Unbuilding the Grace and Pearman Bridges

For Sparky and myself, curiosity drives passion which in turn fuels our life's engine. Our passion was capturing the story of both unbuilding the Grace (1929 - 2007) and Pearman (1966 - 2007) Bridges and discovering the unbuilders. It takes a lot of passion to track a project from July 2005 until April 2007 - rain, shine, hurricanes or moving to Singapore. We discovered the joy of discovery learning. Ken Canty opened the front door for us - then Steve Testa, Ponch Billingsley and Mickey Rogers opened many side doors. Below are the highlights of what we discovered, who we met and what we learned.

And a reminder from T.S. Eliot (East Coker from the Four Quartets)

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

March 9, 2007: Manny and his fetching and toting act

The end is near and Sparky and team have set up the ultimate challenge for me. I am in Basel Switzerland for a Computational Biology conference. Whenever I leave Singapore, it is a challenge to set up and be able to keep up to date with our Unbuilding Project. Whenever I visit a new country, the first thing I do is purchase a prepaid SIM card for that country - in this case, from SwissCom. Inserting this in my mobile phone (purchased in Singapore) provides me for local and international phone service without paying for International Roaming (from SingTel in Singapore). Because Europe and Asia use the GMS mobile phone standard - using this trick works. Within the US, only a few carriers provide GMS service - with Cingular probably being the largest player. However there is a catch. My wife, Ellen, purchased an "international" GMS phone while in the US which she uses with her Cingular card (which is also prepaid for a year). This avoids monthly charges and is a very cost effective way to have US mobile phone service while in the US (only 2 - 3 months/year) but avoiding monthly billing for services not used.

There is a catch, though. Cingular, as most US mobile phone providers will sell you a mobile phone without a contract, but it is "locked" for use only on the Cingular network (which they do not reveal). Consequently when Ellen arrived in Singapore with her brand new Samsung phone - it refused to work with the StarHub SIM card I purshcased in Singapore. While the rest of the world provides purchasing of unlocked mobile phones, not so in the US (sigh). Our solution was to phone Samsung - explain to them the challenge - and by some sort of magic, her phone now works in Singapore.

In many ways its like regional coding for DVDs. Hollywood has come up with a most inconvenient mechanism for limiting the use of DVDs to certain regions. Use the DVD you purchased in the US on a DVD player in Singapore or China or Thailand or Switzerland - forget it.

But you know, competition is wonderful. The non-US part of the world (which dominates the world) by and large, provides unlocked mobile phones at not cost. They provide region free DVD players at not additional cost. The non-US part of the world, realizes that folks do travel. They do make gifts of DVDs to friends in other "regions" - so why disable a DVD or mobile phone in order to enhance customer inconvenience? I realize that there is a marketing argument against this - but the market segment that takes advantage of unlocked phones and region free DVD players is not that huge (my guess without data). In some ways, this same marketing strategy is used within the proprietary software market when compared with the open source software tools. Open source software resources recognize that the operatonal constraints on the end users should be eliminated and so, licenses, such as the GPL (General Public License) as well as the Creative Commons license - are designed to enhance and enable users. For example, I can purchase a DVD at full price. I can purchase a DVD player for my computer, at full price. Can I use it on a Windows or Apple computer - of course (with region coding intact). Can I use the same DVD and DVD player on an open source system (i.e. Unix or GNU/Linux)? Of course not. Where is the logic of this?

Anyway - this is a long story written about 5am in Basel because of 7 hours jet lag between Singapore and Europe. But I want to make a point. The point is Sparky takes photos and provides the bulk of the material for our photo essays. I use my Linux computer to prepare the web pages, add the commentary, upload to our server in Dallas Texas, backup to my server in Plant City Florida - and suddenly you have another chapter for our unbuilding web site.

It appears that slowly the world is realizing that proprietary software, locked mobile phones and region-encoded DVDs fly in the face of traditional "fair use" of purchased items (I know, you don't purchse Windows, you license it but that is another story). Individuals used to be free of industry constraints and trusted to use resources in a "fair use" manner. This trust has been slowly eroded - software piracy is one example. But what drives software piracy? Cost - if the price of software were less than the cost of purchasing pirated software, if DVDs were priced below the price of pirated DVDs - then this black market trade would be gone yesterday. What is the price of reproducing a DVD or Windows CD? Probably less than $1. Of course profits would be hurt. Margins would be cut to the bone - but this is the typical strategy used to foster innovation and creativity. We (i.e. the US) are losing out on innovation and creativity in some areas as a result of the erosion of trust between vendor / manufacturer and customer. The end result is that the US loses out - not Microsoft or Sony or other players within the RIAA entertainment. What do we do to restore trust in our society? What do we do to reenergize innovation and creativity and curiosity

Now a little bit about trust. Trust between vendors and Frank / Sparky is the core of our web sites about building the Ravenel Bridge and the unbuilding the Grace and Pearman Bridges. Wade Watson, Peo, Marvin and many others trusted us to manage our web site of the Ravenel Bridge in a responsible manner. They provided us some safety instruction and turned us loose. Similarly Steve Testa, Ken Canty, Mickey Rogers and others trusted us to bring to you the story of unbuilding the Grace and Pearman Bridges. We have tried to exceed their expectations and trust. For the most part, our (Frank and Sparky) hobby, without salary, enables folks to gain new insights into the building and unbuilding processes that few have observed. School kids see construction in a different light. They see that this industry is one of skill and training. What better reason to finish high school?

We told the story our way. We have lots of email helping us understand what we were seeing - ranging from PBC, Skanska, Freyssinet, Jay Cashman, Testa, the Federal Highway Administration to Dyno-Nobel. For this, we thank the managements as well as SC DOT for trusting us.

Now today's story - as we near the end. This is Manny's day for fetching and toting stuff as Mickey prepares for imploding the last Grace pier. The worksite.


Another view


To contain the lateral distribution of debris - some of the Grace pier have been wrapped with material to constrain debris motion.


In the meantime, clean up continues around the port site


What is left of the Grace mid-span support base


and our friend - the Ravenel Bridge - in the background. Clearly Charleston has a new look - and I like it very much - even from 12 time zones around the world


Manny and team - always full of smiles - looks like Manny has a new cap


Stuff to be moved


Moving something (Sparky will tell me)


This looks like a generator, perhaps for driving a compressor for driving the drills used to prepare the Grace pier


Manny's moving business


and rotating business


Placing the generator


into position


These were driven into the river bed to protect the water wave associated with Mickey's implosion (at least this is my speculaton)


Then preparing to move the other "something"


And moving it


and our hero, Manny - who along with Chris Vocci - were the high lifters - bench pressing 10s of tons as they unbuilt the Grace and Pearman Bridges


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

C. Frank Starmer