Around Moretrench: Wallace Hayward Baker Award Highlights a History of Innovation

April 27, 2015

When Vice President of Engineering Paul Schmall, Ph.D., P.E., received the 2015 Wallace Hayward Baker Award in March for “ingenious innovation in the field of ground modification...resourceful development of a new technology or the creative application of existing technology...”, the occasion was more than a great source of pride for the Moretrench family.  It also served to remind us that innovation is deeply rooted in the company culture.

Paul would be one of the first to say that finding new and better ways to resolve construction challenges is ‘in the blood’ at Moretrench.  Indeed, a landmark invention is the reason that Moretrench as we know it exists. That invention was the first practical wellpoint and  came about  in 1924 when company founder Thomas Moore, then head of a trenching machine company, was faced with a dilemma.  A trenching contractor that he had leased a machine to had encountered Bull’s Liver silts that effectively slowed pipe laying to almost a standstill.  Moore took over the contract and set to work experimenting in his kitchen sink until he had a wellpoint that worked in these difficult soils. His wellpoint revolutionized the dewatering  industry and changed the direction of the company.

Innovation and resourcefulness continued to punctuate the Moretrench timeline. In the 1950s, steel sheeting was specified for water cut-off through  a stratum of openwork gravel to allow dewatering of the excavation for the Kammer Power Plant.  But steel sheeting was in short supply and the project was on the fast track. Over a million gallons of bentonite-cement grout developed in the Moretrench laboratory successfully sealed the gravel, in what was thought to be the first extensive use for such a purpose.  Excavation for the Humble Oil Building in Houston was accomplished with a specially designed ejector system,  one of the first uses of ejectors for construction dewatering.  And an early company  belief in ground freezing for the urban construction environment was instrumental in bringing a European concept to the attention of the wider American marketplace.

Today, ground freezing  is used for many different applications, particularly in the tunneling industry, and Moretrench is in the forefront.  For Boston’s Big Dig, Moretrench used mass freezing to allow jacking of massive box tunnels. This remains the single largest ground freezing project ever undertaken in the United States.  More recently, at the East Side Access Northern Boulevard Crossing in Queens, NY, horizontal ground freezing, compensation grouting, and provision for soil extraction below the water table – another Moretrench first  –  were critical components.

“Paul’s award underscores what Moretrench is all about,” notes President and CEO Art Corwin, P.E. “We have always thrived on finding a better way to accomplish the job. And we’re not done yet. Not by a long way.