World Records

Mulholland believed that the driving of the longest tunnel would control the aqueduct’s completion.  He scheduled the work so that the portals of the five-mile long Elizabeth Tunnel were opened simultaneously with the beginning of the massive preparations for the rest of the construction.

The “Complete Report” gives this description: “Included in this work were 215 miles of road, 230 miles of pipe line, 218 miles of power transmission line and 377 miles of telegraph and telephone line.  Fifty-seven camps were established along the line of work, most of them in the mountains, and good roads made to reach them.”  Sleeping tests and bunks were furnished to the laborers who numbered, at their peak, 3900.

There was no railroad to the Owens Valley from the south, although there was a narrow gauge track from Nevada at the north end.  The construction superintendents considered hauling materials by wagon, but road construction costs and maintenance of mule teams was too expensive.

City officials approached several rail companies to provide service from Mojave to the Owens Valley.  City engineers justified construction costs by estimating freight of 14 million tons and the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed the line north of Mojave.  The new branch of the railroad constructed by Southern Pacific was known as the Nevada and California Railway.  The route extended north from Mojave to a junction with the narrow gauge line near Lone Pine.

Cuddleback Ranch, five miles east of Tehachapi, was also on the main line of the Southern Pacific.  There the city found the materials for making 1000 barrels of Portland cement a day

They purchased 4,300 acres of land covering limestone quarries, clay deposits, and deposits of tufa also used for making concrete.  In addition to the cement produced at the Monolith Mill built at Cuddleback Ranch, the City also used 200,000 barrels of cement bought from other sources.

An intimidating array of formidable construction challenges faced the engineers and work crews.

They blasted and drilled 142 tunnels totaling more than 43 miles in length.  They built 34 miles of open unlined channel, 39 miles of concrete lined channel, and 98 miles of covered conduit which was cast in place.  Some of the conduit was large enough to drive a car through.

Concrete was the most prevalent construction material for the Aqueduct, although in some cases the engineers might have preferred steel pipe.  The use of steel pipe was limited by its tremendous cost, a result of having to transport it to California from its place of manufacture on the east coast by way of Cape Horn.

The construction of 12 miles of steel siphon in the Aqueduct provided some of the greatest challenges.  In a canyon 120 miles north of Los Angeles, the aqueduct’s engineers designed their most imposing work, an 8,095 foot steel pressure siphon across desolate Jawbone Canyon.  The siphon varies from7.5 feet to 10 feet in diameter and drops the water 850 feet to the canyon floor before its journey up the southern canyon wall.  The heaviest steel plate of the siphon pipe is more than an inch thick and the entire siphon weighs more than 3,216 tons.

The longest siphon in the project is the pipe crossing Antelope Valley.  It is 21,800 feet in length, 15,600 of which are steel.

Of the three large reservoirs constructed: Haiwee, Fairmont and San Fernando, Haiwee was the largest.  It had a capacity of 63,800 acre-feet, or enough to run the original aqueduct at full capacity for 80 days.

The most difficult and time-consuming facilities were the tunnels.  In the first 11 months of work, 22 miles of tunnel were driven.  The Elizabeth Tunnel set the record for hard rock tunnel driving: 604 feet in one month.

At the beginning of the Aqueduct construct, the Board of Public Works estimated that a reasonable schedule would be eight feet per day for each end of the tunnel.  They initiated a bonus of 40 cents per man for each foot more than the schedule.  The bonus increased the workers daily wages by about 30 percent but saved the City 10 to 15 percent overall as well as releasing equipment for use elsewhere.  The average progress on the Elizabeth Tunnel climbed to 22.1 feet per day, or a little better than 11 feet for each end.  The Board of Engineers had estimated it would take five years to finish the five-mile tunnel.  The men beat their deadline by 20 months.

Competition grew between tunneling crews in different parts of the world.  The Elizabeth Tunnel hard rock crew had raced with the government men on the Gunnison Tunnel drew in Colorado and beat them.  The Red Rock Tunnel crew raced with the Swiss drivers at the Loetchberg Tunnel for a rail line in the Bernaise Alps and won the world’s record.  In August 1909, the Swiss had beaten their own record by driving 1013 feet working with four air drills.  The Red Rock crew beat that record by driving through 1061 feet of soft sandstone using hand drills.  More than six million pounds of blasting powder were used by the builders of the aqueduct.  Concern for safety and use of the highest quality blasting supplies regardless of cost, kept underground fatalities to five men.  Only highest quality German fuse was used, passing tests for timing and reliability which less expensive American fuse failed to meet.

When the 226 miles of aqueduct were completed, the work of the division engineers and construction superintendents was recognized throughout the world.  The “Complete Report” states: “An engineering company; having trouble in driving a difficult tunnel in Spain, engaged at a large salary one of the men who broke the record in the Elizabeth tunnel…Another went to Argentina on a big public work, and the man who made the record drive in the Red Rock tunnel went to the Catskill Aqueduct.  All over the world, the capable builders of the Los Angeles Aqueduct are doing big work and making good on their well-earned reputations for efficiency.”

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