to the single acting counterparts. Vulcan envisioned closed hammers with a 20 kip ram from the start, and a 400C was produced in the 1950’s. When Vulcan began to design hammers larger than the #0 series, they used the Super Vulcan design as a model, using the same bases and rams and in some cases sharing cylinder patterns, including the raised steam chest necessary on the differential hammers. The results were mixed. The 014 and 016 were too heavy for the size (as opposed to the Raymond 4/0 and 5/0, which were based on the #0 series) and that in turn limited their popularity. (Conmaco thought enough of it, though, to pattern their 140 and 160 after it; Vulcan produced both of these hammers.)

The upside of this, however, was that using a “C” type frame yielded a very rugged platform for the offshore hammers such as the 014, 016, 020, 030, 040 and 060. The Super-Vulcan hammers represented an important development in the Vulcan hammer line.

Vulcan Pile Extractors, and the Wood Pile Puller

Vulcan-ExtractorThe Vulcan Pile Extractor was the last major design by James N. Warrington (U.S. Patent 1,736,104) to enter production, which it did in 1928.

The extractor uses a simple, valveless design where the ram is thrown upward by the incoming steam or air. It strikes an anvil located in the top of the machine. The impact force is transmitted through the side bars to the cross pin and onward to the connecting links.

Although it could in principle be used to extract any pile, Vulcan pile extractors were primarily used with sheet piling, as this type of piling is very common in temporary works. An example of this is shown at the right. The main method of connecting the extractor with the piles was through the two bolts that passed through the connecting links and the corresponding holes in the sheet piling, which the sheet pile supplier would commonly drill or burn in the sheeting.

In some cases the holes could be avoided by the use of Heppenstal tongs, which are similar in principle to the grips seen on impact-vibration hammers. Vulcan also developed and patented its own pile grips as well.

Vulcan’s main competitor was the MKT “E” series, which were very similar in construction. In the 1960’s Vulcan also marketed the Nilens series of extractors, which featured a cable wrap system for transmitting the impact along with a Heppenstal type grip.

Impact extractors represented the best way of removing sheet piles until the 1970’s, when the vibratory drivers took over the job. However, for smaller jobs where there were few sheets, or jobs where the sheets were embedded in very hard soil or the interlocks rusted or beaten together, the impact extractor remains a useful tool for removing sheet piles after their job is done.

Vulcan extractors were produced in four sizes. Additional information on them is as follows:

Wood-Pile-PullerWood Pile Puller

Although the extractors were capable of pulling a wide variety of piling, both the bolted connection and the Heppenstal type clamp were unsuitable for any kind of “displacement” pile, and that included wood piling.

To address this issue, Vulcan licenced the design for the Wood Pile Puller. To the right, a diagram (from inventor Wayne de Witt’s U.S. Patent 3,534,996) shows that the puller was connected to the extractor through the top plate, then basically trapped the head of the wood pile between the jaws. The jaws rode on tapered plates; as the extractor went up, the jaws’ grip tightened on the wood pile, after which the extractor was started and the pile was removed. The Puller could also be used with a straight crane pull in place of a choker (as is shown at (39) in the diagram.)

Once the pile was extracted the two cables (40) were tugged, the jaws freed (in theory!) the puller separated from the pile and the puller was then taken to the next pile.

The Puller was produced at the West Palm Beach facility. The replacement of impact extractors by vibratory hammers ended the need for the Wood Pile Puller.