Lessons learned from Mount Rushmore's annual PMs

Thomas Wilk teaches his children the importance of preventive maintenance on a family road trip.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

We’re now smack in the middle of summer, and there’s a good chance you’re reading this issue while either on vacation or catching up at work after getting away from it all.

About this time last year, my family and I were headed west on our boys’ first road trip, heading out from Chicago to see a landmark that had captured the imagination of our oldest son. At the age of 5, his goal in life had become a quest to see Mount Rushmore – or, as he called it, Round Mushmore.

He first came across it on the South Dakota quarter, and soon it was all he could talk about. To get ready for the trip, he and I would plot out the driving route (on paper maps!) and use the internet to learn as much as we could about the history of both the Black Hills and the monument itself.

From a distance and in certain light the monument looks seamless. However, when you look at picture after picture of Mount Rushmore, something becomes apparent pretty fast: The monument is full of cracks. We’re not talking a chipped nose or bruised chin; these are cracks that run up and down the rock, at least 140 of them, across each face as well as Washington’s lapels.

It turns out that the worst enemy of the monument is freeze/thaw cycle of the Black Hills, in which water seeps into cracks and crevices during warmer months and then freezes in the winter, exerting several tons of pressure on the granite. Annual maintenance takes place in October, with an effort to review known cracks and measure and seal new ones with silicone caulk; a few of the larger cracks are covered with Kevlar material and then sealed with the caulk.

You can set your watch by this annual maintenance event, and there are a lot of articles and videos out there that show how the field crews handle repairs while staring some U.S. presidents in their enormous eyes.

This year is more of a staycation for us, with our oldest, now 6, learning how to get some much-needed fixer-uppers done around the house. Today was a painting day, and he noticed how our efforts to spread the coats evenly to leave a smooth finish were similar to the repair work that he saw on Mount Rushmore. It’s a good feeling to pass asset care on to the next generation. It’s also not every day when you feel like your home repairs are of literally monumental importance.

Or, as Leonard Cohen put it: “There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

A final note: If you’re interested in filling in some of the gaps in your digital skill set, consider joining your peers this September 18-20 at Smart Industry. The agenda is filled with speakers who are leading digital transformation at their organizations, with a strong focus on the ways in which the industrial internet is improving the ability of plant teams to reduce unplanned downtime and optimize asset health and care. I look forward to seeing you there!

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