Welder builds mock motor for Yankee
by Jack Deming
May 30, 2013 | 6304 views | 0 0 comments | 160 160 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Frank Sprague takes a break from running a drill press in his Wilmington shop.
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WILMINGTON- Frank Sprague has been in the welding business for 12 years, bending iron into everything from handrails and gates to shepherd’s hooks and cowbells. So when Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon chose Sprague to create a replica of a 2,450-horsepower motor for their cooling tower, Sprague said “No problem.”

Sprague’s mock-up cooling motor weighed in at 2.5 tons, and took him and his employee John Gerding two months to build, using 2-by-2-by-¼-inch angle iron, sheet metal, 1-inch steel, and 5-inch piping. While it did not have to meet the exact weight of the actual motor (16 tons), Sprague’s replica had to match the width and height of the $4.5 million motor currently being built for the plant.

The cooling motor stands 10 feet tall by 8 feet, 4 inches wide, and Yankee felt they needed a practice run. “They wanted to practice with a mock motor because there is about an inch and a half of clearance in the room where this will be housed. They had us make the equipment in advance so they were better prepared.”

Sprague has done work for Yankee before, creating 275 feet of safety handrails for a new cooling tower after the collapse of cell four of the west tower in 2007.

Halfway into the motor project, inspectors from Yankee came to see Sprague’s product, and asked him if he would build two carts capable of moving the 16-ton motor, a job that would require even heavier steel. Once again, Sprague said “No problem.”

The carts Sprague built required half-inch, three-quarter-inch, and one-inch steel, capable of moving 25 tons. They also required two hydraulic cylinders to allow the wagons to expand and contract during the precise installation of the motor.

“The space is in such a confined area that there isn’t enough room to pick it up and lay it down on its trunnions, so they then expand the cart as they lay it down,” said Sprague.

“The mock motor was a lot easier to make because it used smaller steel. With bigger steel (building the carts) you have to make several passes, and a lot of back and forth welding on either side so it stays straight.”

For construction of the motor replica, Sprague was not even given a blueprint, just dimensions to follow. The carts proved even trickier as the blueprints were incorrect, and a chain of emails to approve new plans went through Yankee to their engineers in North Carolina and back to Sprague.

Sprague has been welding since he was a teenager growing up on a farm in Whitingham, turning it into a full-time business in Wilmington in 2001. Sprague also began Stone Puddles in 2006, creating custom birdhouses and benches for customers across the country, using Vermont fieldstone and Potomac marble.

Sprague was featured in another Yankee this month, Yankee Magazine, with an artist profile featuring these custom stone creations.

For Sprague, like most of his work, this was a unique project. “Each new project is enjoyable to do,” said Sprague. “It’s something new and sometimes you have to remake calculations, and take on a new challenge.”

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