Workers drive toward goal Stadium: Twelve men are working long, often cold nights to drive into the ground the foundation poles that will support the Ravens stadium at Camden Yards.

November 16, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Six feet 3 inches tall, weighing a muscular 310 pounds and bundled in two sweat shirts and three pairs of long johns, Samuel Oliver Murdock is the nighttime brawn behind the bowl.

He is one of a dozen men working the night shift, often in freezing temperatures, using heavy equipment to drive 65-foot-long steel rods called shells into the ground during the construction of Baltimore's football stadium at Camden Yards.

"I'll stay here even if it drops to 20 degrees below. This is special for me," says Murdock, 38, a jovial man who grins while lugging piles of iron. "This is my hometown."

The night-shift workers are on the job until 11 p.m. each weeknight, part of the rush to complete the stadium by the July 1998 deadline. For Murdock and the others, the deadline means long hours in the cold, operating heavy machines that pound the stadium's foundation poles into the dirt inch by inch.

Pile-driving, the second phase of the huge $200 million construction project that began in July, is scheduled for completion by the first of the year. It was preceded by the excavation of 250,000 cubic yards of dirt for the 15-foot-deep, 360-by-225-foot hole that the foundation will rest in.

The task of driving 3,500 of the 65-foot shells into the hard earth is handled by a cranelike device that uses compressed air to drive a 10,000-pound hammer. Each blow of the hammer drives the shells up to an inch into the ground.

The workers call the process "shelling it up," and it is what they do day and night.

About 80 workers are out during the day shifts before the 12-man crew comes on at 2 p.m., said Allen Smith, the stadium's construction superintendent.

"They're a pretty hardy bunch of guys," Smith said. "They're very dedicated people. You hear a lot of stories that construction workers run off to a bar when they're done, but generally they don't. They work hard and then go back to their families like the rest of us."

Among the night-shift workers is Ronald Trovinger, and if there were an award for Baltimore's all-star pile driver, he'd probably get it.

The 56-year-old Pasadena resident has been driving "piles" -- or shells -- since 1969 and has worked on the foundations for Baltimore's World Trade Center, the USF&G tower, the second Bay Bridge and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"I love this kind of work, I don't care how cold it is," Trovinger said. "You always think that in years to come, you can tell your grandchildren that you were part of it."

Telling the grandchildren about it is one thing. Showing them poses a problem, since the fruit of the pile driver's labors is eventually buried.

"When it's all said and done," Trovinger said, "I never get to see what I did because the piles we drove are all underground."

The shells are the key to sup- porting large concrete structures. Each shell has to be buried 40 to 60 feet in the ground to withstand the 60 tons of pressure exerted on each by a structure as large as a football stadium, Trovinger said.

Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John A. Moag Jr. said the project is on schedule. "It's tight, but we'll make it," he said. "We haven't had any significant problems."

For Murdock, the stadium site has special significance. It is where his father, Oliver Thomas Murdock, patrolled as a Baltimore policeman in the 1960s.

Oliver Murdock, now retired, was one of the first black officers on the city force.

"He said it was always pitch black, black as night, when he used to patrol the streets here," his son said. "He spent a lot of time walking that beat.

"It makes me think: I belong here; our history is right on this spot."

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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