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Missouri inspector has bridges on the brain

Saturday, November 22, 2008 | 5:34 p.m. CST; updated 10:37 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SEDALIA— Zach Bay, a quality control inspector for DeLong's Inc., can't help but check out the diaphragm of each bridge he drives under to see if it is one of his.

Bay said he almost always looks underneath bridges to see if the beams used to construct it were made in Sedalia.

"I've driven over some I knew were mine," Bay said.

He remembers one of his first inspection jobs were pieces for the bridge at the Cole Camp junction on U.S. 65.

Bay, who has worked at DeLong's since 1998, started making joists and helping the flash weld operator before becoming the quality control inspector in 2003. Bay inspects the beams, diaphragms and cross frames made at DeLong's and used to construct bridges.

Bay checks the dimensions of studs and weld sizes, placement and length on the connection plates, or "stiffeners," welded onto the beams to keep it from flexing. The studs on top of some beams hold the surface of the bridge onto the beam, to keep the concrete from pulling away. Bay checks that each stud has the right "collar."

"If it doesn't have a collar all the way around it, it has to be stick welded," Bay said.

Bay consults the engineer's plans when inspecting a beam. He uses a tool to measure the weld size on the stiffeners. On his final lap around the beam, he "marks up everything I don't like about it," using a piece of soap stone, Bay said.

He points out a rough edge where a crack could potentially start if it's not smoothed out. Chris DeBord looks at Bay's notes written on the beam and makes the changes. Both Bay and DeBord said they work well together. DeBord said part of the reason is that they both want the beams to "look nice."

"I kind of know what he wants them to look like, and we've been doing this so long together, that helps too," DeBord said.

When DeBord is finished with the beam, Bay sets an electromagnet on each weld and sprays a fine iron powder that is dyed white.

"It will pull the powder in to bridge a gap; it shows the crack," he said.

Bay also notes the heat number, or the number assigned to a particular batch of steel at the mill. The number helps trace any problems back to the mill, so if rusting or any other problems occur, every bridge made with the steel can be easily identified.

"Everything needs to be traced back, just in case something happens," Bay said.

Bay inspects three to four beams a day. On average, a bridge uses 15 to 30 beams.

DeLong's employees work in an addition to one of the old Union Pacific shops. They worked inside the railroad shop until the addition was built in late 2001.

A bridge for placement on Interstate 70 was loaded onto a truck as the makings of a Leavenworth County, Kansas bridge were on the shop floor. Bay has looked at pieces of bridges built in 14 states, although most of the work comes from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. Each state has its own guidelines for bridge construction besides national standards. Bay has to be familiar with each state's regulations.

DeBord said Bay really "knows his stuff."

"I think a lot of the state inspectors know that too, and they trust him," he said.

It took a lot of studying to become a quality control inspector of the bridge work. Bay apprenticed with an inspector in DeLong's Jefferson City shop for more than a year. He also had to learn to use the manual containing bridge specifications.

"You can't actually read it cover to cover," Bay said. "You have to have a problem and know how to find the solution in the book."

Bay also took six days of classes before taking the certification exam, which consists of three two-hour tests.

Outside of work, Bay has his share of hobbies.

"When I'm not looking at welds I like taking pictures," he said.

He also enjoys working on old cars — a '71 Roadrunner and a '69 Mustang — and is taking up blacksmithing.

Bay said he doesn't think too much about how his job has the potential to impact the safety of motorists crossing bridges in which he inspected parts of it.

"I don't think about that much because I know we are doing things to the way they are designed," Bay said. "We make it the way it's supposed to be; the way they designed it."

The bridge pieces are sent from Sedalia to the DeLong's shop in Jefferson City for finishing, after which they are inspected again.

"I really hope I catch everything," Bay said. "Most of the time there's not a problem with a DOT (Department of Transportation) inspector not liking what the welds look like when they show up in Jefferson City."

 


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