Local’s daily walks turn into construction lessons

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CHARTING THE PROGRESS — Naples resident Sonny Berman pauses during his walk along the Causeway. Berman has been watching construction activity almost daily for the past year. (De Busk Photo)

NAPLES – Longtime resident Sonny Berman walks daily. Since fall 2010, those walks have been a little bit longer, and a whole lot more interesting because a bridge is being built in his hometown.

Actually, as Berman points out, construction is going on in every corner of the Causeway. But, in particular, he likes to joke with his wife that he is taking a walk to build the bridge that will replace the one he saw christened in 1954. He did not witness the construction of the existing swing bridge, as his full-time legal career kept him busy then.

Now retired, watching the construction is part of Berman’s daily exercise routine.

“When I get home, my wife asks me what I learned today. I said, ‘I learned how to set a manhole,’ ” said Berman who is 82 years old.

On Tuesday, Berman learned from the Wyman & Simpson construction crew the difference between cement and concrete.

Cement is the ingredient that is used to make concrete, he was told.

On Tuesday, a row of cement-mixing trucks was lined up on the construction site — the goal was to pour 460 yards of concrete under water to create the coffer dam seal on the east abutment of the bridge, according to Maine Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Craig Hurd.

Each truck carried a load of 10 yards of concrete, he said.

The job on the east abutment, which ended up requiring 520 yards of concrete, was finished Tuesday night, he said. “We had to turn on the lights,” Hurd said.

Dragon Products Company was subcontracted by Wyman & Simpson to supply the product, cement-mixing trucks and drivers.

Early next week, crews will pump out the water sitting on top of the concrete and continue work there, Hurd said.

The Wyman & Simpson employees said the concrete had already hardened in the area that was done earlier in the morning.

During Tuesday morning’s walk, a fellow retiree joined Berman on the Naples Bridge. After the two men exchanged greetings, they watched the work for awhile.

POURING — A crew from Wyman & Simpson Inc. poured concrete to create the coffer dam seal on the east abutment of the future bridge Tuesday. This part of the project used 520 yards of concrete, which arrived in 46 truckloads from Dragon Products Company of Portland. (De Busk Photo)

Berman said it is impressive that one crew member operates the concrete pump with a remote control on his belt, instead of controls located inside the cab of the heavy machinery.

“It looks like my grandson’s remote control for his toy car,” he said.

Hurd said, “Everything is video games now-a-days.” He added that the remote control allows the operator to stand closer to the area where the concrete was being poured, and “makes it easier to get it to the right spot.”

The four crew members did not exchange many words (until they were between pours). Instead, a series of hand signals did the talking to the worker wearing the remote-control belt.

Berman said he had half-expected the truck to back up and dump the concrete mixture into place. Instead, the concrete-pouring machine appeared like a Dr. Seuss illustration. The yellow pump was attached to hydraulic arms, with elbows that bent every 50 feet to accommodate pouring concrete from a great distance above.

“The contractor owns and leases some bizarre-looking contraptions,” Berman said.

“I became intrigued with the work being done and became most impressed with the effort, efficiency and devotion that the men and women of the prime contractor, Wyman & Simpson, were exerting,” he said.

“I have no engineering training and began to appreciate the details of each aspect of the work being done,” he said.

“I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of (Superintendent) Jeff Simpson, and had numerous interesting chats with him. His kindness and patience in explaining details has been most appreciated,” Berman said. “Jeff is very personable,” he said.

From previous conversations and mornings on the construction site, Berman learned about the tongue-in-groove-style metal used to protect the boardwalk against water erosion. He watched the massive material lifted by crane and put in place along Long Lake.

Another time, “while I was yapping with one of the guys driving the truck, he told me it takes one hour of labor to wash down the inside of the (cement mixer) before getting another load,” Berman said.

He does not just collect construction trivia. Berman said he was incredibly impressed with the safety-related protocol as well as the care taken in every detail.

“I once observed a huge grid of steel beams for the floor on one of the new replacement docks being removed from its placement at lakeside because of an error of about one inch,” he said.

The contractor used a global-positioning satellite (GPS) to build the replacement docks in the same spot, except the docks began closer to the water, because Route 302 had been widened, Berman said.

He said each time crew members had to work above the water, which happened while building the decking for the docks, they wore life preservers.

He was amazed this summer after a crane boom fell into the water, Wyman & Simpson crews went out and cut the boom and had it cleared for boat traffic in 10 minutes.

Recently, after Berman got home his wife, Pat, asked him if the construction crew knew he would be gone for three months to winter in Florida. His wife asked him jokingly: “What will they do without you?”

“Yeah, I am going to miss it,” he said, of his daily walks along the Causeway construction site.

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