Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Counting Pile, 1981

Here’s a knocking indeed. That’s a line from Shakespeare. It’s the Porter’s line.

A steam hammer rigged up on the leads of a crane sufficient to lift the hammer above eighty feet of composite steel and creosoted wood or full length steel pile. The pile used to nail the dry crust to the compressed mud beneath after twenty feet of the mush of the Yaquina Slough, tidal water in the the Yaquina River upstream of Yaquina Bay. The steam hammer chuffs and blangs, driving a multi-ton hammer head against the giant nail we used to nail the land together. This is required to build any structure on that land, land you can drown in if you dig too deep, about eight feet. When the pile hits this layer it just drops for twenty feet.

Chuff, blang, chuff, blang, chuff, blang…and me, I stand right there in the spray of the steam and in the horizontal wind and rain. I have a stick for measuring a constant height by swinging off my foot against the pile and a piece of chalk. I watch the foot marks already scribed on the pile cans until the pile comes up and slows down to less than an inch per blow. Then I start marking and counting, looking for eighteen blows per inch. I get that and I cut off the driving. If I don’t and we run out of pile, they have to drive another beside it. That’s about one in fifteen.

When I was scribing foot marks on pile cans I was very near the welder. That night I got flash burn reactions even though I didn’t ever look at the welding directly. The day that I write about here, I was in a full blown gale, a winter ocean storm come ashore, just eight miles inland. It was very cold and very wet. Everything was wet no matter that I was in full slicker. I went in to the engineering office and sat at my desk on morning break and wondered how I was going to go back out there. I had no one to spell me. Wearing hard hat and steel toed boots and hearing protection, none of which would really matter if things came apart, so I am trusting the contractors and closer in than the pile bucks except when the setting the pile for driving. That hammer is in my face, literally at the critical time, and that means the pile is resisting the most, so everything is at its most explosive. Shit.

I never had to do that job again. I am proud I did it though. I created the record that proved the foundation for that building was going to be safe. That’s the kind of thing comes up when you work in engineering for a paper mill.

Counting Pile, 1981

Winter morning with
sideways rain, in full slicker
with my tools, a Write
In The Rain pad, chalk,
and mechanical pencil,
with hard hat and ear
protection, many
layers hoping to keep warm,
I stood next to steam
and noise so big it
hammered me and the pile cap
equally. I froze
in the winter rain.

April 26, 2009 4:03 PM


  1. A classroom with up to 30 students, making chalk marks to see how deep we've gone. :-)

  2. The only part missing is doing it in the midst of the winter squall. In the midst of the children is basically as noisy in the soul, perhaps, and the steam of children breath sufficient. Breaking through the crust of distraction results in free fall of some duration before the grab of substance.

    When the piling came to a stop in its drive for depth and support it came up against something called siltstone in that alluvial condition, mud pressed together enough to petrify and push back.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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