International Dredging Review

International Dredging Review

Guilford D. Ware president of Norfolk Dredging Company since 1970 announced at the company’s centennial celebration that he is stepping down as president and that his son G. Dudley Ware had been elected president in February 1999.

Taking the podium Dudley’s first act was to praise the company’s workers.

“The employees of Norfolk Dredging Company work hard and are motivated. We are proud of what they do every day of the year including holidays” he said. “Not many industries require this of their employees 24 hours a day seven days a week despite the weather” he said.

On September 25 1999 friends of the company – “the Corps of Engineers the Navy Coast Guard our suppliers competitors consultants and members of Local 25 of the International Union of Operating Engineers” according to Guilford Ware — arrived at the company’s grounds at noon for the 100th birthday party. Large tents sheltered a catered lunch special games were set up for children in a far corner of the property while adults mingled under the tents. Russell Thorne executive vice president estimated that about 500 people attended the event.

After Guilford Ware welcomed the guests Rev. Clarence Brown gave an invocation. Also on the podium were Rev. Jim Sell Gay Ware (Guilford’s wife) Congressman Norman Sisisky Dudley and Elizabeth Ware and Bob Clark of Dutra. Ware recognized Jack Stewart the business manager of Local 25 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Stewart took the place of Willie Zenga upon his retirement.

Rep. Norman Sisisky a nine-term U.S. Congressman from the Norfolk area congratulated the company on staying in business for 100 years.

“With the technological changes in the world today this deserves to be commended” he said. “This is truly a family-run business headed by Guilford and Dudley Ware and executive vice president Russell Thorne. It takes acumen to stay up with the business landscape and your efforts have been beneficial to the community. You have helped keep our ports and waterways available to shipping” he said.

Bob Clark representing the Dutra Group presented a plaque signed by Bill Dutra saluting the success of Norfolk Dredging Company.

“The Dutra family has been in business for over 100 years in the California Delta” he said and they wish to express their feeling of brotherhood between two family dredging companies working on opposite coasts.

Norfolk Dredging Company was formally organized on October 24 1899 as part of a small diverse conglomerate which included a towing company and grocery store with the dredging business as the core company. A charter from the legislature of the State of Virginia was granted on October 26 allowing the company to work in Virginia and North Carolina. A year later company assets consisted of the clamshell dredge James O’Leary one tug and six scows. Oscar F. Smith was the first president and director of the company and on October 31 1903 his son Oscar F. Smith Jr. was elected vice president.

In 1924 with company assets totaling $172533 Oscar Smith Jr. was elected president upon the death of his father and his son Oscar F. Smith III was named second vice president in 1931.

The company was doing local projects with its fleet of clamshell dredges and the steam-powered hydraulic dredge Dixie purchased in 1928.

During World War II large contracts with the United States government spurred the addition of the dredges Savannah Atlantic and Washington II in 1941 and the Florida in 1943. One notable project in this time was dredging approaches for the new bridge in Charleston South Carolina. Thousands of fossilized shark’s teeth appeared in the fill some estimated to be more than 100000 years old.

In 1950 Norfolk won the contract to widen and deepen the southern branch of the Elizabeth River opening up the industrial area for deep draft vessels. Later that year the USS Missouri the navy’s only active duty battleship ran aground off Norfolk Naval Base. Using a pipeline dredge it took Norfolk Dredging Company weeks to dislodge the ship.

In 1952 the company did beach replenishment for the city of Virginia Beach using the 16-inch hydraulic dredge Washington. The local newspaper described the sight as “pushing the Atlantic back” as millions of tons of pure white sand created “one of the Eastern Seaboard’s finest beaches.”

Craney Island dredged material disposal site was created in 1954 to hold dredged material for 22 years but through good management and new technologies is still in use. Norfolk won the $8 million job to build 30000 feet of rip-rapped levees access roads and a road around the top of the levee and three sluiceways. Two years later while the project was still in progress high tides severely damaged the levees and much of Norfolk’s equipment but a week later all the equipment was back in operation.

The company made history when they dredged underwater tunnels to link Norfolk to Portsmouth and South Hampton Roads to the Peninsula in 1950 and 1955. The Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel was opened during a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. The 7500-foot tunnel section was the longest of its type in the world at the time.

On February 5 1958 Oscar F. Smith III was elected president of the company following the death of his father.

On January 7 1961 the company signed contracts with Local 25 of the International Union of Operating Engineers which embraced the entire geographical area of the south from the Potomac River to Brownsville Texas. The union magazine lauded the move as bringing “industrial stability to this area’s dredging contractors.” The agreement continued the excellent relations between labor and management which the company credits for much of its success in the succeeding years.

In 1961 Norfolk was one of the dredging contractors working on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel a 17.5-mile combination of two tunnels artificial islands and bridges connecting Virginia’s Eastern Shore with Virginia Beach. The project was called one of the seven engineering marvels of the world when it was completed in 1964 and replaced a three-hour ferryboat ride with a 20-minute automobile drive.

During this time the company’s Charleston and Pullen along with six other dredges pumped millions of cubic yards of sand to develop roads pads fill areas and canals for the NASA facilities at Cape Canaveral. During this period the company developed a technique to hydraulically load hopper scows with sand tow them to another location and unload them hydraulically at a fill area. This technique was first used to construct a “barney yard” for the new coal pier 6 for the Norfolk and Western coal piers.

On July 31 1970 Oscar F. Smith III retired and his son-in-law Guilford D. Ware took over as president. He had represented the company as independent counsel since the 1950’s. Ware organized a management team consisting of Russell J. Thorne executive vice president and chief engineer; Victor H. Bundy treasurer; M.E. Kelly secretary; Oscar F. Smith IV personnel and safety manager; and Simon P. Perry vice president and general superintendent.

In the following years the company performed such high profile jobs as construction of the Newport News Shipbuilding’s new north yard in 1973 which required dredging heavy unsuitable material and pumping it more than 40000 feet to Craney Island. They worked on the enlarging deepening and material provision for the improved port facilities at Cape Canaveral in 1978 and in 1980 excavated Lake Epcot at Disney World in Orlando Florida.

In the 1980’s and 90’s the company worked on the revival of the downtown of the city of Norfolk and expanded its fleet by acquiring the dredging division of Perini Corporation of Boston adding the clamshell dredge No. 428 plus 2000 1500 and 500-cubic yard scows barges and other equipment. The newly constructed clamshell dredge Virginian and two 4000-cubic-yard hydraulic dump scows helped increase the company’s capabilities.

In December 1998 the company acquired the clamshell dredge Super Scoop (renamed the Atlantic) from the Dutra Group and a 5000- and two 3000-cubic yard hydraulic dump scows. The company’s key hydraulic dredges are the 22-inch Essex and Pullen. At the time of the centennial celebration the Pullen was moored in Norfolk’s yard and quarters for 40 and a new galley were being installed. In mid-October the Pullen left for a 2 ½-million cubic yard project in the Savannah River.

The Essex was working in the Norfolk Naval Station excavating for a new double deck wharf at Pier 2 subcontracted to Tidewater Construction Corporation.

Dredging at that location was hampered by the amount of debris on the bottom and several flat barges were moored nearby piled with wire rope and other objects the dredge had unearthed.

Dudley Ware the new president of the company began working for the company during the summers starting in 1979 during high school and through college. Upon receiving his MBA from the University of Virginia he began working at Norfolk Dredging Company full time on estimating and job investigation.

Asked if his new position as president is a challenge he replied “not yet because of the old timers still around especially Russell Thorne who has been with the company for 40 years and Sam Piver general superintendent.”

“Because of so much talent around it’s not hard on me” he said. “We still have the same people and the same functions. It pays to have knowledgeable people around; it’s not something you can learn in college” he continued. “It’s necessary to know the material to be dredged and if the equipment will perform as expected. This includes crew members mates and leverman who have been with us a long time “ he said.

Dudley Ware the 36-year-old great great grandson of the first president of Norfolk Dredging Company and his wife Elizabeth became the parents of a daughter Liza on Christmas Day 1999.