Book Review: En De Sé Wie Net Maer

Book cover ‘En De Se Wie Net Maer’ by A.A. van der Werf1.

Another holiday is coming up. Another book recommendation for the armchair dredger. Well, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, a lot of preparations in just too short a time. Probably too little time to read a book. That fits, today’s book under review is only partly interesting from a dredging perspective. It is about the reclamation of the Noordoostpolder. Moreover, it is written in Frisian. So, also only a selected part of the audience will be able to actually read it. Then, why recommend it anyway? Because it will give you a good anecdote at the dinner table, where you can proudly illustrate the ingenuity of us in the dredging industry.

Historic map2 of the Noordoostpolder from 1946. (Credit: Emmeloord.info)

First some introductory details about the Noordoostpolder3. A polder is reclaimed land by isolating it from the sea by a dike and pumping the water out4. It provides cheap land with relative little soil movement, only the dike. In the early twentieth century, the Netherlands needed lots of land for a rapidly expanding population, agriculture and industry. The first real big polder  was the ‘Wieringermeerpolder’. And the ‘Noordoostpolder’ was the first real IJsselmeer polder, as it was started in 1936 after the closing of the ‘Afsluitdijk’. Work continued well into the second world war. And part of the book is about the interaction of the German army, the Dutch people and the resistance. Due to this storyline, the book is also, part fact, part fiction.

Canal dredging in the still submerged Noordoostpolder.

One fact in the book was right. In the polder, you would need canals for drainage, irrigation and transportation. And the easiest way is to dredge it. Although not a real historic account of the events, the book does contain pictures of the project. And in the picture above, you can see something special: a bucket ladder dredge with a pipe line! Normally a bucket ladder dredge5 would load barges, but the very shallow lake and the narrow canals were not facilitating easy handling of the barges. In these cases, they used some sort of soil pump. In the above picture it cannot be seen, but in the archives of my work, we have lots of pictures of them. Basically they are big boxes with jet nozzles and dredge pumps connected to a discharge line. The end of the discharge line could be positioned over the location of future roads and effectively deposit the foundation of the road.

Soil pump ‘GP3’ by De Groot Nijkerk, at work in a narrow canal, here loaded by drag lines.

Nowadays, you would probably use a barge and suspend a DOP in it6.

Unfortunately, the second world war intervened. Still, the German occupation brought the project to a conclusion. The story details about the contractor (‘Verhei’*) not willing to cooperate with the occupier after the project. So, he had his dredge (‘Holland’*) enclosed within the dike. There were locks in the dike, but the pontoon was too wide for the locks. This prevented the confiscation of the dredge. After the liberation, the dredge was still there, and everybody was laughing at the contractor, as his dredge was hemmed in the dike. It turned out , he outsmarted them all. He removed everything above the deck line and with two floating gantries he coaxed the pontoon through the locks on its side!

Pontoon of bucket ladder dredge ‘Holland’* on edge for lock passage.

*Names are fictionalised by the author, but he states that the described events did really occur as described.

References

  1. En De Se Wie Net Maer, A.A. van der Werf
  2. Urkerland of Noordoostpolder, Emmeloord.info
  3. Polder, Wikipedia
  4. Noordoostpolder, Wikipedia
  5. Emmerbaggermolen, Wikipedia (Dutch)
  6. DOP Pump 350 with leveler head, Damen

See also

Exhibition ‘Sand On The Move’ At The National Dredging Museum

Flyer for the exhibition ‘Sand on the move’ (Credit: National Dredging Museum).

As we’ve seen in my last post, sand is one of the commodities most in demand1. Here in the Netherlands, there is a whole industry built on the extraction and distribution of sand. One of the most used extraction methods is dredging, something we’re well acquainted with. One of the most used distribution methods is barge transport. And the National Dredging Museum has opened an exhibition on these complementary trades: ‘Sand on the Move’2.
Last Thursday was the opening of this new exhibition of the museum. For the occasion, there were two speakers invited. Kees van der Veeken, director Consortium Grensmaas showed us the current practice of sand mining. Tjeerd Roozendaal, head engineer – program director projects and maintenance of Rijkswaterstaat had the honour to open the exhibition. Afterwards, there was a dinner buffet available for the guests. An excellent opportunity to learn, hear opinions and build on your (dredging) network.

Panoramic view of the ‘Sand on the move’ exhibition.

Our modern infrastructure was only made possible by the application use of sand as foundation of roads and fill material in concrete and tarmac. At the exhibition, there are displays of four big projects about sand mining: ‘Betuweroute’3, ‘Kraaijnbergse Plassen’4, ‘IJsseloog’5 and ‘Grensmaas’6. Each highlighting a certain aspect of sand mining in the Netherlands.
Another part of the exhibition revolves around the distribution of sand. And this posed a chicken and egg problem: in order to build roads, you need roads to transport the sand. So, in the early days, before there were roads, sand was being delivered over water by barge. There was a short period, where numerous small enterprises, mostly family owned, filled the gap of transporting sand by barge, taking the place of delivery trucks. Also my family had a motor vessel for sand transportation, ‘Excelsior’. And my grandfather told me many times of his adventures on board and his relative happy times. As this was hard work for sure.

Motor sand barge ‘Excelsior’ (Credit: Co Winkelman).

Along with old photographs of those sand barges, there are also many models and a video exhibit. Each conveying respect to these men, women and sometimes children, that have been toiling to build the roads and railways that we are now taking for granted in our luxurious times.
Unfortunately, these businesses worked to their own demise. As roads and railways improved, there was less need to transport the sand by barge, but directly hauled to the location where it was needed by road. So, somewhere this typical business dried up. Nowadays, sand is still transported by barges, but they are usually owned by large companies, that own the whole product line from extraction, distribution to application.
There is also a small sand laboratory to experience yourself, how many different aspects of sand are involved in selecting the right sand for the right application. At a small scale and easy to understand steps, this represents how we are evaluating sand in our own laboratory. Next to this laboratory, there are many more kid friendly exhibits in the rest of the museum. I can highly recommend you to plan a visit to the national dredging museum these weekends or during the Christmas holiday.

Mini sand laboratory (Credit: National Dredging museum).

References

  1. The World in a Grain, Amazon
  2. Sand on the Move, National Dredging Museum
  3. Betuweroute, Wikipedia
  4. Kraaijenbergse Plassen, Wikipedia (NL)
  5. IJsseloog, Wikipedia
  6. Grensmaas, Wikipedia (NL)

See also

Book Review: The World In A Grain

Cover page The World In A Grain by Vince Beiser.

Last Saturday, a special Dutch season started: Sinterklaas1. He traditionally arrives in a steam ship in some camera pleasing port and starts his tour through the country. Eventually he commemorates his name day (December 6th) by leaving presents for all children on the eve before. Usually this is celebrated with children and/or parents giving each other presents in elaborate packaging and clumsy rhymes. So, this might be a good occasion to recommend a book for your wish list.

Somewhere I found a copy of ‘The World in a Grain’ by Vince Beiser2. Actually, it was the subtitle, ‘The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization’ that caught my attention. As you may have noticed, I am very interested in sand. And, it is good, to occasionally take a step back and contemplate how our product contributes to civilisation and the world as we know it.

Photo of American-Canadian journalist Vince Beiser (Credit: Wikipedia).

Vince Beiser3 is an American-Canadian journalist and the book is easy to read. The chapters are arranged to the subject where sand is coming from and its contribution to society. Beginning with the origin of sand, the erosion of rock, and the locations where it ends up and can be extracted. The most basic application of sand is construction sand to create infrastructure: reclaimed land, ballast material for roads and railways, general landscaping etc. Than, the applications become more refined: concrete, asphalt, fracking, foundries, glass making, eventually all the way to high end products as computer chips and smart phones. Each application requiring its own type of sand.

Soil sample exhibit at the Damen Dredging Experience.

Proceeding through the book, you will be surprised about how dependent we’ve become on such a small unit of our universe. And that is exactly where Beiser is alarming us about. Not only that at some point in the future, sand will become a scarce commodity, it already is. As with all scarce materials, they become precious and attract activity that is not always benefitting all stakeholders. This usually involves violence and crime. And Beiser has been exploring this dark side of the trade for his book.

His experience as criminal-justice journalist has helped him to uncover social injustice, where some greedy individuals were profiting from resources that ought to serve the wellbeing of all mankind. Beautiful beaches that have been scooped away. Rivers that changed their course and deprived communities from irrigation. Pastoral landscape, that was torn up and left behind devastated. He visited some sites and spoke to victims and activists. At some occasions, he was even threatened himself.

Progressing through the book, I even felt ashamed that I was taking part in an industry that allegedly rapes nature and deprives future generations of their rightful heritage. He reported severe cases from undeveloped countries, but even well-known names in our dredging industry have been mentioned. According to Beiser, there is no direct solution, as the demand is still on the rise, but I think there is: cooperation in governance. Share with others the experience on sand mining, the market possibilities and communicate with all stakeholders involved. Personally, I am involved in CEDA4, but there are many more platforms: IADC, EuDA, EMSAGG, PIANC etc. And as always: think about what you are doing and what does it leave future generations with.

OK, one last bonus link for those who don’t like reading a whole book. I think the producers of the Dutch children’s TV show ‘Buitendienst’5, last Friday, have been reading this book also.

Het grote zandmysterie (Credit: De Buitendienst).

References

  1. Sinterklaas, Wikipedia
  2. The World in a Grain, Amazon
  3. Vince Beiser, Wikipedia
  4. Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  5. Het grote zandmysterie, NPO Zapp

See also