Thompson Pump Makes History by Helping
- By Debbie Bolles
- Jul 01, 2007
A major supplier to the water and wastewater
industry does not often get a chance to become
a part of history. But that is what occurred when
Thompson Pump & Manufacturing Co. helped
retrieve a sunken Confederate submarine off the
coast of South Carolina in 2000.
The submarine recovery is just one example
of a unique project this $54.5 million company
has been involved in. Others have included
cleaning up an oil spill in Alaska, moving an
East Coast lighthouse, fighting western fires,
controlling Midwest floodwaters, pumping
floodwaters in New Orleans, and assisting with
the Sept. 11 terrorist attack recovery effort in
New York City.
The H.L. Hunley, the world’s first successful
combat submarine, sank the USS Housatonic
on Feb. 17, 1864, and then sank shortly after.
Lost at sea for more than a century, the Hunley
was located in 1995 by author Clive Cussler’s
National Underwater and Marine Agency.
In a plan to raise the vessel, the recovery team
of private and government organizations called
upon Thompson Pump of Port Orange, Fla.,
to supply pumps and personnel for the job. On
Aug. 8, 2000, the team retrieved the Hunley
and transported it to the Warren Lasch Conservation
Center in North Charleston, S.C.,
where it is still undergoing conservation and can
be seen in a special saltwater tank that aids in
Bill Thompson, president of Thompson
Pump, learned about the Hunley excavation
and wanted his company to become involved
because he is a history buff. Employees Majid
Tavokoli, vice president of applied products,
Don Polzon, South Carolina sales representative,
Tim Creech, regional manager, and Jack
Frost, field demonstrator, all played key roles in
the recovery effort, along with former Thompson
Pump employee Ben Mann, sales engineer
at the time.
“It was very interesting because of the engineering
part of the recovery effort, and actually
seeing a part of history come alive is very uplifting.
Some things you don’t forget,” said Tavokoli,
who was on scene during the recovery.
The project required significant study and
care given the sub’s delicate condition. The team
lowered two 18-by-12-foot custom-engineered
suction piles 35 feet to the ocean bottom to be
used as platforms, then placed a truss onto the
submarine. Nylon slings with inflated foam pillows
and sensors wrapped underneath the Hunley,
and then a crane lifted the truss to the surface.
The Hunley and truss then were taken by
barge to the Charleston Navy base and eventually
to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center.
Used in this process were three Thompson
pumps: a 4-inch, 32-horsepower unit and
hydraulic pump head and two 6-inch high-pressure
jet pumps. Once the suction piles were
placed, the hydraulic submersible pump head
was coupled to the top of the suction pile. The
32-horsepower pump on the deck of the support
vessel powered this pump head. Pumping
from inside the pile created a differential pressure
that pushed the suction pile into the ocean
floor. Careful control of the pump flow rate was
critical to sink the suction pile level at a steady
state. Once the Hunley was retrieved, water was
pumped back into the suction piles to lift them
off the ocean floor and onto a barge.
"They used two high-pressure jet pumps that
supplied divers with high-pressure water in an
attempt to, as delicately as possible, remove the
ocean silt off of the submerged submarine,”
added Polzin, describing the recovery process.
Besides damage to the equipment from the
salt water, another challenge was weather.
Retrieving the Hunley from the ocean took
about four months, due in part to the painstaking
and slow task of divers carefully removing
sediment from around the sub and to allow
time for excavation of other ocean sediment for
artifacts. The Hunley was buried under 3 feet
“They were three miles offshore, so the ocean
swells were a problem. They were working on
a floating vessel to start with called a mud boat.
When you’re trying to do
something with cranes, and
a vessel is in 30 feet of water,
and the boat is rocking, it’s
hard to be very precise,”
So what did the Hunley
look like when it finally surfaced
out of the water? Not
much, according to Polzin,
who took pictures of the
effort from a nearby boat.
“It looked like a very
long, rusty piece of pipe,” he
said. “But it was a part of history
Along with artifacts that
included a gold coin and
Union ID tag, the recovery
team found the remains of
eight crewmembers inside
the submarine. The crew
members were honored
with a formal service and burial on April 17,
2004 in the tradition of the 1860s. Period-style
horse-drawn carriages transported the remains
to Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.
For Thompson Pump, the Hunley recovery
marked an important milestone for the company
founded in 1970 by George A. Thompson
and his sons, Bill and George Jr. The company
serves the pumping and dewatering needs
of more than 6,000 clients nationally and internationally.
Thompson’s product line includes
various types of pumps ranging in size from 2
to 18 inches.
Another important milestone for the company
was adaptation in 1973 of a rotary pump
for dewatering. In 1977, Thompson introduced
its own version of vacuum-assisted pumps, and
in the 1980s launched hydraulic power units
with submersible pump heads for high head
applications, such as mines or quarries. Other
innovations included dry prime pumps with
compressor-assisted priming systems suited to
sewer bypass applications and sound-attenuated
pumps that reduce noise.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.