March 2015

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Occupying the last available space on the National Mall, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will be situated prominently between the National Museum of American History and 15th Street, N.W., next to the Washington Monument. When it opens to the public in 2016, the museum will be a centerpiece venue for ceremonies and performances, as well as a primary exhibition space for African American history and culture.

Hutchinson International Corp., T/A United Rigging, manned by Local 5 (Washington, DC) ironworkers, performed the hoisting of a 100,000 pound Pullman railcar body, its two 30,000 pound wheel trucks, and a 35,000 pound concrete prison guard tower into the lower level of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Lifted by cranes and then lowered onto the construction site, the artifacts were a first in Smithsonian history — installed with the museum built up around them.

Also working on the museum project with Local 5 ironworkers were Bosworth Steel Erectors in control of the structural steel, American Iron Works installing the miscellaneous steel and Enclos handling the curtain wall. Genesis Steel played a large role in this project installing the rebar with ironworker rodmen from Local 201 (Washington, DC).

Part of the exhibition includes a Pullman railroad car displaying how segregation between races was part of the culture during the “Jim Crow” period. The term “Jim Crow” is used to describe the onerous segregation laws arising after Reconstruction ended in 1877 and continued until the mid-1960s.

Through the years, African American porters and passengers alike began to chip away at the Jim Crow regulations; however, it wasn’t until after World War II and then the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the “separate but equal” laws, pertaining to interstate travel on rail service and later buses, began to be repealed.

First organized in 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1937 won a collective bargaining agreement with the Pullman Company. The BSCP and its president, A. Philip Randolph, fought racial segregation throughout the United States and the South in particular up until the 1960s.

Crews also installed a 21-foot guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, one of the largest maximum-security prisons in the country called “Angola” for the 19th-century plantation that once stood on its land. The interior of the prison tower won’t be accessible to the public, but it will serve as a reminder of the near slavery like conditions and corruption that ran rampant in the prison.

The extremely large and heavy artifacts were planned to be in the lowest levels of the building requiring installation prior to the museum construction. At the time of placement, the jobsite, with only a 70-foot deep slurry wall holding back the excavation, required strict weight requirements to protect the slurry wall from collapse.

These requirements dictated that the crane used to lift the artifacts needed to be moved away from the wall, thereby adding to the radius of the lift. Poor soil conditions and the extreme weight of the items added to the difficulty of the lift, necessitating the cranes be placed a minimum of 60 feet from the slurry wall as to exert no pressure on the wall. The solution: A tandem lift performed using two 550-ton capacity hydraulic cranes.

Moving the cranes away from the excavation uncovered a new problem. Directly below where the cranes needed to be positioned lay a 24-inch natural gas transmission line. After meetings were held with the gas company, it was determined that the gas line was buried only 6 feet below ground and Hutchinson/United Rigging could place steel plates on the ground allowing a safe cross over the line, and then as the cranes were set up, the ground pressure from the outriggers spanning the line would pass beneath the line.

Moving the cranes away from the excavation added a second problem. The cranes would not be able to lift the railcar body directly into position on its platform, but would only be able to lift the car to just inside the wall of the building. Two platforms 10-foot high by 12-foot wide by 35-foot long needed to be built to support the car being moved from the area where the cranes could reach to the platform where the railcar was to be placed. Hutchinson/United Rigging brought in truckloads of wooden mats and heavy timbers to ready the platforms, and prepared to use their 4-Point Lift Systems Model 44-A Hydraulic gantry system to travel the railcar from the wall onto the support platform. All of this preparation work needed to be performed at night in order to maintain an aggressive concrete pouring schedule by the general contractor in the daytime and required a highly detailed rigging plan for the tandem lift.

With a keen attention to detail and planning, the obstacles were overcome and the “big pick” was all set to be performed. As Constitution Avenue, the location of the museum, is a major thoroughfare for commuters and tourists, it was decided to perform the lift on a Sunday to minimize traffic problems from its closing.

With a crowd of onlookers and news media watching, the 35,000-pound guard tower was lifted from the truck and placed on the concrete deck below; its legs were hoisted separately to be installed later. Specially designed lifting beams were installed at each end of the railcar to protect its sheet metal exterior. A 550-ton capacity crane was attached to each end of the railcar using Kevlar slings and spreader bars. The signal was given and the cranes slowly lifted the 100,000-pound car in unison, carefully passing the car between the cranes and bringing the car to a 100-foot radius over the building wall. The railcar was lowered to the platform below with precision.

On the following day the cranes were removed and the work on the railcar continued at night to travel the railcar across the platform, lift it and place it onto its wheel trucks. The wooden platforms were removed, and after the railcar was set in place, the gantry system was set up to lift the guard tower onto its legs.

Hutchinson/United Rigging is no beginner in performing critical work for the Smithsonian and other government entities. They have a proud history of moving some of the United States’ national treasures from the “Statue of Freedom” on top of the U.S. Capitol to the placing of the airplanes and “Skylab” in the National Air and Space Museum. Handling many artifacts and pieces of history for the various museums in Washington, D.C., has become a memorable part of the job for the skilled and safe ironworkers of Local 5.

Jon Flaesch, operations manager for Hutchinson/United Rigging, remarked, “This job illustrates the determination and flexibility of Hutchinson/United Rigging and the ironworkers they employ to adjust to adverse job conditions and still perform safely and efficiently.”