Because the teams must remain mobile and be able to work in small spaces, the city owns mostly smaller equipment like so-called mini-excavators. "We have to stay light on our feet," Shapiro said.
For the relatively infrequent bigger jobs, the city hires on-call contractors such as Spiniello, an international company that has an office on East Biddle Street. The contractor's heavier gear was on display Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
A yellow backhoe straddled a trench the men had dug, a scar in the pavement 3 feet across and 7 feet deep. The chasm ran up the center of Light Street for half a block. A dump truck stood nearby, filled with excavated gravel and sand, another one a few feet away, its bed loaded with fresh white gravel.
A new, 20-foot length of ductile-iron pipe — a more flexible, durable material than the original — lay beside the trench, apparently ready to be installed.
Crewmen and supervisors would not comment, but Shapiro said the plan was to start at the southern end of the trench and work uphill, laying one length of pipe at a time. They will pack the roadbed around each section, then have city workers pave it, before moving on, then continue in this fashion, 700 feet or so up the street, until work on the 20-inch main is complete.
Morgan says the approach makes sense. If you start at the higher end and work down, he says, by the time you get to the bottom, gravity will have thrown off the alignment of the pipes. Work bottom to top, however, and by the time you reach the end, you'll be able to link up old pipe and new without much trouble — and be able to restore the water network to full operation, which is the main goal.
"This kind of repair work isn't simple," he said. "It helps to know a few tricks of the trade."