Oral history of British science
Head, Peter (Part 5 of 14)
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Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 5 [1:05:08] Description of career progression within Freeman Fox Partners [FFP]: feeling he needed to know about construction to make a good designer, leading him to become assistant engineer to resident engineer on Friarton bridge and increasing his knowledge; subsequent 1978 project to build swing bridge in Hull; PH rounded engineer by 1980 from experiences in design and practice. [02:45] Comments on Friarton bridge: position and site duties of PH as assistant engineer; weather conditions and beauty of site in Tay Valley near Perth; description of Friarton bridge, one of first bridge in UK to use lightweight concrete deck; cost and materials concerns of building bridges; [07:10] lobbying from steel or concrete industries, PH involvement with steel industry and chairmanship of Steel Construction Institute; concrete and steel industry communities; problems with lightweight concrete deck used in Friarton bridge and bridge erection systems; anecdote about PH checking of temporary work foundations which fell over; PH becoming deeply involved with contractors, such as Peter Selby Smith of Cleveland Bridge. [11:05] Comments on: relationship between contractors and resident engineers, example of resident engineer's part in closing site by Health and Safety Executive for safety reasons; health and safety considerations involved with building a bridge; labour relation issues with working on site, contrast with later involvement of PH with Second Severn Crossing. [15:20] Remarks on benefits of Friarton Bridge experience for PH, work on foundations, PH managers supportive attitude to him going back onto site. [17:00] Remarks on: PH position on Friarton Bridge, working with resident engineer Harvey Binney and deputy Gordan Pirie; PH practical experience of surveying; long, tiring working days in summer, challenge of precision work in difficult conditions; description of measuring the effects of sun heating expanding girders; [21:55] using a theodolite, levels, and other instruments; lack of profound completion moment, closing of main span, PH satisfaction in setting out sites and in understanding movement of structures [25:20] Comments on work on Myton Bridge in Hull: PH desire to work on site in a senior position; FFP work on Humber and Myton bridges; PH involved with detailed design of Myton bridge before leaving to Frairton; colleagues Jolyan Gill and Chris Davies, who became well known names in bridge engineering and formed a strong team; completions of Myton's swing bridge design. [28:30] Description of Myton bridge's cable stayed swing design, complications of geometry, swing bridge features, excavating through Roman remains of historic Hull. [32:18] Remarks on: need for swing bridge to keep bridge height down due to to central location and facilitate shipping up river; complications of ensuring that bridge swing back into perfect position every time, using a jack and baring system, and a joint in the road surface; learning experiences for PH, calculations of complex geometry and mechanical engineering of cable staying entered by PH for his Institution of Civil Engineers examinations; details of counterweight; PH limited mechanical engineering experience, but on site experience of checking for errors in hydraulic jack and pivot system; [38:55] details of position of jacks and pivoting arrangements for bridge. [40:10] Comments on improvements in computing facilities: use of programmable Hewlett Packard calculators for calculations; learning to program in ; concerns over use of black-box bridge models, anecdote about PH discovering an error in a program; impact of computerisation on work of PH, with example of variable depth girder sheer analysis. [46:25] Remarks on bridge plans and bridge planning involvement of highway engineers. [48:13] Remarks on working with colleagues: Jolyan Gill, Oxford educated, interested in theory and structural engineering; Chris Davies, interested in management and strategy aspects; PH interaction with Davies and Gill; typical on site duties. [50:50] Remarks on: limited but important detail changes in design during construction; PH lack of promotion at FFP, difficulties caused by inflation of 1970s not matching salaries, anecdote about letter from PH to Oleg Kerensky about his inflation damaged salary; damage to FFP as a company by 1980 of bridge collapses; PH being offered opportunity to work on bridge in Iraq; FFP problems retaining staff. [56:50] Remarks on: PH not feeling valued at FFP, site work keeping people out of site of senior management; damage to FFP reputation and difficulties to senior management of Yarra and Milford Haven bridge collapse investigations; FFP senior partners Bernard Wex, Oleg Kerensky, Mike Parsons; PH meeting Mike Parsons during Humber Bridge construction, description of Mike Parsons; PH very limited contact with FFP partner Bill Brown, but experiencing his mistakes on Avonmouth bridge design, meeting him later on Messina Bridge project. [1:02:40] Remarks concluding time at FFP, PH grateful for experiences on design and construction of bridges and splitting time between site and offices, confidence from experience and desire to innovate, PH recognising seven year cycle in his work life of achievement and moving on to next.
Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head