Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shelter 3 at the Waterways Experiment Station


In the previous essay, I described how the Waterways Experiment Station formerly conducted numerous tests using hydraulic models. Some were outside, like the famous Mississippi Basin Model in Clinton (see the December 2010 update). But most models were inside shelters or hangars to keep them out of the weather and limit dirt and debris.

Shelter 3 is an example. There is nothing glamorous about it; it is just a steel roof over a dirt floor. When complete, it sheltered 97,300 square feet of model space. Most of this shelter will be torn down soon, so the models were dismantled and miscellaneous equipment was moved out in 2010.

(Notice the "blooming" around the windows and doors. This is diffraction that occurs when the source of light is many stops brighter than the main part of the image. It is worse with small-sensor point-and-shoot cameras. High-speed black and white film would have responded similarly because of the thickness of the emulsion, but a thin, low-speed film like Kodak Panatomic-X would have minimized the blooming. The quality of the lens coating and the number of elements also affects diffraction.)

Until the building is demolished, it serves as a convenient place for employees to park cars. In a 1949 aerial photograph of the lab, a low wood shelter occupies this location, but in a 1981 photograph, this steel building is present. Many of the World War II-era wood shelters were replaced with steel in the 1960s.


A few treasures remain. A sizable collection of file cabinets and map cases contain old project files. As time goes by and technicians retire, fewer and fewer remain who remember what the files pertain to. It is unlikely that a hydraulic model would ever be rebuilt, but most Corps of Engineers projects, such as locks, dams, and waterways, last for centuries, so the data in the files may be of value in the future. But how will these files be stored and organized? Eventually the bugs and mildew will eat the paper if they don't move the files to a climate-controlled space.

There is still one model in the north part of the shed, but I have not seen it used in a long time. It was a section model of the Dalles on the Columbia River. You see a number of odd little footprints in the soft dirt, probably raccoon. There are also fox on station


The south side of the shelter was used by a joint Corps of Engineers and U.S. Geological Survey program that developed and calibrated river sediment samplers. Measuring how much suspended sediment moves down rivers is difficult and labor-intensive because field crews have to cross the river and collect water samples at various depths. Bedload samples are even harder to collect and calibrate.

For the field work, they used sturdy Army Bridge Erection Boats. These were sent away to some other Army base. I like strange heavy-duty equipment like this.

All photographs except the last (the boat) were taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with Lumix 14-45mm lens, tripod-mounted. The in-camera black and white mode is very nice, with results as good as reprocessing the RAW file.

Update April 30, 2012: The shelter is actively being dismantled.

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