Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TBMs, the wonder of, plus Saint Turibius

Those of you who are among the cognoscenti of heavy machinery (the sort of thing I associate with the precautions on my Dramamine bottle, as in “Do not use Heavy Machinery when taking this drug.”) have surely heard of the TBM, Tunnel Boring Machine.
But it is, was, new to me and 2 days after my introduction to the TBM the awe and wonder of it persists.
Sunday I attended a lecture at the annual meeting of FOCA (Friends of the Old Croton, my beloved, Aqueduct) about sandhogs, given by a veritable sandhog. He told us that yes, he has a PhD in Geology, but sandhogging pays better.
His PowerPoint included photographs of the above-mentioned TBM,
a machine so huge, so expensive, and so powerful that it can bore through 115 feet of rock a day. This, as compared to the 35 feet that can be accomplished in a day using the old Drill and Blast (D&B) method.
But how, you may well, ask, does the TBM get down into the tunnel? It is dismantled, taken down a 20 feet diameter shaft and then reassembled, subterraneally. As our lecturer pointed out, this guarantees employment to the assemblers and disassemblers.

At the front end of the TBM is a large shield with a rotating cutting wheel on which there are numerous cutter heads to chip away the rock, and behind or around the cutting wheel are rotating buckets that remove the excavated soil. An enormous hydraulic earthworm moves the machine forward, in mere hours gnawing its way through the rock that took billions of years to form.
Our lecturer described his work in the tunnels under NYC, which is enough to give one pause next time you step on the subway or drink tap water but of course there are TBMs tunneling under the Yangtze River in China, in the Gotthard Tunnel in the Alps, all over the world. For more pictures, go here and here.

Back when the Incas and their llamas were walking up and down the Andes there were no tunnels to shorten their route, and things were difficult in other ways as well. The conquistadors came. Which brings us (Yes, it’s a leap) to Saint Turibius de Mongrobejo.
For those interested in the history of New World canonization (See my new book, Absent a Miracle! Buy it! No one will be canonized! ), as I am, Turibius of Mongrobejo is not to be missed. According to Butler his feast day was yesterday, the 27th, but everyone else gives it as March 23, the day of his death.
More to the point is that in a pantheon filled with luminaries whose claims to sainthood are apocryphal, dubious, gruesome or weird, Turibius seems to have been a genuinely good and incredibly busy person.
He was sent as bishop to Lima in 1581 to clean up the mess (corruption, slavery, terrible abuses against the native population) made by the Spanish Conquistadors. Initially, he resisted the appointment on the grounds that he wasn’t even a priest, never mind a bishop. That technicality was quickly dealt with, and he sailed to Peru.
As soon as he arrived in 1581, he started reforming the rapacious and venal clergy he found there. This did not make him popular in certain quarters, but he persevered. He traveled tirelessly though his diocese, which consisted of all of Peru. He learned several Indian dialects and was able to speak directly to the people. He died in 1606, leaving all his property to the poor. St. Rose of Lima (another perpetual virgin, she rubbed her face with pepper and lye to disguise her beauty) was the first New World saint, but Turibius was the one who confirmed her.

1 comment:

Diggitt said...

Oh, I love those machines and even more, the City of Ember Underground site. So many wonderful places to go! So little time!