Looking back, Jones says he now understands that his father—and other mentors who forced him to face up to hard challenges and deliver good work—were simply trying to prepare him to succeed against the same kinds of challenges they endured. For that, he is grateful.
But those experiences, including a summer in a fabrication shop that showed him how to turn raw steel into grading equipment, taught him how hard problems could be solved by imagination and good management. Moving from one challenging project to another as a superintendent and then as a project manager for Harbert Construction, Birmingham, and later Traylor Bros., Jones learned to rely on his observations and ingenuity, backed up by advice and expert calculations of engineers.
To help Traylor prepare its surge-wall bid, Jones began listing and sketching the equipment he imagined could do the job. He built on methods and ideas he had used or seen used in the past. He knew the 144-ft-long, 66-in.-dia precast cylinder piles would have to be placed with great precision, from tip to toe, or they would misalign like bad teeth. He realized the only way to ensure accuracy using floating equipment would be to drive the piles through a fixed template. His concept was to build a 1,000-ft-long, pile-supported trestle in 50-ft sections, with a self-propelled template mounted on rolling stock, like a train. The track sections would be jumped from behind to the front as the template advanced to its next destination.
A second rolling template would be needed to guide the angled, 36-in.-dia steel-pipe piles that were to be driven in, then spliced to a length of 295 ft to brace the wall from the protected side. To resist the overturning forces of the long batter piles, the template was 27 ft above the rails, had three working levels and weighed 600,000 lb. Jones sketched out how guides and movable engagement arms could be created to lock the piles into the templates, like rockets on a gantry crane.
When Traylor bid the job, Jones went to his old friend and mentor David S. Huval Sr., an engineer and president of Huval & Associates, Lafayette, La., and told him his plan, which included fabricating the trestle sections and gear-driven propulsion system for the templates in time to start driving piles by July. Huval says he told Jones it was "almost impossible" to get the equipment built that fast, but Jones found fabricators in Louisiana, Mississippi and British Columbia as well as at Traylor's Indiana shop that could meet the schedule. With a limited notice to proceed and $15 million "to spend any way they saw fit," TMW cut purchase orders worth twice that amount to commission fabrication. Meanwhile, an armada of equipment started vectoring toward New Orleans from as far away as Germany to keep the JV on track for what was now to be a June 1, 2009, start on the wall.
"When I got on board, he already had everything in motion," says Geddy. "He had the templates designed well before [the owner] said go. He was firmly entrenched in how we were going to do it, what was going to happen, down to some pretty minute details—and that's a very complicated job with over 300 people working 24 hours a day generating a million dollars a day in revenue. That's a big chunk to chew."
"If you wait for the award, you will never meet schedule," Jones says, adding, "We were boomed way out … but we had three privately owned companies, and when [TMW principals] Rich Weeks, Chris Traylor and Henry Massman decided to, they could put up the money."
Appreciating Jones' comprehensive, highly detailed vision of how the work would be staged and proceed, Hess invited Jones to the first meeting with the Corps at which Shaw presented the TMW construction plan. After hearing him, Col. Vic Zilmer, the resident engineer, asked that Jones participate in every project meeting from then on.
But as soon as the job was awarded, there were new requirements. "The day we were allowed on-site, I met with Shaw's representative and was told the Corps wanted to push the start up almost a month," says Jones. The departing commander of the HPO, Gen. Michael McCormick, wanted to start driving piles on May 10, which was 20 days earlier than planned. To avoid conflict with other activities, he wanted TMW to start in the middle of the lake and expand in opposite directions simultaneously, rather than advance from the land.
"Is there any reason you cannot drive pile on the 10th of May?" Col. McCormick demanded. Jones replied, "Colonel, the only one I can think of is that May 10 is Mother's Day, and even contractors have mothers. With your permission, we'll start driving on the 9th."
Jones was ready. The equipment had been gathered and was squirreled away in harbors and yards all around the area. People had been hired, and the Corps, which was supplying the 16-ft-long precast-pile segments, had been piling parts up in production yards on the Mississippi coast for months. When the gun went off, Jones was ready to go, and the first pile was driven on the May 9. Within a week, work was in full swing. Jones says, "It's a good opportunity" when an owner asks for special efforts like that. "It makes the owner push his people," he says.
Over the next 18 months, the assembly process, which involved 17 separate, synchronized activities advancing an optimal 48 ft each day, drove 1,271 vertical cylinder piles, spaced 6 in. apart to prevent friction and ground interference. Then, 2,538 18-in., five-sided piles were driven and grouted in to close the gaps. The wall was braced by 645 batter piles aligned with every other cylinder pile, and both were married at the top by 348 95-ton, precast pile caps nested onto them.