Most of us have heard the story of Homan Walsh, the 15 year old that was able to cross the Niagara River with a kite line in 18 — that started the construction of the first suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge, but no one seems to know about the engineers that repeated this feat to start construction of the underwater weir in the Upper Niagara River during the 1940’s. One of the more interesting developments on the Niagara Parks system in 1943 was the construction of a barrier by the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission and the US Army Corps of Engineers in the upper reaches of the Niagara River above the Falls. This was built to divert a greater share of the water so the plants on the U.S. side would obtain the water to which the United States was entitled and to improve the appearance of the Horseshoe Falls
I came across the story of the men of DeCew Falls Development (this was a power station in St. Catharines, Ont. that supplied power to The City of Hamilton) The article was credited to George Bailey (of the Niagara Parks Commission) from a 1943 article in the Hydro News, the journal of the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Company and their use of a box type kite (a rather LARGE box kite, not like the one pictured in the photo above) to lay a line across the river that was used to start construction of a submerged weir in the rapids above Niagara Falls.
I have contacted DeCew Falls Development, N P C, Ontario Power, and Hydro One- (predecessors to the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Corporation). I have been informed that the archives for the Ontario Hydro have recently closed. I learned that while Hydro One got the Archives (which recently closed) OPG maintains the Corporate Library, which has the holdings of Ontario Hydro and the OHEPC.
I was able to confirm that a document exists that explains the use of the kite for this project. The document mentions the engineers of Decew being involved in this project, as Decew II was built as a result of wartime power requirements. The document is titled “Niagara River Submerged Weir” and dated for March 1943. Apparently it was issued by the USACE- Buffalo District. The use of a kite is confirmed in the document, however, no description of the kite is provided – just that it was used. The document is in the possession of the Ontario Power Generation Corporate Library in Toronto Ontario. The project is described as the “Niagara River Remedial Weir”, which was created by an agreement between Canada and the U.S. to divert additional water from the Niagara River (not to be confused with the International Agreement of 1950). I also have a copy of a staff newsletter from 1955 that mentioned the use of the kite and shows a couple photos.
I learned that the kite was used to build a submerged remedial weir that was used to raise the level of the Grass Island Pool- this was a predecessor to the International Control dam that controls the water in this area of the Niagara River. The story talks about building a cableway from towers that were erected on a man-made island that was built from the north end of Goat Island using a causeway. The other tower was on the Canadian side above the area of the river known as the Grass Island Pool. When the project was completed, they removed the causeway and the cables and towers. When the International control dam was built in the 1950′s, they used the small man-made island (known as “Tower Island”) as the terminus of the dam. Most of the secrecy of this project existed because it was a measure to provide water to the hydroelectric plants for wartime production.
The gentlemen that were involved in the work for both Governments include- Lieutenant Colonel George R. Goethals, District Engineer for the United States Engineering Department (Buffalo District Engineer Oct 1940- Dec 1942); Rodger B. McWhorter, Chief Engineer for the Federal Power Commission; Lieutenant Colonel Harland C. Woods, in charge of flood control for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and Special Assistant to the District Engineer; David Forgan, Director of Construction; Otto Holden, Chief engineer of the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission, and Carl Gordon Cline, Senior assistant engineer of the Department of Mines and Resources, A. J. Eldridge of Columbus, Ohio, was consulting engineer on the construction equipment and supervised its installation. Other engineers from Ontaio Hydro that may have been involved include- Herman Hyland, Fred Burton, Ike Hicks and Walt Rennie. And finally, steel workers of the McLain Construction company including- John F. Torcello, D. Haskins, L. Byron, E. Miller, S. Nagy and S. J. Juliano.
David Forgan, Director of Construction retired in 1955- Herman Hyland who was also involved in this project was also retired by this time. Carl Gordon Cline C.E., M.E.I.C was born 25 September 1885 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He received his C.E degree in 1922. Gordon died on 9 November 1969 at the age of 84. I was able to contact the daughter of C.G Cline. She confirmed that her father was involved in the kite flying.
The following is reprinted from a 1943 article in “Hydro News”, the journal of the OHEPC:
In unvarnished vernacular, the phrase “Go Fly A Kite” frequently implies sentiments not in keeping with literal interpretation. These four words, however, crystallized the idea, which facilitated the erection of a steel cableway, spanning a half-mile gap on the Niagara River at the brink of the rapids leading to the great Falls where a submerged rock weir is now under construction. Confronted with the problem of getting the first line across the river at this point, construction men on both the Canadian and United States sides of the International boundary gave much thought to the method which might be adopted. Direct crossing by a vessel was out of the question because of the swift currents and the close proximity of the rapids. Towing a line across would have involved taking it nearly a mile upstream from the cableway tower on the American side and then bringing the end of the line down the Canadian shore and past numerous land obstacles. There was also the possibility of the line being fouled by boulders in the river. Power lines and other obstacles precluded the possibility of using a plane, autogyro or dirigible, while balloons were unattainable. At the same time, the distance between the Canadian and United State cable towers was too great to come within range of a rocket gun. To surmount the various difficulties the possibility of using a kite was suggested as the most simple and economical method of getting the first line across the gap.
An investigation was immediately started and after a good deal of hunting much valuable information was unfolded on the history, eccentricities and functions of the kite. This research work revealed data on experiments, which have been made with large kites and, from this knowledge; it appeared that the “Go Fly A Kite” idea might succeed. The first job was the designing and building of a kite that would serve the purpose. And so, overnight, Hydro construction men at DeCew Falls Development became first class kite makers and produced a box-type, wind-powered exhibit that would have brought joy to the heart of the most critical schoolboy enthusiast. Measuring 7 feet 6 inches in height by 6 feet in width and 2 feet 6 inches in depth, it comprised a basswood frame and all the nainsook obtainable in Saint Catharines for the lifting surface. The controlling line was 1/32-inch piano wire – 6000 feet of it -while there were approximately 2,000 feet of trailing line terminating in a float and marked by colored streamers.
As part of the cableway, two 155 foot steel towers had been erected – one on the Canadian bank between Chippewa and Niagara Falls, and the other on an artificial island built on the United States side of the International boundary half a mile away. Everything was in readiness for the experiment. Then came several days of waiting for a favorable wind. When the day finally arrived, the men quickly took up their appointed positions. Because of the direction of the wind, the kite was sent aloft from a truck 2,000 feet downstream from the tower on the Canadian side. Many pairs of eyes watched expectantly as it soared and swayed in the breeze, the fine wire, almost invisible from the ground, hanging in a deep curve with its lowest point only a matter of a few feet above the swift waters of the river. Unexpected success was attained in the very first venture, the wire being carried from the shore across the gap without mishap.
The water splashes from the tossing float and the colored streamers enabled the waiting men on the island to follow the course of the fine wire and catch the kite that was guided behind the tower and hauled down. Next followed a sequence of tedious operations. First the fine piano wire was used to pull over another wire of greater diameter. The latter, in turn was spliced to a light cable one-eighth of an inch thick, which was used to bring over a quarter-inch cable. Eventually, a strong steel cable, two and a half inches in diameter, was pulled across to form the 2,605-foot cableway, which is now linked to the two steel towers. From there progressively heavier cables could be pulled through the water until finally the big two-and-a-half-inch cable could be strung from tower to tower to carry the bucket, which in turn would carry rock pieces weighing up to ten tons.
And so, the completion of this cableway was facilitated because Hydro construction men accepted the literal interpretation of “Go fly a kite”.
The submerged Grass Island Weir was composed of rock fill made up of very large blocks, measuring to 8 ton, of limestone with no bonding material, with a top width of about 12 m (40 ft.) and ranges in height from .6 m (2 ft.) at its mid-river terminus to 3 m (10 ft.) at the Canadian shore. When completed, the weir was 1,455 feet (443m) long, extending from within 300 feet (91m) of the Canadian shoreline towards the shoal upstream from Goat Island. It extended out into the river for a distance of 1,840 feet from the Canadian shore, but did not begin right at the shore. A clear channel, some 300 feet wide, had to be provided and a distance of approximately 5 feet under the surface of the river had to be provided in order to allow a proper distance for ice clearance. Because the top of the weir was to be five feet below the surface of the water, it was impossible to take the rock fill out from shore by truck or any other conventional method. The use of a floating plant with special safeguards was considered, but rejected as too hazardous. It was decided that a cableway was the answer, with a head tower with the hoisting machinery on one side of the river and its tail tower on the end of a rock fill causeway built out from the American shore, in shallow water.
The cableway construction was uniquely adapted to meet the conditions at the site and to the type of weir built. To place the stone in the river the cableway was to be strung between two 47.2 m (155 ft.) steel towers, one on the United States side of the boundary – on an artificial island 0.8 km (0.5 mi.) out in the river just inside the American boundary – and the other on the bank just above Dufferin Islands at the start of the rapids between Chippewa and Niagara Falls. The head tower, located on the Canadian shore was about 10 feet above the tail tower. Each of the towers was to be mounted on a mobile carriage operating on parallel tracks about 160 feet long. With this arrangement, the towers propelled electrically- by two 25 HP motors mounted on the trucks, could be moved 80 feet from the center location upstream and down at a rate of 50 feet per minute. The mobility was needed to obtain the desired placing of stones in the construction of the weir. All of the controls and hoisting machinery were located on the head tower, which the tail tower could have been operated in synchronization or independently of the head tower. The cableway used for the construction of the weir was previously on an engineering project for the Conchas Dam in New Mexico and the Denison Dam construction project in Texas.
Construction of the submerged weir began in March 1942. To build this artificial island, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a 2,200-foot (671 m) causeway extending upstream from the eastern end of Goat Island. Surveys made in 1941 indicated that the shallow depths on the shoal above Goat Island afforded the best location for an access roadway to the American end of the proposed weir. Construction of the causeway began in March 1942. The causeway, a roadway of about 10,000 tons of riprap and quarry run stone was built along the ridge of the shoal for 2,200 feet ending in an artificial island for the tail tower of the cableway. The causeway was a single lane road embankment averaging about 5 feet high. Turnouts were provided in three locations for use of traffic passing. Tower Island is about 140 feet wide, 200 feet long and about 6 feet high above low water stage. It consists of a line of batter cribs to support the inclined front tracks of the tail tower and to take the horizontal thrust of the cableway; a line of rectangular cribs for the rear tracks; and a perimeter of heavy riprap, all filled in with smaller stone. In total, about 18,000 tons of stone were used. The causeway and tail tower were finished by June 26, 1942.
Confronted with the problem of getting the first line across the river at this point, construction men on both the Canadian and United States sides of the International boundary gave much thought to the method which might be adopted. Direct crossing by a vessel was out of the question because of the swift currents and the close proximity of the rapids and Falls. The cable would have to cross nearly half a mile of deep, fast and dangerous water. Towing a line across would have involved taking it nearly a mile upstream from the cableway tower on the American side and then bringing the end of the line down the Canadian shore and past numerous land obstacles. There was also the possibility of the line being fouled by boulders in the river. All sorts of suggestions came forth at this point, including the use of rockets airplanes and even an American Army blimp. This last method was favored in particular by the American Corps of Engineers, who were participating with the Commission on the weir project. Power lines and other obstacles precluded the possibility of using a plane or helicopter. At the same time, the distance between the Canadian and United State cable towers was too great to come within range of a rocket gun. To surmount the various difficulties the possibility of using a kite was suggested as the most simple and economical method of getting the first line across the gap. Whatever if was, it would first carry a light, fine wire across the gap. From there progressively heavier cables could be pulled through the water until finally the big two-and-a-half-inch cable could be strung from tower to tower to carry the bucket, which in turn would carry rock pieces weighing up to ten tons.
While the American engineers’ were making negotiations for a U.S Army blimp, the Canadian engineers were, literally, playing with kites. It all started when engineer Fred Burton remembered General Baden Powell’s use of the device in the South African war. An investigation was immediately started and after a good deal of hunting much valuable information was unfolded on the history, eccentricities and functions of the kite. This research work revealed data on experiments, which have been made with large kites and, from this knowledge; it appeared that the kite idea might succeed. A few hours in the reference library added much practical and interesting information. A few more days for designing and building and there was a full-fledged kite. The complete outfit was in the hands of the Construction Superintendent at Niagara, exactly ten days after the idea was first formed.
Measuring 7 feet 6 inches in height by 6 feet in width and 2 feet 6 inches in depth, it comprised a ½” spruce or basswood frame, braced with piano wire and nainsook for the lifting surface. Everything was in readiness for the experiment. That same evening on Saturday July 5, 1942, a trial flight was made, with a certain amount of trepidation, but the kite behaved well. Then came several days of waiting for a favorable wind. When the day finally arrived, July 13, 1942, the men quickly took up their appointed positions. Because of the direction of the wind, the kite was sent aloft from a truck 2,000 feet upstream from the tower on the Canadian side. Many pairs of eyes watched expectantly as it soared and swayed in the breeze, the fine wire, almost invisible from the ground, hanging in a deep curve with its lowest point only a matter of a few feet above the swift waters of the river. The controlling line was 1/32-inch piano wire – 6000 feet of it -while there were approximately 2,000 feet of trailing line terminating in a float and marked by colored streamers. Unexpected success was attained in the very first venture, the wire being carried from the shore across the gap without mishap.
It turned out to be a complete success; the wire landing within a hundred feet of the designated spot. The water splashed from the tossing float and the colored streamers enabled the waiting men on the island to follow the course of the fine wire and catch the kite that was guided behind the tower and hauled down. Next followed a sequence of tedious operations- successive pulls of heavier cable took place without a hitch. First the fine piano wire was used to pull over 1/16 inch piano wire. The latter, in turn was spliced to steel aircraft cord one-eighth of an inch thick- by use of a hand winch, which was used to bring over a quarter-inch cable. Succeeding lines were 3/8, ½, ¾ and 1 ¼ inch wire ropes. Eventually, a special steel cable, two and a half inch locked coil, with a breaking strength of 345 tons was pulled across to form the 2,605-foot cableway, which was linked to the two steel towers. Pulling apparatus included a hoist drum mounted on a portable “Jenny”, a Caterpillar D-8 tractor, and the main hoist in the head tower. General rigging considerations required that the main track cable be pulled from the tail tower to the head tower. This cable with its special steel reel weighted 25 tons, and had to be moved from the railroad terminal to Tower Island over the Goat Island bridges, which had a safe load capacity of only 15 tons. A large timber reel was therefore built, on which half of the track cable was wound. An ensemble of hauling equipment, consisting of a truck tractor, two trailers and a second truck to provide tail tension, spaced a sufficient distance apart so that no two units were on the same bridge at the same time, safely made the crossing.
The first stone was placed in the weir on September 8, 1942, about 1000 feet from Tower Island. Work then progressed towards the head tower, for 200 feet. Experience on this section facilitated later operations, as the weir was extended at each end.
During August of 1942, the stone blocks were transported out from the Canadian side in a gondola car that was operated on a steel cable that was capable of supporting ten tons. On a similar cable stretched between the two towers was another car that carried inspectors who with the aid of two-way, frequency modulated, short wave radio, communicated instructions for the placing of the rock to an operator situated in a control room mounted on the Canadian tower. Stone was dumped by taking in the slack in the dump lines at the point directed by telephone from the control station. Experimentation demonstrated that it was impossible to set stone directly in place because of the swift current, which metering showed ranged at up to 8 feet per second. Dumping from above the water surface was found practicable, as soundings indicated that the stone was not swept downstream appreciably. A story told by Carl Gordon Cline recalled the time that he and Mr. Woods were trying to see how far the current took the first big blocks that they were dumping into the water before they settled on the floor of the river. So, they climbed into the big bucket with a radio with which to communicate with the operator. Cline told the operator to lower them down until being radioed to stop. He did, but half way down the radio stopped functioning, and the operator kept on lowering and waiting for the signal. Before a man on the shore with another radio could tell the operator to stop lowering and start rising, Cline and Woods got a dunking in the River. Gordon’s reaction was – “next time I’ll give him all the instructions at once – to stop before they reach the water level!”
July of 1942- Newman A. Goldstein, of the advisory board of the Harbor Commission and a group of local residents proposed to convert the causeway and temporary island into a scenic attraction for the American side of the river. It had been suggested that the causeway and island could be made into a 1/3rd mile walk and a viewing tower constructed on the island for visitors. U.S army Corps of Engineers informed the group that the causeway would remain for about two years after the weir was completed and then be scheduled for removal. By September, the group abandoned these plans.
During 1945 and 1946, observation was made of the hydraulic and ice effects on the weir and additional rock was dropped along the weir where measurements indicated that holes had developed. By the summer of 1946, it was decided that the weight of the rock was sufficient and that no more rock need be dropped. This led to the decision to demolish the causeway and tower. It was decided that the island however, would remain and be landscaped. The rock, that was eventually removed from the causeway, served to build up the mainland of the upper Niagara River west from the old hydraulic canal and on the East end of Goat Island. The rock was placed, covered with clay soil and vines planted. This was in compensation to the Niagara Frontier State Park Commission for the damage done to the shoreline attributed to the causeway being in place and the heavy use of Park roads and bridges. By the Fall of 1946, the cable was in the process of being removed by being hauled to the Canadian side, in an effort to relieve the Goat Island bridges and the roads of the Niagara State Reservation of the heavy trucking that was necessary to take it from the island. Demolition of the towers would follow in November. The towers, which weighted 230 tons and included a 10-ton crownpiece, and the demolition of the head tower on the Canadian side was under the jurisdiction of the OHEPC. The demolition of the tail tower was undertaken by the U.S . Army Corps of Engineers- Buffalo District, under the direction of John Torcello- with the actual work performed by McLain Construction. Both towers were removed and stored at the U.S War Assets Administration warehouse in Cheektowaga, New York near the Buffalo Municipal Airport. It was reported that the tail tower was once used by the U.S Government during a dam construction project in Texas. The steel towers and cableway were again reused in 1948 for a project in Virginia.
The weir served its purpose until 1953 when the International Control Dam was built some 76 m (250 ft.) downstream. The artificial island remained and became known as “Tower Island” and it still exists today as a terminus for the Hydro Control Dam.