Episode 3 of THE OUTFALL LINE
Waiting for the low tide the morning of the pipe repair.
I rolled out of bed about four-thirty after a restless night. I had brazenly accepted the challenge of the dangerous operation I was facing that morning, but now that the moment had arrived, it was a different story. I thought about the many dangers related to this job. The rigging house could topple over if the sand floor shifted, and men could be killed or badly hurt. The divers could get trapped if the pipe clamp failed or if the temporary cofferdam breached. The deadly fumes from the effluent pipe could suffocate a worker. Anything could happen when you’re working ten feet below the surface of the sea. I put these thoughts out of mind, grabbed my Carhartt jacket and drove out to the Soma Peninsula to join my crew in the early morning darkness.
I pulled off the highway, drove down the chip surfaced road through the dunes, parked and joined the thirty man crew, an ambulance, fire truck and a roach coach. Max had thought of everything. We had our coffee and sandwiches, reviewed our plan as a group and waited for sun up. This was going to go well.
Moving the rigging frame & pipe clamp to the edge of the water for commissioning.
We went to work just as the sky lightened. We had a two-hour window to get the pipe repair clamp in place and pour the concrete jacket. Every minute counted. The Coast Guard’s semi-inflatable was standing by in case a rescue was needed. It was also there to videotape the operation for the Inspector from San Francisco, who had just pulled up in his rental car.
Shorty, my rigging boss, sent his four riggers to the top of the frame, where they shackled the fame to the hook on the crane. He signaled the crane operator to lift it a few feet off the sand so they made a few adjustments with turnbuckles and come-along to get the bottom of rigging frame reasonably parallel with the slope of the beach. When they set it back down, the riggers shimmied down the steel posts and took their places at the corners of the rig, to man the taglines. An electrician fired up the big gen-set, and two more electricians climbed the frame to check out the panels and switches. When the fifth electrician connected the rig to a waterproof shore power panel, the lights came on and lite up the beach. Max shackled the back of the crane to the D8 bulldozer’s winch in case the crane got stuck and needed a quick tow.
Commissioning the frame with hoses, pipes, rigging, and wiring.
Max shot a quizzical glance at me, I nodded my head, and he gave Shorty the sign to lift the rigging frame and head for the pipe leak. As the huge crane left the safety of the beach and rolled out into the surf, my heart was in my mouth. I thought, If one of cranes tires slipped into a quicksand hole and tipped over, somebody gets hurt. I no sooner had the thought when it happened, but the boys were ready for it, Shorty signaled the crane operator to quickly set the load on the beach and back out of the hole. He then directed the crane around the hole, and they made it safely to the break in the pipe. The divers directed Shorty where to spot the frame. As the crane extended its outriggers, the four-wheel drive backhoe took one more scoop of sand from the side of the now exposed pipe and backed away.
As soon as Shorty lowered the rigging frame into position, the carpenter crew worked with the divers to set a wooden cofferdam into the hole around the pipe. It would also act as the form for the pipe’s concrete jacket. The divers used powerful water jets to loosen the sand and powerful pumps to remove the sand/water mixture ahead of the crane, which was lowering the four fourteen foot high forms into the excavation with the main line. The backhoe returned with a vibrating hammer type pile-driving device on its boom and vibrating the form as it descended into place. As long as the pumps were running, there was a reasonably dry hole.
There was no time to waste. We had burned fifty minutes getting this far, and only had a little over an hour to make the repair and get out of there. Max was standing on the rig giving orders left and right. A ten-man crew of divers and pipefitters worked as one and got the bottom half of the nearly half-ton steel pipe clamp in place using both the crane’s main and whip line to drag it under the pipe, lift it into place and hold it while the divers jetted and pumped the sand out of the way. I breathed a sigh of relief when the bottom of the clamp was in place. Thank God that’s done, I thought. If we can get the lid on and a few bolts in it, we’re golden and we’re gonna make it. The ironworkers blocked the bottom piece up with dunnage and cut the crane loose to rig and set the top half of the clamp on its mate. The sound of air guns rattling up the bolts was music to my ears.
I sent the crew back to the pulp mill to use their showers, clean up, get into dry clothes, and meet me at the Samoa Cookhouse for lunch. As the crew filed into the cookhouse, Max gave each of them a crisp, new one hundred dollar bill and thanked them for a job well done.
Four hours later, Max, two divers and I returned to the site. We sent the divers out in the skiff to anchor over the break and watch for leaks as we called Howard and told him to start slowly cracking open the beach effluent valve. We waited and observed for an hour, and there were no leaks. Then I went home and slept like a baby.
The next day.
The next day Max returned with a crew and removed the rigging frame from the ocean, and restored the beach.
*** The end ***
Tune in for the next exciting construction tale on 3-1-18