Paperboys shouted the news on Bay Area streets. A cave-in had trapped workers in the low-level tunnel being constructed through the hills, which would join Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
It was Aug. 28, 1935. Three men had been killed, Rafe Houchin, 48, crew foreman, of Oakland; Howard Davis, 24, father of two daughters, of Berkeley; and Steve Beijan, 44, unmarried, of Oakland.
The death toll had now reached six in construction of the Broadway low-level tunnel, and accidents were occurring almost weekly.
Just seven days earlier, on Aug. 21, 600 tunnel workers had been laid off because of fears of a cave-in. The Six Companies, which won the contract to build the project, had notified the directors of Joint Highway District 13 on Aug. 24 that it considered the design of the tunnel faulty because of the type of ground being tunneled through and was stopping work until the design was changed.
Officials said the cave-in had filled the north bore of the tunnel, which was 35 feet in diameter for about 100 feet. They said the whole roof had dropped and the top of the hillside 90 feet above showed signs of collapse.
"A huge boulder tore from the roof and plunged through the scaffolding to be followed an instant later by a collapse of a 35 foot section of the tunnel. The three victims were carried down beneath the avalanche of earth and rock officials declared," reported the Oakland Tribune on Aug. 29.
De Lancey C. Smith, counsel for the Six Companies, said, "We regret this accident more than can be stated. At all times we guard to the utmost safety of working conditions."
Alameda County Supervisor Thomas E. Caldecott, president of the highway district building the tunnel, gave the following statement to the Tribune on Aug. 30.
"The accident in the Broadway Low Level Tunnel would not have occurred if the contractor had followed the excavation work by promptly installing the permanent reinforced concrete lining called for by the plans and specifications.
"Instead of this, the contractor has excavated approximately 1,000 feet beyond the concrete lining in each bore. The accident which resulted in the deaths of three men occurred while the men were engaged in replacing temporary timbering which was installed more than six months ago and which was splintering. The contractor has been frequently urged by the Joint Highway District's engineers to commence and vigorously pursue the placing of the permanent concrete tunnel lining.
"The 600 miners were discharged by the contractor on Aug. 21 because the contractor finally had decided that the permanent concrete lining must be placed in the open bores without delay."
Work was resumed almost a month later on Sept. 24 under the supervision of L.K. Rhinehart, engineer for the State Industrial Accident Commission.
The commission ruled that none of the timbering already placed in the tunnel would be removed. The forms would be lowered eight inches to clear the encroaching timber, which at the same time would allow for the thickening of the concrete layer.
Bechtel called this an "excellent solution."
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