Docks Redux, ramping up for the future

Fri, 07/29/2016 - 12:00pm

After the cables and hook were attached to the boom, the crane lifted the gray slab of diamond plate steel. Then, the usual suspects, Josh Linda, John Tally, Gary Champlin, and Joel and Liam Kenneway guided the mass to the place where they could begin working. After the crane left, out came the helmets, grinding wheels, torches and rods. The steel would be measured and cut by the aforementioned. The pin that connects the two sections of diamond plate, which allows cars and trucks to drive onto the ferry had to be replaced — the hinges, too. That day, Interstate Navigationstarted ramping up for the future, which it’s been doing ever since I’ve been working there since the mid-’70s. The future is always clear and present at the ferry dock.

I lose count of the changes I’ve witnessed at the docks. In the ’70s, I remember raising the ferry ramp by hand — with blocks and chain — when the boats tied up at the end of the State Pier. It was hard work especially after a long day. In the ’80s, more boats arrived, along with a bigger building to house ticket and freight operations. (The photograph reveals that period. Note how small the car loading area looks.) In that particular space, I witnessed the ferry company doing an expansive operation for its infrastructure, and its future. It was 1991, and it was a noisy summer.

Galilee is built on a barrier beach. It’s essentially a sand dune. The bulkheads along the harbor’s waterfront keep the water and sand separated — steel in the water is nothing new. Just sayin’. Over time, and because rust never sleeps, the bulkheads must be replaced or reinforced. In the ’80s, the ferry company added a new docking space and another ramp for loading vehicles. Subsequently, during that decade the amount of usage of that space increased. Furthermore, a structural project was necessary below the parking lot in order for the ferry company to move into the future. It was a big project, but commerce marched on as the work was done — the ferries never missed a beat and the schedule was never compromised. The boats came in and the boats left on time — one of life’s certainties in Point Judith. The underground project involved digging and reinforcement. I sometimes wonder how we pulled off working around this major undertaking. 

First of all, the excavators came in and dug out the parking lot. During this part of the project we loaded cars onto the ramp on the other side of the main ferry building. We would stage cars on the street, and unload freight on the State Pier. Moreover, while the excavators did the digging, there was a barge with a crane that was driving the steel bulkhead into the harbor bottom — in front of the existing and careworn steel. In that decade, they did not vibrate the steel into the sand, they pounded the steel bulkhead into position. “Rat-tat-tat” is what we heard all day long that summer, and it was a very loud and annoying “Rat-tat-tat.” I remember the sound well.

Secondly, below the sidewalk along Great Island Road, a form was built and concrete was poured — a “dead man.” This wall was a main part of the reinforcement for the bulkhead. There were several long lengths of steel rods, which connected the new sheet steel pile to said dead man. Once the rods were in place and connected through the steel and concrete, they were twisted and torqued firmly into place. These steel rods were a key element to the overall structural design — good engineering. Today, they keep the aforementioned sand and water separated.

Thirdly, after all of the sheet steel pile was driven into place, and the rods were embedded and connected, the whole operation below the parking lot was filled in gravel and sand. Then, the bulkhead was capped with a steel cover to shed water into the harbor. Finally, the parking lot was paved over with asphalt, and lines were painted — east to west — to delineate vehicle lanes. Today the car lanes go north and south. (The next time you’re waiting to board the ferry, think of what is below you.) The design and engineering were well planned and executed.

Later in the ’90s, new docks were refurbished to accommodate the expanding fleet. Additionally, the freight operation was moved north. I clearly remember when the Northeast Lobster building was taken down after it was gutted. It was another big job. There was this guy driving a backhoe with pincers, and he dis-assembled the steel building after it was knocked down.  People would stop and watch this guy work; he made it look easy. He would pick through the rubble and place the beams and sheet steel into neat piles. Later, trucks would come and he’d neatly fill them. This adept guy was a pleasure to watch over the course of several days. Again, the future was happening if you were paying attention.

After several days of cutting, measuring, welding, and replacing the worn hinges along with the new pin, the ramp was lifted snugly back into place. The aforementioned guys worked hard — during some nasty weather — to do what needed to be done. Just as that particular job was completed, the M/V Anna C came into the ferry slip — she also needed work to be done before the upcoming summer season. Presently, in this current decade after another long winter at the ferry docks there is another sign of the future. New forklifts have arrived to move everyone’s freight up and onto the new ramp — the future is now.