View fascinating video footage and browse through a photo gallery from DN Editor-in-Chief John Dodge's trip to the Welland Canal.
One of the great things about my job as editor-in-chief is the cool things I get to do. Given my abiding love of big machines and structures, a favorite visit of mine was the day at the Welland Canal on an appropriately chilly and overcast day in early November.
I knew this repowering story was a winner the moment Jim Lambert from Bosch Rexroth described it to me at National Manufacturing Week in September. Not only would it lend itself to great photos and video, it was a uniquely large and complex fluid power project. If there's one thing I've learned in my 18 months at Design News, engineers like metal, power and machines even if they don't work directly with them. Covering such topics is refreshing after 25 years following the less visual and visceral worlds of electronics and computers.
Watching a lock drain or fill 24 million gallons of water in seven to 10 minutes is an impressive sight. The three major lock sets in the St. Lawrence Seaway account for the difference in elevation between the Great Lakes, which maximally is 355 ft between Lake Superior, the highest lake and Lake Ontario, the lowest. All but a few feet of that drop occur in the Welland Canal separating lakes Erie and Ontario. The original machinery that made the locks work for 75 years was simple, but required constant maintenance and was subject to breakdowns. The new hydraulic systems are even simpler and require less maintenance.
Our day began with an hour and a half of interviews in the St. Catherines, Ontario offices of the Seaway, but I was itching to get on the locks where we could spend about three to four hours checking out the new hydraulic equipment and observing ships passing through. Most of our time was spent on the twinned flight locks (4, 5 and 6), which are consecutive locks with lanes in each direction. Walking across the gangway atop a pair of closed gates to the center pier was made more a thrill by my camcording.
Luckily, Nov. 9 was a busy day in the canal: close-up, we observed two grain carriers, a tug towing a barge carrying metal fabrications and a freighter with wind turbine blades lashed to its deck. And we saw more ships waiting their turn in the distance. A large vessel way up there one moment and way down there the next is a unique sensation. The public cannot access the areas I did so check out our exclusive photos and videos.
The ships squeeze through locks with scarcely a foot to spare on either side. They constantly scrape the massive concrete lock walls which require periodic repairs. Several times we went underground to observe Taintor valves which fill and drain the locks, always by gravity (no pumps required). Watching the old Taintor valve mechanisms and gate winch/rope system on the north side of Lock 3 was a treat if not a bit historic. After 75 years, this collection of racks and pinions, motors, counterweights and gears would operate for about another 45 days and then would be replaced by the new hydraulic systems. Fortunately, I caught it on video for posterity.
If you'd like to know more about the Welland Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway, a comprehensive study published in October is fascinating reading not only because the Seaway is one of North America's most vital industrial waterways, but also for its economic, ecological and environmental impact on the massive region it serves.
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