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Posted 3/30/2018

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By Lee Roberts
Nashville District Public Affairs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 30, 2018) – Some very accomplished employees in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District recently engineered “fun” learning activities for “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.”

A total of 36 sons and daughters learned about what their parents do in support of the region’s water resources, and took part in an exciting visit to Old Hickory Dam located at Cumberland River mile 216.2 in Old Hickory, Tenn.  They also participated in a number of team building exercises at the district headquarters in Nashville that included building and testing dams they made with Legos.

“Today was a great opportunity to connect our families at work with our families at home,” said Maj. Justin Toole, acting Nashville District commander. “Generations of employees spanning the past 130 years have delivered water resource engineering solutions, and we need a new generation of employees to carry us into the future.”

The major also participated, bringing along his daughter and his parents for the tour of Old Hickory Dam.    His mother Arlene said, “My son told us it was ‘Bring Your Kid to Work Day,’ so I said ‘I can bring you then!’”

At Old Hickory Lock, Lockmaster Skeeter Deskins welcomed the kids to the lock named after President Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, whose nickname is forever “Old Hickory.”

The Nashville District opened Old Hickory Lock to navigation traffic in June 1954 at Cumberland River mile 216.2.  The lock chamber is 397 feet long and 84 feet wide.  During normal lake levels, the lock will lift a boat 60 feet from the river below the dam to the lake above the dam.  The lock releases more than 15 million gallons of water each time it is emptied.

“For those of you who don’t know what a lock is, think of it as an elevator for boats, so they can get from the river up to the lake,” Deskins explained to the kids.  “About a thousand years ago when they started building dams, they thought about how will they get boats past it, and they came up with a lock.”

Rachel Bartusiak, daughter of Structural Engineer John Bartusiak, said she loved seeing the navigation lock operate. 

“They raised and lowered the water and they opened and closed the gate,” Rachel said.  “It was fun.  You could look on one side and see the water and then look on the other side and it was way far down. That’s when we walked across the gate.”

Camden Powell, son of Janelle Powell, Resource Management budget analyst, stood at the edge of the navigation lock and pointed toward the gates and asked his mother questions about its operation.  He said that he enjoyed learning about how boats move through a navigation lock when the water is raised and lowered.

At the Old Hickory Power Plant, Superintendent Joseph Conatser led the tour and explained how water from the reservoir enters gate-controlled intakes into the powerhouse, rotates the turbines, and discharges through draft tubes into the river below the dam.  Generators, mounted on the same shafts with the turbines, produce the electric current.  It is increased in voltage by transformers and carried from the power plant by transmission lines leading from the switchyard.

“This generator produces 13,800 volts.  It comes out to the main power transformer where it gets stepped up to 69,000 volts and out to the power grid to provide power to your neighborhoods and your homes,” Conatser said.

Savanah Pullen, 9, daughter of Jesse Pullen, Construction Support Section chief, said she thought it was cool that the 28 hydropower units at nine dams in the Cumberland River Basin could power up 287,000 homes, or a city roughly the size of Nashville.

Construction of Old Hickory Dam began in January 1952.  The Corps of Engineers completed the dam closure in June 1954 and the project for full beneficial use in December 1957 when the final hydroelectric power unit went into operation.

After visiting Old Hickory Dam, the kids reassembled at the Nashville District Headquarters where they built dams with Legos as part of an exercise about geology and soils; constructed turbine wheels during a presentation about hydrology, hydraulics and hydropower; and built model bridges with K’NEX (educational building toys) while learning about structural engineering. The final exercise for the kids featured circuits in action operating motors and spinning functional gear systems.

Bill Whitley, an appraiser in the Real Estate Division, brought his daughters Isabella and Esther and said he really liked the emphasis on applied sciences that held the interest of his girls.

“It’s fantastic as far as being able to get hands-on experience at the dam and the lock, and the activities here in the conference room,” Whitley said. “I think you learn more when it is fun.”

Project Manager Doug DeLong organized the activities and said the objective was to provide fun learning activities for the kids because sitting and watching PowerPoint briefings is not the best way of holding their attention.

“I wanted to do a lot of hands-on activities with the kids so they could not only understand what’s being taught as far as the engineering concepts, but use hands-on activities to go along with the concepts that were taught,” DeLong said. “It was a great success.  They had a lot of fun.  They learned a lot. We could definitely see the excitement on their faces.  Every activity that we had the kids had a big smile.”

At the culmination of the day’s activities, Toole thanked the kids for visiting with their parents and for giving the Corps of Engineers the opportunity to provide a tour, learning activities, and information about the district’s missions and career fields. He said a lot of the activities brought out the “kids” in some of the adult participants.

“I saw a lot of discussions.  Hopefully something interested you here,” Toole said to the kids.  “If one day you end up being a scientist or engineer or mechanic or a leader in the Corps of Engineers or elsewhere, maybe you can look back at today as a starting point for that journey.” 

(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)

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