Someone said that Bernie looks like a cherub in the picture at the bottom of this page. Someone else said that he looked like an angel awaiting a halo. Well, he almost got the halo recently when a heart-valve problem attacked and left him with a 20 percent chance of surviving. Bill, of course, was attacking a golf ball in Hawaii with Nancy and commenting on concrete associated with the golf course while looking for another hat to add to his collection of 300 country-club caps that already line the walls of his home.
Bernie's event ended; fortunately no angel with a halo appeared. The valve was fixed along with a bypass, and this column continues as before—but enhanced by another “adventure” about the marvels of medicine and how much the body can endure.
Not too many years ago the medical world was dealing with so many aspects of how to overcome the adverse effects of blood circulation via heart machines; of rejection of transplants; of body shock; of keeping people alive during and after massive, but delicate, operations; of supplementary materials (organs) needed to successfully complete an operation. These hurdles have largely been overcome.
By contrast, when Bill entered our industry 56 years ago, and Bernie 48 years ago, progress in the concrete industry was at a snail's pace, sometimes slower, and sometimes it even went backwards. To decrease the cost of concrete by less than a penny per cubic yard was a motivation to proceed regardless of consequence. It was then a very “miserly” industry. Oh, how that has changed, from what was touted as the “indiscriminant use of admixtures” to the current gangbuster use of them (and so many are available) at a cost much greater than a fraction of a penny.
Back then, prestressed concrete was coming into its own: At the PCA Research Lab we made a 1-inch-thick prestressed concrete plank that had the flexibility of a diving board, and individual toy-like concrete elements for constructing privacy fences. There was even talk about stashing prestressed structural elements of all sorts on shelves like lumber and cutting them to size as needed for building and other construction. Crackpots of the past sometimes provide keys to the future.
We have benefited tremendously from these changes in terms of stronger and more durable concrete, easier concrete placement and consolidation, more slender and aesthetically pleasing concrete designs, and greater and more diversified use of concrete—because all of that can be economically justified. Some things still need and will get attention in the future, such as minimizing shrinkage— although that is already possible using admixtures. There will be time devoted to lowering creep and to controlling setting characteristics to result in fewer finishing problems, minimizing differential settlement of concrete-making components and bleeding, and getting high strength without the increased brittleness that usually accompanies it. Miracle admixtures seem to be within our reach.
We can do miraculous medical things to our bodies because we have learned to accommodate or overcome adverse effects and to accept the much higher costs. The concrete industry is similar because, in spite of the cost, the advantages of the new-admixtures outweigh the disadvantages, and in most cases can be economically justified.
Bernie doesn't yet have his halo; Bill doesn't yet have a hat for every golf course in the world, and concrete has yet to find its full place and force in our world. But progress is inevitable, so, with exception of the halo for Bernie, let it be soon.
William Hime is a principal with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates and began working as a chemist at PCA 53 years ago.
Bernard Erlin is president of The Erlin Company (TEC) Latrobe, Pa., and has been involved with all aspects of concrete for over 47 years.