Construction on Doi Inthanon


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Asia » Thailand » North-West Thailand » Chiang Mai
February 11th 1974
Published: June 4th 2011
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As you will recall from a previous blog from 1967 (see Surveying the Top of Doi Inthanon) in my senior year of high school I was a member of the topographical survey crew that surveyed the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. Seven years later I was assigned as the construction manager for the construction of the radar station on top of the mountain.

My immediate boss was a 62 year old American civil engineer who had his vocal cords removed due to throat cancer which required him to carry a note pad around to give instructions. The contractor kept all his notes for a future contract claim. He was responsible for the road construction and for the radar station on the two days I had off (Sunday and Monday). He knew that this was his last job so was in no hurry to complete the work. I on the other hand wanted to finish the construction, which required that I go above his head on many occasions.

Our biggest battle concerned the concrete mix design. It called for less than 2%!b(MISSING)y weight of the aggregate to pass through the 200 seive, but we were at 4%! (MISSING)As our only source of crushed rock aggregate was from 150 kilometers away in Chiang Mai, and the produced wasn't going to do anything to reduce the dust, my boss's solution was to wash the aggregate. As the spring at the top of the mountain only produced one liter per minute, enough water to mix the concrete, washing the aggregate would delay the concrete work considerably. My solution was to redesign the mix with higher cement content, which produced the same 3000 psi strength concret. The design folks in Bangkok agreed with my solution. Above us were two Navy Civil Engineering Corps officers; and ensign and a lieutenant. They lived at the bottom of the mountain or in Chiang Mai.

Subordinate to me were four Thai inspectors working for me; one for each discipline. We all lived on the mountain, at least until rainy season started, in a plywood wall and tin roof shack. We didn't have any heat so in the morning the tin basin with water in it for washing our face was frozen over. Occasionally I had Linda stay a week with me in the shack. One night it rained so hard on the tin roof it was like machine guns. We didn't get much sleep. Another night the construction of the road finally reached the top. A Caterpillar D8 bulldozer was cutting a slope about a meter from the corner of my room...another sleepless night.

We ate with the contractors management, paying our fair share of the food. After dinner they all like to play cards. I had to set a limit on how much the winnings could be to prevent any conflict of interest. It was like the wild west. Everyone was armed, so I couldn't let feeling get out of control.

The guns were also for protection. There were still communist terrorists operating in the area, along with drug lords and their agents. And we had tigers. One weekend I gave permission for the Girl Guides (like Girl Scouts) to camp near the spring at the top. They were not very organized and didn't have a camp fire started before it got dark. Consequently they turned in about 6:30 pm. The next morning they found tiger tracks on the stream bed next to their tents.

We were building eighteen buildings using the A-frame design which allowed us to assemble the steel and insulation and cladding down the mountain and haul the peices to the top for assembly in place. We also used gravity fed solar panels located at the top of each A-frame for hot water. However, while sitting next to the water storage tank on one of the high points, I noticed that the top of the solar panels were half way up the storage tank...obviously gravity would only work until the water level in the tank fell. We redesigned the system to include some pumps.

As our project was the highest visibility U.S. government construction project in Southeast Asia, we had many high ranking visitors, including admirals from Hawaii and Washington, DC. We hosted them for parties in Chaing Mai. One party at the Rincome Hotel, our group sat in the back of the room observing the antics of another group...about 50 French artists who had kicked out the Thai entertainment and were providing their own. Soon they noticed us, and the admiral, who was always up for a party. They wanted us to sign "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and as the junior member of our party I was drafted to provide the vocals while the admiral danced with a French lady artist. It was a night to forget, but I still haven't.

We also had high ranking Thai visitors. Our problem was that the project was in the middle of a national park with very rare flora and fauna, including the Golden Moss near the spring on top of the mountain. Students from Chiang Mai University would come to the site almost every weekend to demonstrate against the project. Finally the King brought together the Defense Minister and Interior Minister at the site and told the Interior Minister that this project was vital to the national security of Thailand. The radar would track all flights within hundreds of miles, to include drug runs. Soon after that the demonstrations stopped; perhaps becasue when the students were busy at Doi Inthanon, the city of Chiang Mai cut all the trees along the moat so that they could widen the road around the old city.

Once the rainy season started in May, with the road only paved half way to the top, it experienced major erosion. All work stopped at the top as it was inaccessible. I took a month vacation to Europe with Linda. I spent the rest of the rainy season hiking to the top about once a week to assess the condition, and the other days redesigning the road to reduce the length by about a kilometer while maintaining design requirements for grade, etc. We also focussed on preventing further erosion. Work on the mountain was very dangerous due to the steep terrain. One day a scrapper tipped over, killing the operator. Another time the truck carrying the local people who were planting sod to stop the erosion lost its brakes and crashed over the mountainside, killing thirteen.

We tried to do things with the local communites at the base of the mountain. We attended the funerals. One afternoon we played soccer against a high school girls team...eleven of us guys handicapped by having our hands tied behind our backs, against twenty two girls. And they were allowed to use their hands, and sharp finger nails. I won't divulge the final score. When I got home and Linda saw my shredded shirt and ripped flesh she ordered my never to play against girls again...one of the few orders I have complied with.

Once we returned from Europe I never had to live on the mountain again. With good weather we made rapid progress so that when I left for home leave in May 1975 we were about 80% complete.


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The top of Doi InthanonThe top of Doi Inthanon
The top of Doi Inthanon

The trees in the background are where the highest point is located...once we shaved of the adjoining ridge for the radar. In 1967 my camp was located there.


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