The 90 pounder

Years ago I had the opportunity to work on a construction crew refurbishing some of the freeways in this great state. Part of what we did was to remove and replace the concrete under the freeway underpasses. Because of the ground movement here in California the concrete under the underpasses would buckle and break and have to be replaced. In order to remove said concrete, it first had to be broken into small pieces; the implement used for such procedure was the jackhammer.

Now jackhammers come in various sizes, ranging as far as I know from what is called a 30 pounder, meaning that the jackhammer itself weighed 30 pounds, to a 60 pound and 90 pound. We used the 30 pounders for surfaces that were on an angle, as in the instance of concrete under the underpass.

The trick was to place one of your legs upslope and the other down slope. You rested the jackhammer on the upslope leg and began busting up the concrete from the top of the slope on down. The trick was that when the hammer bit went through the concrete it made a different sound. When you heard the different sound, you hit the trigger one more time, and if you did it just right, the hammer would jump up out of the concrete. Once you were practiced at it, you could relocate the bit to a different place on the concrete and begin again. The idea was to bust up the concrete in pieces about 6 inches across for easy removal.

Sometimes the work meant that we were to remove concrete from a bridge or what was called flatwork. When the concrete was flat and thick, we moved to using the 90-pound jackhammer. The first time I ever used a jackhammer it was a 90 pounder on flatwork. I didn’t know how to run a jackhammer, since I had never used one. Just grabbing up the hammer for the first time was daunting to me. You had to drag the hammer along with the air hose, commercial jackhammers work on compressed air, to where you wanted to start working. So you are dragging a 90-pound machine and its air hose. I got it there, stood it up right and started hammering.

All went well, until it broke though the concrete and into the less solid dirt below. When it hit the dirt, it immediately dug into the dirt and was stuck. I had to wiggle it back and forth. I was finally able to free it, but then I had to lift it out of the hole and start again. I thought to myself, “I will never make it through this day.” After watching me struggle for a couple of times, my boss walked over, took the hammer from me and said, “Watch.” As I was watching him, he began digging through the concrete. But as he broke though into the dirt, the jackhammer magically jumped from the hole, and he expertly let it drop to a different position and started again. That is how I learned about the sound difference and what to do.

Several years later, a friend of mine in Anza came by my house and told me about a fun thing in Palm Desert. It was a wet T-shirt contest. Now in those days at some events, wet T-shirt contests were held. That is to say that beautiful and sometimes buxom young ladies would put on tight fitting T-shirts and be dowsed with water, thus producing the desirable effect, so to speak. This of course was long before the current climate in the United States. Back in that day everyone just had fun, the young ladies included.

Of course, this performance was held until last, and as we were waiting 4 men were brought out into the arena. I hadn’t noticed before, but there were 4 concrete slabs about 6 inches thick and 4 foot by 8 foot long in the middle of the arena. The men took positions at the end of the slabs. The announcer informed us that this was a jackhammer contest and that each of the 4 men was to be given a 90-pound jackhammer. The contest was about who could break up the slab into pieces 6 inches or smaller in the shortest time.

Three of the men were young and very muscular looking, but when the last man was introduced he was said to be a grandfather. He wasn’t that big and was definitely overweight. My friend asked me which one of the 4 I would bet on. I told him the old man. He asked me why? I said experience. I’ll bet that old boy has run many a jackhammer.

When the hammering began, I watched and listened to this old man and his hammer. I heard the familiar “bing” as he broke through the concrete and smiled as I saw the jackhammer spring from the hole and watched him swiftly relocate for the next break. He was a joy for me to watch, and he finished with his slab broken into nice 6-inch chunks before the others were even half way through with theirs.

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