OLD STEAM EQUIPMENT USED IN CONSTRUCTING THE ASHOKAN DAM

Dan Steinhoff
July/August 1984
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Beach Hill Road, New Ashford, MA 01237

Most readers never heard of this oddly named dam: briefly the name is of Indian origin, the location is north of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (another Indian name on the Schoharie River), the purpose is to collect, store and supply New York City with domestic water. The construction date was 1907-09.

This dam, reservoir and aqueduct is one of the several major reservoirs of the large water collection system needed to supply this country's largest city. It was considered an engineering and construction masterpiece in its day. It was also used as an example in engineering textbooks and many technical and general interest magazine articles were written about its construction.

Now a few words about the equipment used and pictured. Old and obsolete is the first impression. True, it is doubtful if any examples of this type of steam shovel now exist. These steam shovels look like an overgrown monster. Railroad shovels disappeared shortly after World War I (I only saw one still being used in my time in a rock quarryal though it was then an antique, it still did the work required). Note the chain used as a winch line and with a glass one can make out the name Atlantic on one of the shovels. These were made by Atlantic Shovel Co. of New York City, later taken over by the American Locomotive Co. of New York City, which came out with an advertisement stating they had improved their shovel by eliminating the chain and using wire rope cable. From this time on all manufacturers used cable until hydraulic control took over in more modern shovels.

The concrete mixing and placing plant was quite a set-up in its day and quite productive. The steam operated cement mixer is, incidentally, a cement mixer, not a concrete mixer, as it mixes cement with aggregate (sand and gravel) and produces concrete that is dumped into the placement bucket. The stiffle derrick, another item that has disappeared, raised it and placed it in the dam. There could have been several of these plants all in use at one time on a project of this size, so that at the end of the day quite a few cubic yards of concrete were placed. At times it was necessary to work around the clock to finish a critical pour or placement. There may still be an old cement mixer of this type rotting away in some remote area. Looking closely at this picture and noticing the wheelbarrow, one realizes that this is one piece of construction equipment that has survived to the present day. Its use preceded steam, it is still basically the same, and will continue for a few more years.

In conclusion, gas and diesel have replaced steam shovels; lighter weight, faster and more mobile shovels have replaced these old rail shovels; gas and diesel tractors have replaced horses and mules; manpower has been reduced in numbers; pick axes and number two shovels are rarely seen. This has resulted in larger and larger dams that have now made Ashokan look small. However, give steam credit it accomplished wonder seven on this job a world record still stands. The aqueduct constructed in conjunction with the dam contains the longest tunnel in the world. Round out tunnel is 13 feet in diameter and 85 miles long. While vehicle and rail tunnels are larger in diameter the record is 12.3 miles for the Simplon II Switzerland-to-Italy vehicle tunnel.

Now a word about the photos. I had a collection of old engine, tractor and equipment photos exhibited at the Hudson Valley Show near Hudson, N.Y. when a man stopped by and stated he had access to some old equipment negatives that he would loan me so copies could be I made. Naturally I jumped at this chance that resulted in several interesting photos. (Mr. Croswell Sheeley also obtained permission from Mrs. Vivian Waterfall, the original owner of the negatives, to use them in this article. A sincere thank you to both persons and a plug for old engine shows as many good items turn up there!)


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