Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Muddy Turns White...

Yesterday snow fell on Boston. Around 8:00 PM Heidi and I found ourselves sitting around trying to decide what to do. I wanted to get some photos at the Perkins Street culvert and I wanted to work on my night photography technique. Armed with a flashlight, a tri-pod and my trusty hot pink Casio, we set out into the night...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Headwaters of the Muddy River

The holidays are always a tough time for the Guerrilla Engineer; the cold and the darkness seem to take hold of me. A foul mood sets in and I could give the Grinch a good run for his money. December of 2011 was, however, remarkably good in the grand scheme of the Guerrilla Engineering Movement (GEM). Ambitiously, I had wanted to complete a post a week. Alas, after the December 16th post, other endeavors impeded my progress. Yet, I am reminded that quality trumps quantity, so I am able to find some comfort.

The pump station as it looked in 1888
I suppose that this old adage strikes at the heart of my troubles with the holidays. I find that the span from Thanksgiving to the New Year is primarily a season of quantity. Fortunately, the events of the past several weeks were not entirely without merit and some were even mildly lucrative.

As mentioned in the December 16th post, I have been substitute teaching at the Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC). As faculty fell ill or needed extra time for last minute shopping I was able to work a few days and help keep the GEM from slipping entirely into the red. I even engineered a couple of holiday parties, filling in as the door man for a local caterer, Ariadne Clifton.

The pump station as is looks today
Others pursuits were not necessarily a monetary gain, but a gain nonetheless. I am now a trained Tour Facilitator at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, located in the old pump house by the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Cleveland Circle. In fact, I will be guiding tours every Friday this month, so stop by between 1:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon for a glimpse of the Guerrilla Engineer in action.

Additionally, Opus Films produced their first film starring the Guerrilla Engineer “walking” up the now culverted Goldsmith Brook. As of right now, due to the length of the film I am not sure how to post it, but stay tuned…

I have decided to dedicate this post to the early days of the Movement. Between testing samples taken from the Muddy River in school, and the good fortune of dwelling in proximity to where the river first emerges, a culvert running beneath Perkins Street at the northern end of Jamaica Pond, this is where I started my work.

In early October of 2011, I visited the headwaters of the Muddy, as I had many times before, and found them choked with leaves, branches, and garbage. I walked into town, purchased a garden rake at Yumont Hardware on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and went to work. I visited the site over the course of several days taking notes and measurements. I did not have a camera in the early days and so the scribblings in my notebook are the only documentation of my efforts (the photos posted here were taken with an old digital point and shoot which I had borrowed from my sister).

I set off, walking downstream in an attempt to document the condition of the river and the immediate watershed, Boston’s Emerald Necklace. By the time I had reached the foot of Leverett Pond and the glorious culvert which brings the Muddy River beneath Route 9 (Huntington Avenue), the Guerrilla Engineering Movement had been born.

(A number of photo collections were posted on Facebook, so please forgive me if you have been following the GEM since then and this is all redundant.)

After a number of long walks and bike rides along the Muddy River, and many hours crawling through the woods between the Jamaicaway in Boston and Pond Street in Brookline, I returned to the Perkins Street culvert to find all of my work undone.

Back in October, after I first cleared the detritus from the waterway, I had taken many of the longer more substantial branches and wove a sort of fence between the trees along the steep banks in hopes that many of the leaves, smaller sticks and trash would be caught before it entered the water. Many of these very same branches had been dis-assembled and used to create a new series of dams. Whoever decided this would be a good thing to do must have spent a great deal of time out there and the dams which they built would make any beaver blush with envy.

On the 29th of November, I returned to what I have begun to refer to as “my culvert” and began clearing the flow again…

Notice how wide the flow is and the stagnant water pooling to the right of the bridge.

Again, notice how dispersed the flow is and the water level behind the large dam at the manhole.

A closer look.

There is a broken clay pipe hiding in the upper left corner. This pipe discharges stormwater directly from a catch basin at the corner of of Perkins and Pond Streets and has resulted in the massive erosion. Due to the stick dam the Muddy has filled the hole and is flowing on both sides of the manhole.
Once the dam was removed the hole emptied quickly.

This is where the Muddy River begins. There is a large rectangular rock which acts as a weir and under better conditions creates a lovely cascade.

The tools of the trade...

My workbench conveniently provides access to the Brighton Branch Sewer, one of the larger sewers in Boston.

Always measure in the same spot... always 2-inches.

This little guy must have made it out of the pond somehow, only to meet his demise in a stick dam.

The high water mark was where the brick, cement, and muck converge.

Finally drained.

Now that is a handsome way to start a river.

Terraced cascades.

Flowing clear... Job done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ms. Thayer...

Today is a special day and I must admit that I did not remember to acknowledge its importance until 11:05 this morning. I had been drafting and planning this post for over a week, but came up half a day late and at least a dollar short.

In order for The Guerrilla Engineer to spend countless hours prowling the Muddy River and various other sites, a very important individual had to “sign off” on the project. This individual has graciously and faithfully supported my pursuit of an education and tolerated my whims and many idiosyncrasies for over a decade, including nine and one-half years of marriage.

Left to Right: Heidi, Megan and Kymme
On this day, Ms. Heidi Thayer was born in Exeter, NH.  She became the third and loveliest daughter of the Hon. Charles “Charlie” K. Thayer and Mrs. Patricia “Patsy” Thayer (no offense to Kymme and Megan, but I am admittedly biased). 

Since that December day Ms. Thayer has amassed an impressive body of accomplishments.

In recognition of her destined greatness, her Grandfather, Mr. Harry B. Thayer Sr., called her “CEO” when she was just a toddler. Mr. Thayer began the Exeter News-Letter. and ran the newspaper until his sons, Charlie and Harry Jr., bought it from him in the mid-1970s.

At a horse show: circa 1981
Ms. Thayer was an equestrian as child, who lamented her blue ribbons because they were not pink (her favorite color at the time). She has continued to be a distinguished athlete, starting on the varsity soccer team as a freshman. She also managed to compete in swimming, diving, basketball, lacrosse and then added crew to her resume in college. Now, she is a runner (1st place in the Not Dead Yet 5k this year) and a cyclist.

Scholarship is another of her many strengths. In high school she was inducted into the National Honor Society. At the completion of her undergraduate studies, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of New Hampshire and most recently, she graduated from a dual master’s program at Simmons College with a staggering 3.9 GPA.

Heidi is a writer and a voracious reader. She has a large body of original poetry and more books without equations in them then I ever imagined could exist. She is also an amateur photographer, having had her work included in a gallery show at Chase's Daily in Belfast, ME

The One That Got Away
The variety of her interests and experiences is astounding. She has driven across France twice and across the United States six times. She went door to door working for social justice in Seattle, WA. She has worked on an "organic" farm in Freedom, ME. She taught creative writing to refugee children at The Telling Room in Portland, ME. While in New Orleans, LA, volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she captured a powerful series of photographs and did some gator hunting. She lived half way up a mountain surrounded by 5700-acres of wilderness in Montville, ME and beer cans now tremble when she brandishes a BB gun.

CCSC Profile Picture
Currently, Ms. Thayer is in her second year of teaching at the Community Charter School of Cambridge (CCSC). Her job is demanding, but she executes it with a style and graces befitting that of royalty. I had first-hand insight into the rigors of her daily routine while substitute teaching for her co-teacher while he was having his elbow repaired with screws and plates following a bike accident earlier this fall. I have to admit that I came away from that experience exhausted and in awe of her dedication and hard work.

Perhaps, it is that hard work which I admire most about her. Never have I met an individual with a greater work ethic and sense of purpose than Heidi. While I lament the many hours she spends each weekend and evening preparing lesson plans and creating documents for her students, deep down I understand that this dedication is integral to what makes her great and why she is the love of my life.

Happy Birthday Ms. Thayer… sorry I forgot to say that this morning!

An early picture from the Guerrilla Engineering movement:

When the Affair was young and so were we

Heidi indulging my idiosyncrasies - My Birthday Dinner, 2011 -

Some of the Post-Katrina Photo Shoot:

Heidi, if she had been born an automobile

Friday, December 9, 2011

How it all began...

After nearly a decade of carpentry, including a brief foray into traditional wooden boat building, I decided that I needed a college education. I initially pursued architecture, but deferred my acceptance at the last minute in order to explore engineering schools.

In 2007, I began my undergraduate studies at Wentworth Institute of Technology as a 27 year-old freshman. I quickly realized that I had made the correct decision. While I continue to have a deep appreciation for architecture, I am, and always have been, an engineer.

Water and Wastewater Treatment, taught by Professor Hopcroft, was fabled to be the most difficult and least enjoyable class that the civil students would have to take. It is a senior class, but the hype began freshman year amidst the grumblings about how difficult Professor Hopcroft's freshman seminar was. Truth be told, neither class was terribly difficult, they just required an honest effort and some higher order thinking.

I very much enjoyed all of the hydraulics and fluid dynamics courses, and I completed two co-op semesters with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, but it wasn't until Water and Wastewater Treatment that I figured out what I want to do when I grow up.

Even before this class, I had been collecting historic and water related sources, focused primarily on the Boston area, and more recently, I have been exploring the Muddy River and working to document and improve the conditions of the waterway. As time permits - and as I polish my collection - I hope to share all of these things through this blog. I also plan to include some of my other geeky interests, such as: cycling, MotoGP, cars, baseball and old woodworking tools.

Vladimir Novotny wrote a case study on urban stream restoration and daylighting in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of the Boston Society of Civil Engineer's journal, Civil Engineering Practice. This article was pivotal in opening my eyes to the rather amazing waterway next to which I have been living for the past three years.

While Professor Novotny presents an interesting idea for daylighting the Stony Brook, it appears as though it is the Muddy River which will be enjoying more daylight in the near future... maybe. According to the Muddy River Restoration Project's Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee's web site, ( work was supposed to start in late 2010. It does look like some temporary fencing has been erected on the site that is to be daylighted, in front of the Landmark Center, but it is looking grim through the Riverway and ponds of the Jamaicaway.