I enjoy watching progress on a construction project. To me observing the work, changes and elements of the activity is as enjoyable as watching a movie or reading a good novel. Last year and the year before there was a major renovation of Route 281 through Cortland from the Route 13 intersection and on past SUNY Cortland. Although it was a disruption to traffic I enjoyed observing the various stages of excavating, paving, bridge making, sidewalk installation and landscaping. Over the last 8 months or so, I have been watching the construction of the new Super Walmart in South Cortland. The land that I used to walk across as a grassy field has been transformed in a multitude of ways. Earth moving in the early stages stripped the top soil, excavated a pond and created a reformed surface for the installation of infrastructure and foundations. Each day was an opportunity to see new progress and eventually the building rose up to dominate the area. About 225,000 square feet under cover. The project not only includes a monstrous building and extensive parking plot, but will also involve building a new road and intersection for the Bennie Road access to our residential area. And another stop light will be installed. I often take a walk around the perimeter of the construction site just to see the progress. All in all I put my stamp of approval on the quality of construction and the design of the massive enterprise.
Perhaps my attraction to construction projects spills over from my training as an engineer and my college years when I worked on construction projects in the summers. My first construction job was helping to build a water pipeline int the village of Fairport, NY. We installed underground water pipe of transite material and brought municipal water to a section of that village. The greatest excitement we had was a ruptured gas line caused by our excavator when we didn't have a good map of the other underground infrastructure. At another time I was employed by the builder of Rochester Gas and Electric Company office building in Sodus, NY. I got first hand experience in foundations, heating and electrical infrastructure and concrete block construction. As a mason's helper I supplied "mud" and blocks to the master mason. This required hauling mortar and blocks up the scaffolding and sure put me in good physical condition. This job also almost did me in when a scaffolding I was dismantling collapsed. Fortunately I stayed on top of the debris and rode the framework down for about a twenty foot drop.
For another summer, I got to help with the construction of the New York State Thruway in the section crossing the Montezuma Wildlife Preserve. My work with a sub contractor was to moving and set the rails for the concrete paving machine and to cover and uncover the 100 foot sections of concrete highway lanes with a sisal-kraft paper that assured proper concrete cure. This was in the mid 1950's and paid about $2.00 per hour with time and half over 40 hours and double time for over 80 hours in a week. Our crew would work from daylight to sunset for six days a week, so we did go over 80 hours occasionally. Fourteen hour days were not unusual. Although the work was hard, it was entertaining to observe both the equipment and procedures used in creating a superhighway.
My closing thought is that creating a building, highway or machine must bring the same satisfaction to an engineer as a painting or sculpture brings to an artist.