The Pipes With The Broken Bells

I hope I can explain this without it become too technical and going right over your head. But I saw a segment on How It’s Made (it was the next one after watching sanitary napkins being made) about making reinforced concrete pipes. I videoed the TV screen for a short while to give you some idea of what this little story is all about. That clip will be at the bottom of the page.

I had a project for the City of Austin one time that was running a 48” wastewater line right beside and back and forth across Onion Creek in far South Austin. It was about 15,000 LF in length.

We had very high hopes for a very successful project. I think it was in the winter of 1986. Being along the creek having an exceptionally wet year didn’t get us off to a very good start. We persevered and with some very innovative thinking we solved many problems and we came along at an amazing click.

Then we detected that we had a severe problem on our hands. Almost every joint after being installed for a period of time started crack which allowed an enormous amount of water to enter our pipe. Our pipe that was suppose to be watertight.

The pipe manufacturer sent teams of people out to inspect and make repairs by injecting expensive sealants in the cracked joints.

That was when the finger point got underway. The pipe manufacturer claimed that we had mishandled the pipe, that we had not installed it properly and anything they could think of to place the blame on us.

That’s when we went on defense. These people were questioning my integrity and abilities. That wasn’t going to work.

We noticed that the pipe, on the bell ends were looking sub par. Of course with some wet mortar, you can smear it around on a piece of concrete and make it look good.

I got on the phone and found a fellow out in San Francisco that was a world leading expert on concrete pipe manufacturing and hired him to come to Texas.

He got on the next plane and headed to Austin. It was a big deal, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Once he got here and we went to the pipe plant we discovered immediately what was happening. Each time they dropped concrete in the form, it would take like 45 minutes for the next form to be ready to cast. They were leaving a small amount of concrete in the chute that would come out first when starting on the next pipe. Of course that old concrete would go to the bottom of the pipe, the bell end where all the problems were happening.

Our expert wrote up his report. That was the late afternoon on a Friday. I called the plant manager to tell him what we had found. He had already left for the day. I requested that he meet me the next morning. He refused to come in on the weekend. I called the division manager, Tom, that was located in Houston. I knew him personally, as we both sat on an advisory board for an association.

He called and had them to shut down the pipe casting operation for that next day. He was there first thing Monday morning. He was not a happy man. The general manager was fired, and several people in the plant were reassigned duties. Tom brought in some people from Houston to help get their house in order. He was a very wise man to recognize that we weren’t playing games.

The pipe that was already installed was all repaired in place and new pipe was made for use to finish the rest of the project. He help us with a settlement negotiation that compensated our company for all harm that we had sustained.

Overall it ended up costing the pipe manufacturer almost $2 million dollars because they tried to save a few cubic feet of concrete on each pour. $2 million was a lot of money 35 years ago.

I heard that they rewrote the company procedures for how pipe casting was done as a result of this incident.

The Video From “How It’s Made”.

I am working to fix this video link – stay tuned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s