I’ve pressure washed everything from sidewalks to steeples. I’ve pressure washed on bitter cold days when the water gets in under your poncho and on scorchers when my spray wand became my own private velocity-force lawn sprinkler. I’ve run enough water through pressurized hoses to create a protected wetland or irrigate a corn field for ten years. I always tell my customers “Expect a blip in your water bill.”
But no matter how much water I’ve triggered into the atmosphere, nothing could have prepared me for what has to go down as one of the greatest pressure washing jobs in history, the professional exfoliation of Mount Rushmore.
On a first-time 2007 visit, after reflecting about the significance of the prominences and the geography around them, I took an interest in their actual creation. Tracing the history of master sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s grand design though the tumultuous decades to the present day, I learned that only two years before industry-renown German pressure washing equipment manufacturer Alfred Karcher GmbH & Company had power-washed the entire monument as a gift to the United States
I immediately saw Mount Rushmore in another dimension—as the mother of all pressure washes. I imagined men repelling over the faces, big gas-powered pumps running full-bore on the cliffs above them, their wands flaring over Lincoln’s eyes, Washington’s broad forehead, and Jefferson’s pensive nose. Perusing the various exhibits I learned about the invasive lichens that had infested the rock. The Karcher operation was chemical-free; water heated to 200 degrees was used to maximize cleaning power.
As anyone who has ever pressure washed a concrete aggregate driveway knows, chunks often are dislodged and will fly off. Cracks new and old are scoured out. The crews on Rushmore were packing thousands of pounds per square inch (PSI). After the big wash, and after the lofty expressions of our political forefathers had thoroughly dried, stonemasons were lowered down upon the sculptures.
I’ve done my share of patching, so again, I was intrigued. Using clear silicon caulks they buttoned-up lip creases and filled fissures between eyebrows. They carried pouches of granite dust to sprinkle on the still-wet caulk, blending away repairs, all while hundreds of feet off the ground.
In one of the brochures a park administrator opined that most park visitors would not have noticed the difference made by the washers of Rushmore. But I did; in fact, with my trained eye I could see the exact place, the exact line, down under those presidential chins, where the crews stopped.
—Photo via Georgia Chemical