December 1995: Water Supply in Honolulu

By: C. S. Papacostas

A few days ago, I chanced upon Bulletin 5 of the Hawaii Division of Hydrography, U.S. Geological Survey. This 1940 publication contained a Supplement to the Geology and Ground-Water Resources of the Island of Oahu written by Harold T. Stearns. The report's purpose was to "bring up to date the progress in ground-water development on Oahu since Bulletin 1 was issued in 1935." During that period, ten shafts were constructed that could deliver 100 million gallons of water per day. The report indicates that "these shafts are classified as Maui-type, Lanai-type, and Oahu-type, according to the geologic structures penetrated and whether or not the ground water is floating upon salt water." The document contains a wealth of water-related, geological and geotechnical data. The meticulousness with which the professionals of yesteryear conducted their studies and prepared their reports is truly impressive!

Stearns even quotes Mark Twain who wrote the following in his 1866 Letters from the Sandwich Islands:

"The water is pure, sweet, cool, clear as a crystal, and comes from a spring in the mountains, and is distributed all over the town through leaden pipes. You can find a hydrant spirting away at the bases of three or four trees is a single yard, sometimes, so plentiful and cheap is this excellent water. Only twenty-four dollars a year supplies a whole household with a limitless quantity of it."

Stearns comments that "in spite of the great change in economic conditions and population during the past 75 years, these words are still pertinent, even to the cost, although most of the water comes from wells rather than from springs and is distributed through a modern pipe system."

Saying nothing about "leaden" pipes, I imagine that, in 1940, Stearns would have difficulty envisioning today's concerns about water supply, quality, and the need for conservation and reuse.

October 1995: Traffic Signals

By: C. S. Papacostas

A few weeks ago, Arthur Zysk of West Milford, New Jersey posed the following question on a transportation-related newsgroup to which I belong:

"Does anyone know when and where the first traffic signal in the U.S was installed? Our town is planning a festival celebrating our first signal and we would like some trivia for fun."

In response, Colin R. Leech of Napean, Ontario, Canada extracted the following information from several references: "The first traffic signals were manually operated semaphores which were first used in London as early as 1868. The first electric traffic signal was developed by James Hoge in 1913 and first used in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914. This device appears to be the origin of the 3-color signal which spread across the country in the early 1920's. Interconnected signals were first used in Salt Lake City in 1917. The first progressive system was proposed in 1922. The first actuated signals were installed in New Haven, East Norwalk and Baltimore in 1928."

​Michael Lilly of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission added that "there is a small rural town called Ashville, Ohio located about 15 miles south of Columbus, Ohio that boasts of the first traffic signal in the country. They even have the thing on display in a local museum." Jill Hough of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute disagreed: "Sorry to rain of Ashville, Ohio's parade, but the first 4-way traffic signal honors goes to Detroit. In 1920 at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Fort Street. The light was designed and patented by William Potts who worked for the Detroit Police Department."

September 1995: Ala Wai Canal

By: C. S. Papacostas

Much of our knowledge about civil engineering is transmitted orally from one generation to the next. This month's entry is an example of this oral tradition. Greg Maesaka of Tanimura & Associates, Consulting Structural Engineers, paid attention to a lecture by Walter Lum and was so impressed that he put the following article together:

"Have you ever passed by the Ala Wai Canal and thought to yourself: 'Gosh, what an eyesore!' Well, like most other people I did. That is, until I was enlightened by a seminar about the Ala Wai Canal given by Walter Lum in one of my graduate courses at the University of Hawaii.

In 1898, most of what is Waikiki today consisted of marshlands used for fish or duck ponds and rice paddies. In 1906, Lucius Pinkham, president of the Board of Health, saw the potential of Waikiki as a resort. He proposed the idea for the Ala Wai Canal which would collect the discharge of flow from the Makiki, Manoa, and Palolo streams diverting them from Waikiki. It was not until 1913, however, when Pinkham became the territorial governor of Hawaii, that his plans for the canal started to become a reality. Construction started in 1922 and was completed in 1926. Soon after, in 1928, the construction of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was completed, marking the beginning of Waikiki as a world-class tourist attraction.

The Ala Wai Canal represents a great piece of engineering. Though unanticipated in its original design, the portion of the canal between the McCully Bridge and the Manoa-Palolo Drainage Canal behaves as a silting basin trapping silt sediments brought downstream from the three major streams. Also, with favorable trade winds and shoreline ocean currents, most of the sediments from the canal are usually carried out to the open sea without washing back to shore. This phenomenon is known as 'perimeter drainage.' Hence, the deposition of mud and silts to the world famous beaches of Waikiki is kept to a minimum.

​From an economic point of view, without the Ala Wai Canal, Waikiki may never have developed into the worldwide tourist attraction it is today. Waikiki, the cornerstone of the tourism industry in Hawaii, provides more than a third of the property taxes received by the city of Honolulu. Hence, the value of the Ala Wai Canal is immeasurable.

So, next time you pass by the Ala Wai Canal, perhaps you will see it in a different light: a great engineering and economic achievement."

August 1995: Geotechnical Engineering

By: C. S. Papacostas

It is a generally accepted fact that Soil Mechanics, as a distinct area of endeavor, was introduced to the United States by Karl Terzaghi in 1925. According to "Civil Engineering: Its Contributions to Progress in Hawaii" (a 1957 booklet issued by the Hawaii Section of ASCE to celebrate its 50th anniversary), Carl B. Andrews was one of Terzaghi's early students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After Andrews joined the University of Hawaii in the late 1920s, he began offering courses of study in soil mechanics and foundation engineering.

The booklet also tells us that "soil mechanics took on a special meaning in Hawaii in 1927 with the building of Alexander Dam on Kauai ... [that] was to be one of the highest hydraulic fill dams in the West to capture water for plantation use. Unfortunately during construction it failed. The failure attracted much interest in the engineering community, including the attention of Karl Terzaghi. Under the guidance of Joel Cox, a civil engineer, and through correspondence with Terzaghi, the dam was reconstructed. Today, at 119-ft. high, it is one of the highest hydraulic fill dams in the western United States."

The first full-time consulting practice in Hawaii that specialized exclusively in soil mechanics and foundation engineering was started in 1957 by K. Bert Hirashima who had previously served as the engineer in charge at the materials laboratory of the Territory of Hawaii. Hirashima was also one of the first people to write about the engineering properties of Hawaiian soils. His paper, entitled "Highway Experience with Thixotropic Clay," was published in 1948.

July 1995: Structural Failures/Innovation

By: C. S. Papacostas

This month's entry was submitted by Harold S. Hamada who, as it is customary by now, will receive a compimentary ticket to an upcoming dinner meeting. Harold's philosophical side is evident in this piece, as he "toys" with the ideas of creativity and innovation; his practical side is also present in the form of a concrete (in both senses of the word!) example. He writes:

"Major structural failures are usually the result of insufficient attention to detail. The Hanshin Elevated Expressway pier failure during the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 17, 1995, is an excellent example: Photos taken after the disaster indicate that the "butt" welded vertical reinforcement failed at the weld. Apparently, the welding process transformed the reinforcement to behave in a brittle manner in the weld region.

Was this mode of splicing the vertical steel the best method? Most engineers routinely detail their drawings following conventional practice, and this might have been the basis of the original design of the piers. However, when failure occurs, the engineer is painfully reminded of how critical splice details are in a structure. This is an admonition that Alfred Yee, the prominent member of Hawaii's structural engineering community, has given on many occasions to civil engineering students at the University of Hawaii.

​Regarding splices, Mr. Yee holds a patent on an innovative mechanical connection: It is composed of a hollow cylindrical steel sleeve that serves as a connector of two steel rods. The region between the sleeve and the rods is filled with grout. The composite acts as a unit and is stronger than the reinforcing steel being connected. Mr. Yee explained that the inspiration for this idea came from a toy with which most of us are familiar. The toy, probably invented in ancient China, is one in which the forefingers of the right and left hands are inserted into a hollow cylinder constructed with woven paper strips. If one tries to separate the fingers, the toy increases its hold on them and prevents withdrawal.

To escape the grip of the toy, one must move the fingers towards each other.

Like the toy, Mr. Yee's mechanical connector increases its hold on the reinforcement with the application of tensile force. Unlike the toy, however, the connector can transmit compressive forces. The point of this article is to show that innovations are conceived in many ways. Often, engineering innovations lay dormant in the recesses of our childhood memory. How to access this information and turn it into useful engineering products is a matter worthy of contemplation."

June 1995: Tetrapods and Tribars

By: C. S. Papacostas

​This month's theme may be called "the saga of tetrapods and tribars!" The following quote was taken from "Civil Engineering: Its Contributions to Progress in Hawaii," a booklet issued in 1987 as part of the 50th anniversary of the Hawaii Section of ASCE:

"Because the Hawaiian Islands do not have wide coastal shelves, many of the coastal areas are subject to large and destructive waves generated by distant storms, as well as by submarine seismic disturbances. Ever since their construction, the rubblemound breakwaters at Nawiliwili Harbor, Kauai, and Kahului Harbor, Maui, had been repeatedly damaged by storm waves. Following severe damage in 1954, the [Corps of Engineers] repaired the two breakwaters at Kahului by using 33-ton concrete 'tetrapods,' a french invention, for which the Corps of Engineers paid royalties. Then, in November 1958, a great storm, accompanied by 34-foot-high waves, again battered the breakwaters at both Kahului and Nawiliwili and caused major damage.

​Civil Engineer Robert Q. Palmer ... invented a radically new concrete component for armoring breakwaters which he called the 'tribar,' because each unit consisted of three reinforced concrete pillars cast in a triangular pattern. Palmer's design was more effective in stabilizing against wave action than tetrapods or other precast concrete components then in use. They were first used in Nawiliwili Harbor but initial use of tribars at Nawiliwili was experimental. The first 598 18-ton tribars [were] cast in September 1958.

Rehabilitation of the breakwater was completed in February 1959. The tribars got their first test later that year when they withstood the fury of Hurricane Dot. In subsequent years, a careful surveillance program evaluated their structural durability. The conclusions reached were that not only was Palmer's invention effective against storms, but it was economical as well."

May 1995: Transcontinental Railroads

By: C. S. Papacostas

This month, we have a winner! Delwin Ching, the scholarly past president of the Section, submitted the following entry via e-mail:

"A long time ago, crossing the American continent took six months by ox-drawn wagon! Today, in an age when we can cross the country by air in five hours, it requires imagination to appreciate the historical significance of the first transcontinental railroad. The linking of the continent by 1,766 miles of trunk-line railroad over mountains, rivers and deserts was a turning point in American history. It signalled the opening of the West and the emergence of a unified nation. And the rail trip then took six to seven days.

In the early 19th century, people of vision foresaw transcontinental travel by rail. And it took engineers to turn the idea into reality. In 1862, the U.S. Congress authorized the Central Pacific Railroad to build a railroad eastward from Sacramento and, in the same ac, chartered the Union Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific broke ground in January 1863 and the Union Pacific that December, but neither made much headway while the country's attention was diverted by the Civil War.

At the war's end, labor and supplies became available and work progressed rapidly. Surveyors, working hundreds of miles ahead, set no grade steeper than 116 feet of rise per mile. Engineers had to design the cuts and fills. Workers built high wooden trestles and dug tunnels, as designed by engineers. And the two railroad companies finally met.

The Joining of the Rails of the Transcontinental Railroad was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1968 by the ASCE. A bronze plaque denoting the landmark can be seen at the Golden Spike National Historic Site 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah."

Delwin poses the following four questions:

  1. When and where did this event take place?

  2. What is the name of the ceremony that took place?

  3. How was the nation informed that the event took place?

  4. By what route did the Central Pacific Railroad ship its supplies, such as locomotives, rail, and spikes, to build its portion of the railroad? (Hint: The Panama Canal is not the answer.)


  1. Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869

  2. The Golden Spike Ceremony

  3. By telegraph. The telegraph operator flashed the letters: D O N E

  4. Around Cape Horn, 15,000 miles.

April 1995: University of Hawaii

By: C. S. Papacostas

This month's historical note has to do with the University of Hawaii. The related question is "what were the circumstances surrounding the construction of the Campus Road?"

We would like to remind the ASCE membership that a complimentary dinner-meeting ticket awaits those whose entry relating to a historical civil engineering event is selected for inclusion in this column. Just fax your entry to C. S. Papacostas at 956-5014.

And now, back to Campus Road. In 1911, four years after its establishment, the school was renamed College of Hawaii and was moved to Manoa from its temporary quarters near Thomas Square. By that time, Arthur R. Keller had joined John Mason Young on the engineering faculty. And then, as the College of Engineering archives explain:

"Keller concocted a project to test materials and methods of road construction to which the City of Honolulu contributed equipment, the Territory contributed materials, and Keller, with his engineering students, provided plans, supervision and materials testing. When the project ended, the City and the Territory had valuable data for specifications for road construction and Campus Road had been paved at no cost to the University."

March 1995: Benjamin Franklin

By: C. S. Papacostas

Civil Engineering is the oldest and broadest of the engineering disciplines; its antecedents date back to the beginning of civilization. "Know Your CE Heritage" is what we hope will become a regular feature of the WILIKI. It is meant to be a forum where ASCE members can share information about the profession's illustrious history. For example, our search of historical archives uncovered a fascinating letter from which we quote the following excerpt:

"I think it would be saving money to engage, by a handsome salary, an engineer from here... [A] single Mistake thro' inexperience in such important Works, may cost much more than the Expense of Salary to an ingenious young Man ... This the Irish have learned at a dear rate in the first attempt of their great Canal, and now are endeavoring to get Smeaton to come and rectify their Errors."

The question is: Who wrote this letter, to whom, when and why? But before we present the answers, we would like to invite you to submit your own contributions to this column. If your contribution is selected for inclusion in a future issue, you will receive a complimentary ticket to an upcoming monthly dinner meeting. So, please sharpen your pencils and your minds and send your bit of CE lore to: C. S. Papacostas, Dept. of Civil Engineering, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822 (fax: 956-5014).

​And now, the answers: This obvious endorsement of qualifications-based procurement was written in 1772 by Benjamin Franklin to the Mayor of Philadelphia in reference to the construction of a canal. Franklin was concerned that selecting the low bid could result in the disastrous consequences faced by the Irish. Incidentally, John Smeaton was the first English-speaking engineer on record to attach the title "Civil Engineer" to his name. Of course, these days Civil Engineering is more inclusive than it was then and an "ingenious young Woman" would also be perfectly suitable.

History & Heritage 1995

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