Chilled Water

by kfrego

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.