Soil Testing Companies Background on soil testing companies



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Highway Research Board (1920)

The Highway Research Board (HRB) was organized on November 11, 1920 as an agency of the Division of Engineering & Industrial Research, one of eight divisions of the National Research Council, which had been established in 1916, shortly before America’s entry into the First World War. The HRB was intended as a cooperative organization between the “highway technologists” of America, in support of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, state highway agencies, and a the few academic researchers beginning to engage in practical issues related to pavement design. The HRB was intended to encourage research and provide a national clearinghouse and correlation service for research and information on highway administration and technology. The expansive adobe clay soils in California created a very real need for highways that could withstand large seasonal fluctuations in soil moisture content, which catapulted California to the top of the emerging science associated with pavement design during the 1920s. From these efforts to understand and characterize subgrade materials came the recognition and appreciation of the emerging field of soil mechanics.

The establishment of the HRB soon led to extensive track tests at Columbia Steel Mills in Pittsburgh, CA, a cooperative project of the California Division of Highways of the State Department of Public Works, the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, and several other agencies. These tests led to the development of R-values to characterize pavement subgrade materials (in 1927), and the first subgrade compaction test standard (California Test Method 217 in 1929), which had widespread influence, nationally. More extensive tests using larger construction equipment was carried out during the Second World War at Stockton Army Airfield. This led to the development of flexible pavement design methodologies which dominated the post-war transportation sector, and the Modified Proctor Compaction test (AASHTO T180), for airfield runways (in 1945), which was eventually adopted by ASTM in as Test No D-1557 in 1958. This became the statewide standard in the 1985 Edition of the Uniform Building Code and the 1986 California Building Code, when UBC Standard 70-1 (introduced in 1964) was eliminated.
Early publications on mitigation of landslides (1920)

In 1920 Halbert P. Gillette of Chicago, IL and San Marino, CA, Editor of the serial journal Engineering and Contracting, published a detailed review of landslides and the various methods employed to mitigate their dangers in Chapter XXII Slips and Slides of his text Earthwork and Its Costs: A handbook of earth excavation, published by McGraw-Hill. It included 51 pages of text with numerous ink drawings, and a detailed bibliography of engineering literature pertaining to the study of landslides and their mitigation up til that time (pre-1920). Gillette spent the winters in the Los Angeles area, and his younger brother Walter was a contractor in the Los Angeles area, with whom he invented the sheepsfoot roller in 1905 (see description of “The First Sheepsfoot Compactor, 1902-03,” in the southern California threadline).


Tests of California Adobe Soils” (1921)

In the fall of 1920 University of California (Berkeley) civil engineering Professor Clement T. Wiskocil performed a series of tests on adobe soils of California at the request of the Automobile Club of Southern California and the California State Automobile Association, titled “Laboratory Experiments: A Preliminary Study of Adobe Soils and Concrete Slab Tests,” dated January 17, 1921 (available on Google Books). The work was performed under the direction of Berkeley Dean of Engineering Charles Derleth by Clement Wiskocil, who directed the university’s Materials Research Laboratory. These studies included sieve analyses, assessment of soil volume change (percent soil moisture) and linear shrinkage tests, and to a smaller extent, the impacts of adding lime and sand to adobe clay, and the expansive forces engendered when adobe is under confinement. These test results were subsequently cited in numerous reports and articles on pavement design that appeared over the ensuing decades, as the “starting point” for all similar soils tests thereafter, in California and elsewhere.


First course on foundation engineering (1921)

Professor Charles Derleth at the University of California (Berkeley) taught the first course on foundation engineering in the San Francisco Bay Area, summarized in the document: “Notes on Foundations and Masonry Structures” for Senior Courses in Civil Engineering at the University of California, dated October 1921.
Differing Site Conditions” clause introduced (1921)

The first standardized “changed conditions” clause was developed by the Interdepartmental Board of Contracts and Adjustments on November 22, 1921 by the U.S. Bureau of the Budget. The new clause was intended to provide a contractual basis for contractors that encountered site conditions that were more adverse than those indicated in the construction contract. The changed conditions clause was thereafter included in a standard form of general conditions for construction contracts issued after August 20, 1926. To this day, Federal Regulations mandate its use in U.S. Government contracts. This clause was subsequently adopted in the standard contract documents sponsored by the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee of ACEC, ASCE, and NSPE; the AIA, ASCE in collaboration with the Associated General Contractors of America; AASHTO, and numerous state and municipal agencies. In 1968 the term “changed conditions” was revised to “differing site conditions,” commonly referred to as the “DSC clause.”


First bridge designed for distribution of earthquake forces (1924)

The Carquinez Straits Toll Bridge between Crockett and Vallejo was built by the American Toll Bridge Company for a cost of $8 million, contributed by private investors. Berkeley Professor Charles Derleth, Jr. served as Chief Engineer for the project, but David B. Steinman of New York served as the Designing Engineer (Steinman went onto considerable fame as a bridge engineer and one of the fathers of the National Society of Professional Engineers, in 1934). Columbia University Professor William H. Burr served as the project’s Consulting Engineer, reviewing the project plans and construction.

During the design process Steinman was tasked with considering how seismic loads might best be handled, to prevent the bridge from suffering undue damage or closure, in the event of an earthquake similar to that which had destroyed San Francisco in 1906. In an attempt to spread seismic loads to the eight caissons and the Crockett bulkhead, Steinman developed expansion stops and hydraulic buffers placed across all the bridge’s expansion joints, to limit the amount of possible sudden movement, such as that caused by earthquakes. These have come to be known as “Shock Transmission Units” (STU’s). His STUs were placed between the bridge’s expansion joints and bearings to form a rigid link under rapidly applied loads, such as earthquakes, explosions, or wind gusts, but move freely under slowly applied loads, like temperature and creep shrinkage. This was accomplished by using dashpots that employ sufficiently viscous fluids that will not easily flow through a narrow gap, orifice, or valve, thereby generating considerable resistance. But, if the loads are applied slowly, there is little resistance. Six STUs were employed in the 1927 span, and the same number of high capacity STUs were also embedded in second, wider span, built by the California Division of Highways in 1956-58 (these were replaced with 1800 ton STUs in 2002-04).

The final design employed two main spans of 1100 ft each with an intervening cantilever span of 3,350 ft, making it the longest cantilever bridge in the United States. The bridge’s clearance over the channel varied from 122 to 160 ft, from south to north. Eight caissons were sunk through up to 90 ft of water and up to 45 ft of sediment, overlying the bedrock (for a total depth of 135 ft), making them the deepest water piers ever built up to that time.

The bridge was constructed between February 1925 and May 1927. It was operated privately for 13 years, until being purchased by the State of California in September 1940, who operated it as a toll bridge until it was paid off, on August 1, 1945. In 1958 a second bridge was completed by the State Division of Highways for Interstate 80, and the westbound lanes were routed onto the 1927 span. The bridge was dismantled in 2007 after a new suspension span was constructed just downstream.


First use of mechanical compaction on embankment dam in northern California (1926)

The first earth embankments compacted with sheepsfoot rollers were the Lake Henshaw Dam in 1920-23 for the Vista Irrigation District in San Diego County. This was followed in 1926 by Philbrook Dam for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in the northern Sierras by R.G. Letourneau and Henry J. Kaiser, and the Puddingstone Dam for the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in 1927, using a new roller patented by contractor H.W. Rohl that employed ball-shaped heads. The first earth dam compacted by sheepsfoot roller for a federal agency was Echo Dam in Utah, for the Bureau of Reclamation in 1928. The sheepsfoot roller’s narrow spikes induced kneading compaction, critical for densification of clayey soils.


Development of the Uniform Building Code (1925-27)

The Uniform Building Code came about as a result of the Magnitude 6.3 Santa Barbara earthquake of June 25, 1925. This quake caused $6 million in damage to a city with only 30,000 people. The quake also came on the heels of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (M 7.9), which burned much of Tokyo to the ground and killed 143,000 people. In the wake of the terrible losses suffered in Santa Barbara, the nation’s largest insurers asked the Seismological Society of America (SSA) to provide future seismic risk assessments. The Board of Fire Underwriters of the Pacific funded several research projects aimed at assessing the earthquake hazard risks for various building types, making unreinforced masonry structures virtually uninsurable. When these assessments were released, they were so alarming that most lending institutions refused to invest in any further construction in the Los Angeles Area.

This led to a crisis involving the California State Chamber of Commerce, the California Development Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and SSA. SSA officials met with local governments and encouraged them to consider the adoption of seismic design tenants in their building codes, while the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce hired retired USGS geologist R.T. Hill to debunk and discredit everything SSA President, Stanford Geology Professor Bailey Willis (also a retired USGS geologist) had to say about increased seismic risk in southern California.

On October 18-21 the Pacific Coast Building Officials Conference (PCBOC) convened in Los Angeles and hammered out a new Uniform Building Code (UBC), which was published by PCBOC. The primary purpose of the PCBOC was to establish regulations and standards for building safety. In March 1956 the PCBOC was conjoined with several other building code conferences to form the much larger International Conference of Building Officials, known as ICBO. While ICBO had no legal authority to create laws, most cities in the western United States adopted ICBO standards after 1956. Revised editions of this code were published approximately every three years, up through 1997.

From 1927-94 PCBOC/ICBO was headquartered in Los Angeles and from 1956, in Whittier. During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s ASCE, CCCE, AEG, and ICBO formed numerous joint committees to explore the establishment of suitable standards for foundation engineering, grading and excavation. These consultations resulted in the establishment of Expansion Index Test (UBC Test 29-2/18-2), adopted in 1967; and the UBC [compaction] Test Standard 70-1, adopted in 1967 (and discarded in 1985).
First textbooks on soil mechanics (1925) and engineering geology (1929)

In 1925 Austrian engineer and geologist Karl Terzaghi published the first textbook on soil mechanics in German, titled Erdbaumechanik (Soil Mechanics), while he was a professeor at Robert College in Constantinople. The appearance of this new branch of engineering knowledge led to an invitation for Terzaghi to serve as a visiting professor at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology between 1925-29, where their new Engineering Building was experiencing severe settlement problems. While he was in Cambridge, MA Terzaghi finished writing his second, and much larger text book, titled Ingenieurgeologie (Engineering Geology), with co-authors Karl A. Redlich and Rudolf Kampe, also in German, and released in 1929.


First dam designed for fault offset (1926-27)

The Stony Gorge Dam was designed and constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of their Orland Irrigation Project, along the western side of the Sacramento Valley. The dam was a concrete buttress Ambursen-type structure with a maximum height of 120 ft and length of 900 ft, with a reservoir capacity of 51,000 ac-ft. The foundation was explored using test pits and 10 boreholes, from 30 to 110 ft deep, probing a conglomerate unit that most of the structure was founded upon. The dam’s foundations were then examined by Berkeley economic geology Professor Carlton D. Hulin, (BS ’20, PhD ’24 Berkeley) who was a mining geologist. He confirmed the suspicion that the channel of Stony Creek was structurally controlled by a fault, passing beneath the dam. Hulin determined that the fault had moved at least 150 ft, and that although it was old, it might be capable of “some slight lateral movement.” He believed that problems with seepage and performance could be assuaged using a careful program of foundation grouting. A line of grout holes along 200 ft of the fault were drilled, on 10 ft centers to a depth of 30 ft. As a precaution, Reclamation Chief Designing Engineer John L. “Jack” Savage shifted the spillway and outlet works away from the fault, so that any future movement would not impact those critical elements. Two 18 ft wide non-continuous slabs were employed across the fault because it was thought the best system to accommodate minor foundation movements along the exposed fault. They also applied plastic asphalt putty between the face slabs and the supporting buttress elements. The employment of these novel mitigation measure led to similar schemes being developed for faults constructed across potentially active faults a few years later, at Rodriquez Dam in 1930, Morris Dam in 1933-34, and Coyote Dam in 1934-36.


California Bearing Ratio Test (1928)

This was a novel test procedure developed by O. James Porter of the California Division of Highways in the late 1920s, in Sacramento. Porter took subgrade soils from proposed highway alignments and removed the fragments >1/4 inch, then compacted the soil in a cylindrical mold, six inches and diameter and five inches high (1/12th ft3). The samples were then submerged for a known period and then its resistance to a penetrating needle is measured, which is then compared to a “standard resistance” for crushed limestone. The determined resistance was then divided by the standard resistance and multiplied by 100, and referred to as the “California Bearing Ratio” (CBR). It was intended to evaluate subgrade strengths in the investigation of existing pavements and aid in selecting granular subbase beneath pavements.

The empirical test regimen was extrapolated over the succeeding two decades to estimate soil suitability for increasing wheel loads, far beyond what anyone imagined in 1928 [Porter O.J., 1939, The preparation of subgrades: Proc. Highway Res. Bd, Wash., v.18:2, 324-31; and ENR Mar 21, 1946, p.422]. During the Second World War, Porter and the Army Corps of Engineers developed a protocol using the CBR test to evaluate subgrade strength for pavement design of airfields (O.J. Porter, 1942, "Foundations for Flexible Pavements," Proceedings, Highway Research Board, Washington, D.C., Dec; O.J. Porter & Co. (1949). Accelerated Traffic Test at Stockton Airfield Stockton, California (Stockton Test No. 2)," Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, Department of the Army).

From 1945 on, this method was used almost exclusively for flexible pavement design by the California Division of Highways and the Army Corps of Engineers because the Corps published simple pavement design correlations based upon the CBR values. These procedures ushered in the modern era of flexible pavement design, making Porter a high visibility figure.


First soil compaction standard (1929)

The first published standard for testing the mechanical compaction of earth was the California State Impact Method, or “California Impact Test.” It is now known as California Test 216 – “Method of Test for Relative Compaction of Untreated and Treated Soils and Aggregates.” It was developed in 1929 by O. James Porter, PE (1901-67) of the California Division of Highways in Sacramento. It presented a procedure for ascertaining the in-place wet density of aggregate baserock or compacted soil, and the preparation of a wet density versus soil moisture content curve (similar to what Proctor later proposed, using dry soil density, described below). The 216 test uses wet density as the measurement standard and has been modified six times since its original adoption in 1929 (see F.N. Hveem, 1958, “Suggested Method of Test for the Moisture-Density Relations of Soils (California Method),” Procedures for Testing Soils, ASTM, Philadelphia, pp. 136-39). The current version of the test used to be referred to as California Test Method No. 216-F, which employs energy input of 37,000 to 44,000 ft-lbs/ft3 of soil.


Adoption of Engineering Registration (1929)

Wyoming was the first state to register engineers, in 1907. A registration act for engineers had been passed by the State Assembly and Senate in Sacramento in 1925, but failed to gain the governor’s approval. Engineers promoting registration then formed the California Engineers Registration Association (CERA) on March 10, 1928, just two days before St. Francis Dam failed. As it turned out, their timing was fortuitous, as the public clamored for “something to be done” to better ensure public welfare and safety in the wake of the dam’s failure, which killed more than 435 people. CERA’s rolls swelled to 600 members by November and politicians were eager to demonstrate to the public that they were making sweeping changes to the status quo.

The Civil Engineers Registration Bill sailed through the state legislature in early July 1929 and became law on August 14th. Right up to its adoption, the act was vigorously opposed by a number of professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Mining Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The new act defined civil engineering as: “that branch of professional engineering which deals with the economics of, the use and design of materials of construction and the determination of their physical qualities; the supervision of the construction of engineering structures; and the investigation of the laws, phenomena and forces of nature; in connection with fixed works for: irrigation, drainage, water power, water supply, flood control, inland waterways, harbors, municipal improvements, railroads, highways, tunnels, airports and airways, purification of water, sewerage, refuse disposal, foundations, framed and homogeneous structures, bridges, and buildings. Furthermore, it included city and regional planning, valuations and appraisals, and surveying, other than land surveying as already defined in Statutes adopted by the legislature in 1891 (the first engineering registration act in the United States) and amended in 1907. It mandated that any person who practices or offers to practice civil engineering in any of its branches must be registered, and created The Board of Registration for Civil Engineers.

The act also directed that civil engineers in state service must be duly registered if they served in a capacity of ‘Assistant Engineer” or higher. The California Supreme Court quickly issued rulings that a contract for engineering services was invalid if the party undertaking to furnish engineering services was not registered and the State’s appellate courts ruled that engineers offering expert testimony should be registered, although it left the ultimate decision to the discretion of individual judges because some individuals had previously been qualified as experts, before passage of the registration law.

The act allowed the three-person board to develop standards for applicants over a two year period and to survey registration standards being employed by other states, for purposes of comparison. California made a comprehensive study of procedures practiced in 25 other states and seven Canadian provinces which had laws regulating engineering practice. The standard California adopted required applicants to be at least 25 years old, a legal resident of the state for at least one year (waived for those willing to sit for the examination), and demonstrate more than six years of professional practice, including at least one year of being in “responsible charge.” Applications had be supported by at least four engineers unrelated to the applicants by family or marriage, who could vouch for their character, experience, and technical competence, before they would be eligible to sit for the written examination. The board allowed a college degree in engineering to be the equivalent of four years’ experience, while graduate work in engineering could be credited for up to one year of experience (California did not offer doctorate degrees in civil engineering until sometime later, but this discrepancy has never been amended).

5,700 individuals applied for civil engineering registration during the first year applications were accepted, more than double what the state board had expected. Grandfathering was only allowed for the first 10 months, until June 30, 1930, after which time, applicants would be required to take a written examination. Many of those who applied for grandfathering were asked to appear before the three man board (appointed by the governor) for oral interviews. The basic determinant for “gray area” cases was whether applicants had entered the profession from the labor ranks of construction, this experience was not deemed to be ‘engineering experience.” Of those who applied the first year, 5,035 were accepted, providing the State of California with about one registered engineer for every thousand people then living in the state! It took California the next 25 years to register the next 5,000 civil engineers. Many states followed the examples demonstrated by New York and California. By 1932, 28 states had enacted professional registration for civil engineers. In 1947 Montana became the last state of the original 48 to adopt PE registration.

Over the years, the Board has experienced some major changes under the provisions of the Professional Engineers Act. The number of branches of engineering regulated by the Board has increased, and the status of some of the older branches has changed. When electrical and mechanical engineering were first covered by the registration law in 1947, the law only affected the use of the titles. In 1967, the Act was amended to regulate the practice of those branches, as well as the titles. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Act was also amended to give the Board the right to accept additional branches of engineering into the registration program. The additional categories were for the purpose of regulating the use of the titles of those engineering branches. Between 1972 and 1975, the Board expanded the registration program to include nine additional branches of engineering under its jurisdiction. In 1986, at the Board's request, the authority to create new title registration branches was removed from the Act. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, four of the title registration branches were deregulated.

In 2009 the Board of Registration for Geology & Geophysics was absorbed into the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (BORPELS). On January 1, 2011 it was renamed the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists.

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