ToolHounds do things with tools no one else has done. Rick Brown does things with tools no one else has done in 3,500 years.
The Ancient Egyptians were pretty good custom builders and one of the their trademarks were massive obelisks (think Washington Monument) made from single pieces of quarried stone. Egyptologists know why they raised them, but not how. Brown, a sculptor, timber framer, and college professor, decided to figure it out.
In 2000, Brown set out to raise a 25-ton, 33-foot-tall granite obelisk in a Massachusetts quarry using rope, a plumbline, level, levers, tons of muscle power, and one sentence from a 35-century-old parchment. Brown was inspired by a 1999 attempt he witnessed in Egypt as part of a research project where a 1-ton stone was raised using a "free-fall" method. In that attempt, workers sledged the stone (by hand) up an earthen ramp, half of which was a huge sandbox. Then the sand was removed--carefully--from beneath the stone. As its base sank, the stone tipped upright and into place.
Unfortunately, the stone jerked at times on its descent. That's scary enough when it weighs 1 ton and is about 12 feet tall, yet the Egyptians were able to lift the biggest stone ever quarried--500 tons and more than 100 feet tall. Brown, not believing the exacting Egyptians would leave anything to chance, went to work on his own plan.
Using his skills as a sculptor, he built scale models, as he believed the Egyptians might've done. Armed with the only tools the Egyptians had and a sandbox the size of a bridge abutment, Brown and company heaved the obelisk up another earthen ramp, part of which consisted of very free-flowing sand. They also lashed pre-stretched ropes around the bottom of the stone and wrapped them around brake blocks on the ramp, which helped control and guide the stone's movement. As the sand was released from the sandbox, the obelisk descended as if it were a cork in a draining bathtub. When the sand was gone, the enormous stone stood leaning against the wall of the sandbox. The crew pulled it upright with ropes. Perfect.
Are you a ToolHound? Do you know one? Contact Katy Tomasulo at 202-736-3303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.