I hope everyone in the Northeast US didn’t have too much trouble with winter storm Nemo this past weekend! I was supposed to go to visit my family for my Gram’s surprise 80th birthday party, but Nemo had other plans and dropped 3 feet of snow on New England. People are still digging out, trying to clear roads and driveways enough to let cars pass. I’m glad I chose to stay in Pennsylvania this weekend – we got about 1/2 inch of snow that melted within hours!
Despite not going to Connecticut, my time has not been entirely free. I’m about to round the two-month mark for my Professional Engineering exam – in just under 60 days, I will (hopefully, as soon as I get my letter allowing me to register) be sitting for an 8-hour test that measures the past 4 1/2 years of my professional life, as well as the previous 4 years of my life as a college student.
The test is supposed to measure my competency in both engineering in general (civil, structural, construction, transportation), and my specific field of focus (water and wastewater and environmental engineering). So this weekend I really buckled down and studied – for hours and hours. While the test is multiple choice (and should therefore be pretty easy), they select the answer choices so that if you do not calculate it exactly, you can’t easily guess at the answer.
So – to honor my commitment to engineering, today’s post card is from the Hoover Dam!
The Hoover Dam was the first time I actually remember being impressed by things designed by engineers. I was 13 years old, on a 3-week cross country trip with my family, and we stopped at the Hoover Dam between our stay in Las Vegas and our trip to the Grand Canyon.
My dad is an engineer, so of course we had to take a tour of the inside of the dam. I’m not sure if we took the tour as more of a learning experience for my brother and me, or if we took the tour because my dad was interested!
Either way, I remember being incredibly impressed that they built such a large structure in only 5 years! While I was growing up, my dad undertook several “construction projects” in our backyard. He built a retaining wall at the foot of our sloped yard, he built a large wooden building to house tools and other items, and he built an above ground pool for us (when the sides wouldn’t meet by about 2″, my dad took it as an opportunity to teach me geometry, as a fifth grader, to determine how much we had to change the radius of the curved ends of the oval pool to make the sides meet). All of these projects required major earthworks (i.e. renting a backhoe or other earth moving equipment), and they each took several months at a minimum.
Obviously the scale of our backyard projects and the Hoover Dam are nearly incomparable, but even at such a young age I realized that 5 years to build a massive structure of concrete was a blink of an eye. (For comparison, consider that even with modern construction methods and equipment, the bridge at the Hoover Dam took 5 years to build. The Three Gorges Dam in China took almost 20 years from start to finish.)
Even now, I’m awestruck by construction. I am currently working on two construction projects for upgrades to existing wastewater treatment plants, which are each approximately 2 years in duration. The sheer complexity of these projects make me wonder how on earth anything got constructed before the age of computers, when emails and excel files could be used to track all of the details in real-time.