Skip to main content

The artificial world

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article

By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

I was a senior at Hillsboro High School when, on Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge at Gallipolis, Ohio collapsed. Forty-six people died. The failure was a faulty linkage in the structure.

Between the Silver Bridge collapse and the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Md. this past week, there have been seven major bridge collapses in the United States caused by ships colliding with bridges.  

Am I here to declare we should build stronger bridges or ban ships? Absolutely not.

What I want to discuss this week is the artificial world in which we live. 

Granted, you can fall off a cliff or fall out of a tree, but most other changes in elevation involve a device made by humankind. On occasion, and often unpredictably, these mechanisms and devices fail.

Yet, we humans transition from the natural world to the artificial world without thinking, often many times per day. Your home, for instance, is an artificial world. I hope yours is pleasant and protects you from the elements, but nevertheless, unless it is a cave, it is artificial. An automobile is artificial and so is a tractor.  

I’ve stated the obvious, but what are you going to do with this information?

Will you become totally paranoid and fear exploration of any parts of our world? I hope not.  

What I hope you will do is become a bit more aware of your surroundings and a little more critical of the situation in which you find yourself if it seems suddenly tentative and requiring more assessment than you would usually expend.

In the late 1970s, my engineering company performed a function called “steel detailing.” This is part of the process of building a major structure, such as an industrial building, skyscraper or bridge. The process works like this. An experienced structural engineer sizes the steel members and designates the type and size of the joints connecting the members. These drawings are turned over to a steel detailer, a firm that won the job by being the lowest bidder. This firm makes detailed drawings of every piece of the building or bridge. These drawings are then sent to a fabricator who makes the pieces according to the drawings and sends them to the job site to be installed.

I once calculated that on a typical 50-story high rise, an error of less than one-half of one percent in properly locating the bolt holes resulted in over 100 bolt holes being incorrect. The accuracy required of, again, the lowest bidder, defies belief.

On Friday, July 17, 1981, the Nissan Motor Company announced it was phasing out the name “Datsun” on its vehicles sold outside Japan.

However, I don’t think this had anything to do with the folks at a Friday evening gathering at the almost new Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City that day. The place was packed when two overhead skywalks collapsed, killing 114 and injuring 216.  

Later, I was able to see the drawings and the path through engineering which this project had taken. The structural engineer, while specifying a design that was strong enough, created a design that was impractical to construct. The steel detailer created a structure which could be practically fabricated, but seriously compromised the strength. Loading the skywalks with a large crowd was the final blow to this marginalized construct.  

When you are out and about, be aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t dismiss the feeling, look a little closer. Our artificial world is just that – artificial.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

* * *

Publisher's note: A free press is critical to having well-informed voters and citizens. While some news organizations opt for paid websites or costly paywalls, The Highland County Press has maintained a free newspaper and website for the last 25 years for our community. If you would like to contribute to this service, it would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be made to: The Highland County Press, P.O. Box 849, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133. Please include "for website" on the memo line.


Matthew (not verified)

30 March 2024

I think along these same lines, in general, when hurricanes blow through along the coasts. If a person has a house and property along the U.S. east coast, from Key West to Plymouth Rock and all of the Gulf of Mexico shores: expect to have your home damaged from Bertha, Big Sandy, Hugo, Katrina, and Camille... In 1996, I experienced two hurricanes. And for good measure, I survived another in 1998. I was stationed in Onslow County, NC (Camp Lejeune). My barracks was about 8 or 9 miles from the ocean. The barracks was a 3-story brick structure. We did fine. I wasn't fearful. The only personally own property I had in the path of the storm was a '95 Dodge Dakota. I got 3 free intense carwashes. But I cannot imagine having a house in the path of a hurricane. I get nervous enough in Ohio during tornado warnings and cold snaps. I like a roof over my head, and I prefer for my waterlines not to freeze and burst. My point is: the more we build up our cozy and comfy lifestyles in this great Country of ours, the more of a tragedy and loss we experience when the Earth does what she does. People worry about the super-volcano under Yellowstone N.P.. I say let 'er rip. My soul is ready. But think about the Pacific Northwest. Mt. Rainier and all the volcanoes along the Cascades, or a big tsunami coming from the Juan de Fuca plate under the Pacific. If the Seattle area or Portland area disappears, what would that do to the rest of the United States, and to the Citizens who knew not to live there? The loss of life will be tragic, but our economies and our way of life would collapse because the federal government would knee-jerk try to fund a useless left coast recovery. Same goes for the "Big One" in California. It's bad enough that California whines during droughts and wildfires. Then they cry when they get steady rain and volumes of snow because it floods, and causes mudslides and avalanches... I look at the west coast geography, geology, and weather patterns and I think, "It's pretty, but it's too unstable for me to establish roots." It appears to me that southern Ohio is the "Goldilocks" region of our Country. In most things politically, economically, geologically, and climatologically. All I need is a Bengals Super Bowl dynasty and some more World Series wins from the Reds.

Add new comment

This is not for publication.
This is not for publication.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it. Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number and email address is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.