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An Installation Challenge at Henry Ford’s Museum

By Nancy Hardwick

The Irrigation plan for the entrance to the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village in Deerborn, Mich., shows about one acre of the five-acre-total project. Circles connected by lines in the center of the image are pop-up spray rotors. Their irregular placement is dictated by the need to avoid trees and other obstacles, according to project irrigation architect Geoff Graber.

Thawing the frozen earth was hurdle No. 1 when working on a tight deadline in the Michigan winter.

Tackling the landscape renovation of a National Historical Landmark – in the midst of a brutal Michigan winter – might be considered a mission impossible. Unless you are Bill Canon of WH Canon, Inc. in Romulus, Mich., or Marc Dutton of Marc Dutton Irrigation in Waterford, Mich. Canon and Dutton headed up the landscape construction and irrigation teams that renovated The Henry Ford/Greenfield Village, a living museum of early Americana located in Dearborn, Michigan.

Canon’s implementation team used shade structures as warming huts to help workers remove 40 inches of frozen topsoil before installing the 160-zone Hunter irrigation system and close to 3.5 acres of brick and other hardscape, a portion of which is shown here. The tents gave workers shirtsleeve conditions when temperatures hovered in the 20s outside.

Their work on this major landscape renovation has earned industry-wide recognition. WH Canon, for example, was recently awarded the Michigan Green Industry’s Environmental Improvement Gold Award for commercial landscape reconstruction over $250,000. Dutton’s company is rated one of the “Top 100” irrigation firms in the country, and he was honored at a recent Ford event for his efforts on this project.

Founded by Henry Ford, Greenfield Village was originally created by the automobile pioneer in 1929 to preserve and re-create scenes from American life at the turn of the century. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of The Ford Motor Company, the park was scheduled to undergo a major renovation with new exhibits, new infrastructure, new landscaping, hardscapes, new automated irrigation and more.

Additional drainage and irrigation lines were installed by equipment operator Andy Campbell after the ground had thawed in early spring. Dutton Irrigation had four “staging areas” with equipment and supplies so they could move around the job site on a daily basis.

Site planning started in 2000 and by the fall of 2002, bulldozers were tearing out old roads, sewers and irrigation lines, moving buildings and making way for the improvements.

That’s when the challenge got extreme. The entire landscape reconstruction had to be completed during the winter of 2002-2003 for the park to be ready for the June 10, 2003 Grand Opening and the Ford Motor Company’s anniversary gala on June 12.

Dutton’s crew handled the irrigation installation, which featured a complete Hunter Industries irrigation system.

Job One: The Ground Frost

In early January 2003, the frozen ground frost was already 40" deep. It was one of the coldest Michigan winters on record. Temperatures hovered around 20? during the day.

Project supervisors John Dutton (left) and Al Couck of Marc Dutton Irrigation review plans as work nears completion at the Henry Ford museum site. Two teams of five workers labored through the winter to meet a June deadline.

The landscapers’ first concern was how to handle the rock-hard top soil. Canon's hardscapes division came up with the idea of installing greenhouse “shade tents” with heaters to remove the top level of frost from the ground.

“Initially, we set up a glycol heating system to warm the ground,” explained Edward Ashcraft, vice president/construction manager at WH Canon. “We ran hoses filled with glycol, a radiator-like fluid, throughout the park to start melting the frost.”

Large shade tents (25' x 25') with construction space heaters were then set up throughout the site – and moved around – so that crew members with mechanical excavators could remove the frozen tundra and haul it off-site.

Crews then dug down 12 to 24 inches, depending whether the particular venue was to handle pedestrian or vehicular traffic. The excavations were then filled with crushed granular aggregate and a sand setting bed to create suitable conditions for laying 3.5 acres of decorative pavers, bricks, concrete and other surfaces, in addition to the new irrigation system.

A total of 10 Hunter ICC-800M controllers were installed to schedule irrigation in zones with different watering requirements. Each controller was customized with slide-in modules. Each station can be programmed manually or by a wireless remote unit.

By early March, the Canon and Dutton crews were ready to start setting the pavers and running the irrigation lines. Each tent had a crew working on the hardscapes or irrigation and the construction heaters did their job – temperatures in the enclosures could reach 70? and many of the installers worked in t-shirts.

Irrigation: “Controlled Choreography”

“When we started the project in February 2003, no one outside of our crews believed it could be completed by June 10,” remembers Marc Dutton, president of Marc Dutton Irrigation. “We knew we had a firm deadline so our teams were committed to working seven days a week in one of the toughest Michigan winters we can remember. Plus, we had to be flexible enough to move around the site quickly. As soon as the trenches were opened up, we brought in the electrical lines, pipe, heads, valves and fittings so we could finish our part before the next contractor was due to come in.”

Marc Dutton Irrigation installed a total of 1,900 spray units for the project, including 900 of these I-20 Ultra rotors.

“We called the installation ‘controlled choreography.’ The crew moved around constantly as we had gained access to each site. We had three separate ‘staging areas’ with equipment and supplies ready so we could jockey around the entire park.”

Even with the demands and the deadlines, Dutton handled the job with surprisingly small crews. Two teams with five to six people each were moving around the project constantly. After the 10,000-foot main line was set, the irrigation components went in.

“The fully-automated system was a major improvement for the park. We installed 10 ICC-800M modular controllers to handle 160 zones. We customized each controller with slide-in modules to handle the needs of specific zones. Some ICCs run 16 stations, others run 24 or 32, even 48.”

With independent programming, including separate day cycles and eight start times, the controllers allowed Dutton’s team to set up site-direct irrigation zones throughout the park for turf, shrubs or flower beds.

Because the controllers feature modular expandability, each controller can be quickly modified to handle up to 48 zones with slide-in modules – when the park wants to add new turf or landscaped areas in the future.

The Deerborn project also included close to 1,000 directional spray units, which were compatible with a range of spray heads made by Hunter and other manufacturers. Units made of heavier-duty construction were selected for the projects higher traffic areas.

“If there are power outages during electrical storms, the 100-year, nonvolatile memory kicks in,” said Dutton. “All program data is retained without a back-up battery.”

Dutton’s crew also installed 900 pop-up rotors, 1,000 Pro-Sprays and SRS sprays, along with 160 ICV-151G valves. The I-20 Ultras featured a Flo-Stop control so that a single head can temporarily be turned off for cleaning or adjustments while the rest of the system keeps running.

“The rotors were compatible with 22 interchangeable nozzles (with 17' to 47' radius) meant that the rotor’s short distance nozzles could handle the close-in sites, while the longer throw nozzles could cover the large turf areas. Because one rotor could handle multiple site needs, the job moved a lot faster.”

Heavy-duty ICV valves with the pressure regulators were also installed because they allowed the user to adjust and pre-set water pressure levels from 20 to 100 psi. By maintaining safe, constant pressure levels, the regulators prevent water hammer and wear and tear on the system.

Irrigation is drawn directly from the Suwanee River, a tributary of the legendary Rouge River, which runs through the park. While a pump station pulls the irrigation directly from the Suwanee, visitors can ride the river’s paddlewheel steamboat, “The Henry Ford.”

Nancy Hardwick is a freelance writer and a principal of Hardwick & Hardwick Advertising.

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December 10, 2019, 7:05 pm PDT

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