My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This site follows my happy trails.

Asphalt and Incinerators

Garberville, CA is located on US Highway 101 about 200 miles north of San Francisco. Highway 101 is called the Redwood Highway and Garberville is located in close proximity to the groves of huge Redwoods. The town is inland 24 miles from the Pacific Ocean at Shelter Cove. In the mid 1980’s Garberville was known for it’s scenic tourist attractions and as the top marijuana growing region in the country. It’s popularity was shared between thriving marijuana operations and all the state and national law enforcement agencies trying to eradicate them. A large incinerator near town was used specifically for burning the confiscated crops brought in with helicopters and trucks. The helicopters used large cargo nets to transport the marijuana from remote mountain locations. The flatbed trucks would travel down the highway with the marijuana loaded four feet above the side racks. It was quite a show as the loads came in to be burned day after day. The plume of white smoke was a daily occurrence at the incinerator visible from our work site.

I went to Garberville with Schnabel Foundation to build a retaining wall between the South Fork of the Eel River and Highway 101 about four miles north of town. Every year the highway settled about six to eight inches at the base of a steep slope. When the 80 foot long area of highway created a bad bump the state would repave the section to get it back level. When we drilled our three foot diameter holes for the large forty foot steel beams it wasn’t uncommon to drill 15 feet of asphalt. When we excavated and shored the area between our steel beams with treated six by six timbers we excavated a lot of solid asphalt. We drilled horizontal tiebacks 40 feet through the new wall and anchored them with cement grout. A 90 ton crane suspended the sixty foot long drill over the side of our retaining wall so we could drill.

Most of our crew stayed at the Dean Creek Campground and Motel a mile from our job. Linda brought our three children and several friends to Garberville for a weeks camping while I worked. We caught sea trout at the black pebble beaches near Shelter Cove. The filets were a blue green color and turned white as they fried in the pan. They were some of the best fish I’ve ever consumed. We visited the Humbolt Redwood Tree area with the kids. We ate fresh salmon from a Eureka day charter with our oldest son Jamie. He learned more about sea sickness than he did fishing. Once in a while I would walk the mile from work to Dean Creek between the river and the highway. By the time I reached camp I would have a quart of huge blackberries to go along with dinner. Garberville was enjoyable. Most of our jobs were in the cities.

A car hit our paving machine the last day of the job………the hippy lady had been testing the family crop.


No Detour For Old Ladies

Schnabel Foundation took a contract at Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento to provide underpinning, shoring, and street decking for a cut and cover concrete pedestrian tunnel. The tunnel ran along the side of the hospital, crossed L Street, and entered a new parking structure. We drilled and installed our shoring beams, including those in the L Street asphalt, while we hand dug the deep underpinning pits under the hospital building footings. Each pit was timbered inside as digging progressed for safety. The pits would be filled with concrete and topped with dry pack cement to provide support of the building during excavation. The open cut was excavated and shored up to the edge of L Street. We had a very tight schedule for closing the street, excavating and shoring for the pedestrian tunnel, and decking the street back over the top of the excavation. The temporary decking would allow traffic on the street while the structure was completed underneath.

We installed our traffic control, excavated across the street, and shored the excavation. We welded twenty four inch cross beams across the excavation to support the temporary road decking. We started placing the twelve by twelve timber crane mats on the crossing on a Saturday morning when traffic in the area was very light. Each four foot by twenty four foot long section was placed and clips were welded to the beams so the mats wouldn’t creep around from the traffic driving on them. We put the last mat on the north side before taking our mid morning coffee break.

A blue Dodge sedan came down L Street driving about twenty miles an hour. When the car came to our street closure at 29th Street it slowly wound through the traffic cones, around our arrowboard¬† Street Closed warning sign, through the flashing red street light, and continued towards our open excavation. The sedan was in the traffic lanes we had just decked. The crew sat and stared wide eyed as the little old lady drove right across the new deck mats and continued down the street. She wasn’t going fast. She never glanced sideways, never touched the brakes, and never flinched while traversing the mats with a fifteen foot drop on each side. When she got to the intersection on the other end of our work she wound through the traffic cones and drove on down the street. If she had been fifteen minutes earlier our excavation would have been a wide open trap to her car. We were very thankful the side was completed before our coffee break was taken.

The little old lady had probably driven L Street for fifty years………a little obstruction wasn’t going to stop her.

A Bucket Full of 911

The State of Arizona had a lot of highway and freeway construction going on in Phoenix during the mid 1980’s. Myself and Mike Pivetta went from Yuba City,CA to Phoenix to install a retaining wall for the widening of the west side of Interstate 17 between Thomas and Grand Ave. Schnabel Foundation had a subcontract under Tanner. The wall line followed the property line of the Ford dealership at Thomas south to the Grand Ave overpass at I 17. The excavation would allow widening of the depressed interstate. Tanner provided our survey and layout of the wall line. We drilled and installed 12 inch steel beams in 24 inch holes. Mike and I maintained layout for the steel beams, plumbed the beams as the drill lowered them to bottom of each hole, and backfilled the installed beams with sand slurry delivered in ten yard concrete trucks. Each night Tanner came in and hauled out the drill spoils from the days drilling.

We had about three quarters of our beams installed and backfilled. The south end of our wall went partially up the slope at the Grand Ave overpass. Tanner came in to excavate the slope so our drill could get access to the holes. Utilities had been checked and double checked by Tanner and Phoenix city agencies. They were clearly marked and staked for location. The locations matched our contract blueprints. A 988 Cat loader came in at mid day to cut the slope back. The loader stockpiled the sandy soil for removal during night shift. We were drilling less than 100 feet from the loader. The 988 is 35 feet long with a weight of a hundred and ten thousand pounds. The loader was in pretty hard digging and working to get a full bucket out of the slope. We heard the loader engine bog down and saw the machine lurch forward as whatever he hit broke loose. The loader backed out of the bank and in his bucket was a four foot square by ten foot long section of concrete electrical duct bank with a dozen four inch conduits running through it. There were hundreds of broken wires and cables dangling out of both ends of the conduits. Everybody’s jaws dropped wide open as we realized what happened. This wasn’t a minor utility problem. This was serious. One of our first actions was to assign a man to the stakes showing the utility locations. He was told not to let anyone touch one of those stakes. If the duct bank was not in the staked location the responsibility belonged to the owners of the utilities. If Tanner dug it out and the stakes identified the proper location it was on Tanner’s dollar. We had helicopters, executives, utility representatives, law enforcement, and newscasters everywhere in thirty minutes. The 988 took out all of Maricopa (Phoenix) County 911 service and nearly 300,000 phones.

Mike and I were lucky…………the 988 saved us from finding the duct bank with our drill.

Chilled Water

In the mid to late 1980’s Chevron built a very large campus style office complex in San Ramon, CA. The construction of the buildings was done in phases. Schnabel Foundation had me mobilize a pile driving crew at Chevron Park for a new contract. Our job wasn’t complicated. We would drive six inch steel H beams into the ground at seven foot centers along a long line. When the excavation commenced for the new building we would use three inch rough boards between the beams to hold the ground in place outside of the excavation limits. Chevron’s construction manager was responsible for marking all utilities, surveying the lines and grades, and providing adequate access to our work area. All contractors were required to attend weekly Chevron co-ordination meetings to avoid conflicts between contracts.

We mobilized all of our supplies and equipment on our first day. I checked the Chevron layout and staked each of our beam locations to avoid underground utilities. We used a 60 ton tracked crane with a fairly small pile hammer. The pile hammer sits on top of the beam. The weight of the hammer compresses diesel in a cylinder in the hammer when it is lowered onto the beam. When the cylinder fires from the compression, the hammer strikes the beam, and drives it into the ground. Pile driving is oily, greasy, and noisy. I frequently had to warn people observing our work about the oil and grease spatters soiling their clothes. About mid afternoon on our third day we were rocking and rolling down the line. We drove a beam and noticed a small spurt of water just before it hit bottom. Soon it was running pretty good, then it ran a lot of water to the surface. The beam hit a water line. We tested the water with our fingers. It was very cold. We shut down the rig and got Chevron to take a look. Come to find out, we had driven a beam through a sixteen inch chilled water line used to cool the servers and computers for Chevron’s international operations. It was pandemonium city while we dug out the line, pulled the beam out, and put a temporary repair on the one of a kind cooling water pipe. I never saw so many $800 dollar suits and patent leather shoes in my life.

Chevron had a very heated conversation with a contractor who erected a temporary carpenter shop on a previous contract. My beam line ran right through it. The contractor refused to relocate it. Chevron told me to install my beams. We got on the roof of the temporary shop, cut holes for our beams, lowered them through the roof, and drove them home with the pile hammer suspended above the roof. The beams on seven foot centers looked pretty neat sticking up a couple feet above the roof. It didn’t take long for the contractor to get the message the following morning. We enjoyed the distraction and the pile bucks loved getting one over on the carpenters.

Chevron accepted responsibility for the chilled water line……….the carpenter contractor just packed up and left.

Pocket Lunch

Ron Chapman ran the Walnut Creek, CA office for Schnabel Foundation Company. Ron had several jobs going in California and a large job coming up in Tucson,AZ. Ron was the kind of person everybody should have for a boss. He was an extension of Harry Schnabel who founded the company. Schnabel’s work consisted of doing the underpinning of buildings and shoring of deep excavations for construction projects. They also installed extensive retaining walls in earth and rock. My early projects with them included the forty foot deep excavation of a city jail in downtown Sacramento, CA and the forty foot deep excavation of Tucson Arizona’s highest building the United Bank Tower. Kenny Sweet an old Schnabel supervisor ran both jobs.

Myself and Terry Anders also did a short job at Eldorado Beach in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Highway 50 is very close to the lake at Eldorado Beach and CalTrans was concerned about natural lake erosion undermining the highway. We had a narrow bench between the lake and the highway to install pressure injected tiebacks to anchor the new retaining wall. Our drill holes extended under the highway. When we pressure grouted the tiebacks in the holes, the ground swelled causing significant highway  bumps on ten foot centers for the length of our wall. We ended up resurfacing the highway to remove the bumps.

We worked about two miles from the casinos on the lake in Nevada. Each day when the maids cleaned our rooms we would get coupons for rolls of nickels, discount meals, etc at the casinos. Ninety nine cent breakfasts and three dollar steak dinners were standard fare. One morning we were among a dozen or so people waiting for breakfast to be served. There were two elderly ladies a couple tables away in our section. We noticed they would take a couple condiments, look around, and stash them in their pockets or purses. We were amused. As their food arrived they began stashing toast, bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, and fruit. When they emptied the plate the waiter would bring them more. We couldn’t believe how much food these innocent little ladies neatly wrapped in napkins and packed away. When we were ready to leave we commented to the waiter about the number of refills the two ladies received. He laughed and explained they were on a tour bus leaving for their destination early. The food stashed away would be their lunch on the way home. They came together frequently and always loaded up for the ride home. All the employees got a kick out of them too.

Who knows……… day I might be one of those old folks fixing a pocket lunch at Lake Tahoe.


High Centered

Gates and Fox bought two new Dosco Roadheader mining machines to excavate the two miles of linear collider tunnel at Stanford University. The shallow depths and nearby structures of the university required mechanical excavation of the tunnels. The new Dosco’s were manufactured in England with European electrical systems and required large transformers to use our US electricity. Each roadheader weighed about seventy thousand pounds, was eight feet wide, and close to thirty feet long. They looked like a big metal box with caterpillar tracks underneath and a massive straight boom sticking out the front with a rotating cutterhead on the end of it. The nearly two hundred horsepower electric motor to drive the cutterhead was built into the center of the boom. An open operators cab was built into one side of the machine. A flat apron on the front of the machine gathered the excavated muck onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt transferred the muck through the center of the machine and into a mucker bucket at the rear. The rubber tired mucker hauled the muck outside. The machines were installed with hydraulic jacks that allowed the tracks to be lifted for repair and inspection. We learned the jacks were very important as the work progressed.

We used shotcrete to line the tunnels. Shotcrete is a cement mix with sand and peastone which is pumped through a hose system with a nozzle on the end. We batched our shotcrete with hot water at Stanford. The nozzle blows air which propels the shotcrete mix against the ground in layers up to three inches thick. A chemical accelerator is used at the nozzle to make the shotcrete set up fast. We used type 5 cement at Stanford to reduce the salts in the rock from deteriorating the shotcrete. Water was used to wash down the rock before the shotcrete was applied.

The further the tunnels advanced, the water we used saturated the weak rock in the floor of the tunnel behind us. Every low spot or puddle eventually turned into mud. Our rubber tired equipment negotiated the mud with no problem, but cut deep ruts. The seventy thousand pound roadheaders with only a foot or so of ground clearance would get high centered and not be able to move. You’re in a tunnel and there is only one way out. No matter how much we graded or plated the floor of the tunnel with clean crushed rock, we were frequently buried in mud with the roadheader high centered. We used the on board jacks to lift the machine and install blocking beneath the tracks. When we put the machine down the blocking would disappear into the mud. We spent many an hour fighting the mud.

It was pretty bad. Our roadheader could mine rock forever…………….. but we couldn’t back it up a couple hundred feet.

Stanford Collider

In 1962 the longest, straightest, structure in the world was built at Stanford University in Northern California. The ten thousand foot long structure was the home of a linear accelerator for physics research. The linear accelerator smashed atoms against a target for research. In the early 1980’s Stanford was expanding the facility by adding a light bulb shaped two mile tunnel to the original structure. The new linear accelerator to be installed in the tunnel would have the capability of colliding the atomic particles with each other. The new capability would allow expansion of the research accomplished by the existing accelerator. Gates and Fox was awarded the tunnel excavation contract.

My first association with the project came about because of an omission in the contract estimate. The stem portions of the light bulb shaped tunnel had to intersect with the existing accelerator structure at a forty five degree angle, one on each side. The four foot thick concrete structure required saw cutting at forty five degrees for the new tunnel intersections. We had to saw cut the top and bottom of the openings along with the sides. All of the work was required to be done from inside the existing structure. My assignment was to develop a work plan, get subcontractors, and cut the openings. Cost was critical because the project bid did not have any budget for the work. I worked out of the Loomis office and made sight visits to Stanford as required. One of the last conversations I had with Kirk Fox was while working on submittal drawings in Loomis. He was fighting cancer, had sold the company, and would come into the office when possible. When he found out what I was working on his comment was, “When I was around we always bid and budgeted these activities before we bid the job , not after we got the contract.” He was right.

Walking into the linear accelerator structure was like living in star wars. Huge panels of blinking lights, breakers, cables, and all the bits and pieces to magnetically propel the atoms through the vacuum of the accelerator tube. Looking down the long structure was like looking into infinity. Before our work began on the wall openings the operators of the accelerator would remove everything, except the overhead crane which would be used for our work. Making the cuts through the walls was an interesting piece of work. Our contractor mounted track frames on the walls for the large hydraulic powered saws. Each cut was started with small diamond blades and blade sizes were increased all the way up to six foot diameter to obtain finished depth. The noise was deafening when the saws were operating in the narrow confines of the concrete structure.

The Stanford linear accelerator had a distinction………….largest electricity consumer in the San Francisco/San Jose bay area.


Brandy and Barney’s

We completed our project in New Mexico and returned to Gates and Fox’s home office in Loomis, Ca. Myself and Mike Janzeski worked in the yard and went out on short jobs where Kirk Fox was sampling for gold. We sampled several old mines and gold mining claims. In November we mobilized our skid mounted core drill on some property several miles out of Washington, California. Washington was founded in 1849 by gold miners working the south fork of the Yuba River. The town sits in a deep canyon at 3700 feet elevation near the river. Washington is a jump off point for a huge area of national forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We drove national forest dirt roads to within a couple miles of the drill site. From the dirt road we had a rough dozer trail for access. We had an old D-6 Cat for getting supplies in and out. If we didn’t need the dozer we walked to our drill.

I kept a pint of ginger brandy in the glove box of our pick-up truck. We would take one good sip coming off work after ten hours in the winter weather. The pick-up had been on the job in Silver City with us. Mike lived on the outskirts of Sacramento and I lived in Yuba City. We met at Denny’s restaurant in Grass Valley at 5:30 for breakfast before heading for Washington. One morning the Highway Patrol pulled me over right at Denny’s entrance. He stopped me to check my registration because the rear New Mexico license plated was in bad shape. The stickers were faded and it was dented and damaged. When the highway patrolman asked for my registration it was under the open brandy bottle. I tried to act nonchalant while getting the registration out without him seeing the brandy. He asked me if I had a gun in the glove box. Of course not. When I explained the brandy and why it was there he asked for the bottle.He said he would forget it if I poured out the brandy and threw the bottle in the back of the truck. I hated seeing my brandy cutting a trail through the ice and snow. He gave me my registration and said, “It’s time for both of us to get some breakfast”.

A few weeks later I stopped for gas at a station near home at around 4:30 in the morning. A sheriff coasted in close to my pick-up and looked me over real well. He asked me where I lived, where I worked, who owned the truck, and could I prove it all. Come to find out my sheriff dispatcher neighbor called my truck in as stolen. When leaving in the morning I turned my pick-up around and drove out of the neighborhood slowly with my parking lights on. I turned on my headlights at the first street. No use waking everyone up. My neighbor saw the truck go by without headlights, and just like Barney Fife, reported me as a thief in my own truck.

Mike got a kick out of my brandy in the ditch………the sheriff got a kick out my stealing my own truck.

Bye George

Boliden Minerals had an engineer named George Shepcoff at our mining project in Silver City. George was one of those arrogant, obnoxious people who thought the whole world was out to mess over him. I always considered myself pretty good at making ends meet with people, but George made a believer out of me. He constantly complained about every thing. One of his duties was to reconcile my monthly billing prior to submitting it for payment. We would walk, count, measure, and argue over every single pay item in our bid. George was constantly finding excuses or reasons to withhold payment on the bid items. When I submitted my monthly billing George would act like he had been gut shot, even though a few days previously we had agreed on quantities and payment percentages of lump sum items. The further the job progressed the more our ability to work together deteriorated.

One of the project specifications required us to stockpile ore samples at George’s direction based on mineralization in the tunnel. Once a pile of sample was complete we would “cut and quarter” the pile at George’s direction to obtain accurate samples. Our loader did the cutting and mixing while a miner filled and tagged sample bags for George. George was never happy about how the sampling was done, even though he directed the men and equipment. George and I had been bumping heads a lot. He came to my office trailer and stated he needed a pile sampled. I opened the specifications and asked George to look at them. I pointed out there was nothing in the specs stating when I had to sample, only what I had to sample per his direction. He acknowledged that was true. I told him my loader was extremely busy. If he wanted to sample, the only time my loader was available was between midnight and two in the morning. He nearly went into cardiac arrest from holding his breath so long. He slammed the door and threw dirt and rocks all over as he left the site. All I could do was enjoy getting one on him. You can make me do it, but you can’t make me like it. George came out in the middle of the night and got his samples.

Two weeks later George came stomping into my trailer again. He said he wanted to walk and check bid quantities right now. I nonchalantly threw my spec book on the table and was going through the payment section. I told him I didn’t think there was anything in the specs about when I had to walk and check quantities. He spun on his heel, slammed the door, and ripped off the site again. I called his office in town and left his boss a message stating anytime tomorrow was good to check quantities. His dust was still settling in the parking lot.

George made us money in Silver City………..his belligerence opened the door for some significant claims.

Lunch Box Pets

Our family enjoyed living in Silver City,NM. Nice people, good schools, and more small town than a city. When not working, Linda and I would load up the kids and go camping on the Gila River, visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and explore the Mimbres River area. There were many old mine workings to explore near Silver City. We often rode to nearby Bayard and watched the elk as they grazed among the pinion pines. We enjoyed getting out with the kids as much as they enjoyed the wide open spaces. The kids had been camping and hiking trails from the time they were very small. We taught them to respect animals, deserts, and forests. The critters, snakes, and gila monsters weren’t to be feared. Just don’t mess with them.

During the summer southwest New Mexico gets thunder storms and showers caused by monsoon air currents from the Gulf of Mexico and sometimes associated with the Sea of Cortez. The storms drop a significant amount of rain, but normally don’t last long. When the storms hit late in the afternoon or in the early warm evening the water would displace a lot of the high desert creatures. Many of them would migrate to the pavement on the road between Silver City and the old town of Pinos Altos. As I drove home from work I would look for tarantula spiders seeking refuge on the pavement or slowly crossing the road. I would stop, pick them up, put them in my lunch box, and take them home. A little rear prodding with your finger and they would climb slowly into your hand.

The first one I brought home caused quite a stir with Linda and the kids. We put him on the kitchen table and I let him crawl over my hand and walk up my arm. The kids loved seeing the tarantula, but kept a respectable distance. It wasn’t long before all three of the kids would help clear the table and get a seat when my lunch box had a new tarantula. They would play with them and handle them without fear. As for Linda, she would much rather never see another one. When the kids tired of playing with the ugly old furry spiders we would take them outside. We never had any bites from the tarantulas. We did have a few casualties early on when a spider would move too fast while crawling up one of the kids arms. The reflex jerk and loud shriek would send the poor spider to the floor. They wouldn’t survive.

Linda wasn’t a tarantula person…………but they were a great learning experience for our children.