OLD STEAM EQUIPMENT USED IN CONSTRUCTING THE ASHOKAN DAM

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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!)

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment