Mr. Little Punctures a Tale of a Batch of Defective Pipe for the Rochester Water Works in the Early Days

THE following letter, by Beekman C. Little, superintendent of the bureau of water of Rochester, N. and secretary of the American Water Works Association, was written to the New York Times of August 19, in reply to a communication printed in that daily of August 20 from Rossiter Johnson, of Amagansett, L. I., in which the latter after referring to “aqueous volcanos” in New York City through recent breaks in mains, related an incident in which Joseph McMasters, an inspector of cast iron pipe, figures. According to this story a batch of cast iron mains for the Rochester water works were found defective by Mr. McMasters, and the entire consignment was smashed by him in testing them. Mr. Little proceeds to puncture the talc as follows:

“To the Editor of the Times:”

“In his enthusiasm for Rochester and love for the memory of an old friend, Rossiter Johnson has, I am afraid, exaggerated some statements in his letter to you, published in The 7 imes of August 10, and has created a wrong impression, even though he is a newspaper man.

“Yes, Joseph McMaster was an inspector of cast iron pipe in the early days of our water works history—some fifty-two or three years ago—and was an honest inspector, doubtless; but as to his ‘plowing his way through an entire consignment of pipe and smashing everyone’—no; that record is not on the books, and is hardly believable, and manufacturers would not ‘save many tons of metal’ by trying to pass this pipe, as all cast iron pipe was bought and paid for by the ton, not by size or length or thickness.

“But to go further, we do have and always have had, with varying intervals of time between them, ‘aqueous volcanoes’ in the streets of Rochester. That is, in Rochester as in every other city breaks and leaks in water mains do occasionally occur. Rochester is not exempt in this respect, and the implication in Mr. Johnson’s letter that the officials of the New York Water Bureau permit slack inspection, or that the pipe manufacturers are criminals, is not at all deserved.

“W. W. Brush, deputy chief engineer of the department of water supply, under whose direct supervision comes the distribution system of New York’s water supply, is possibly by education and practical experience the best equipped man for that particular job to be found. Certainly he has the respect and confidence of all water works managers who know of his work and accomplishments, and bis ability and integrity are unquestioned.

“There are undoubtedly stricter specifications for cast iron pipe, and better and more complete tests made of all water works material now in New York City than obtained in Rochester in Mr. McMaster’s day. Cast iron is, I think, conceded to lxthe very best material for distributing mains in a water system, except in some special cases, and its use is almost universal wherever public water supplies exist; yet the mains do break sometimes, in spite of the best methods of manufacture and careful inspection. Cast iron won’t give or bend, and a heavy blow or a succession of light blows may shatter it.

“Consider the conditions that exist in New York City. Most of the streets have been dug over, tunnelled under and blasted through, and the subsurface is filled with electric conduits, telephone ducts, gas pipes, sewers and subways, all tending to make it very difficult to get a firm foundation the entire length—on the bottom—of another trench in which the water main is laid. If one portion of the trench settles, the main is apt to settle at that place, and cast iron won’t bend. Overhead, mayhap, are 6, 8 and 10 ton trucks, and many times heavier trolley cars, continually pounding on the pavement, and the shock is carried down through to the water pipe, and continual hammering will break cast iron.

“Is it any wonder that occasionally some spot in the more than 1,400 miles of water pipes lets go? The marvel is that, even with the utmost vigilance in construction exercised by your competent water bureau officials, there are yet comparatively so few of these calamities.


“Superintendent, Bureau of Water and Secretary of the American Water Works Asoeiation.

“Rochester, N. Y., Aug. 13, 1925.”


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