Weds reading: Highway One construction, part 2, by Stan Harlan

Once the tunnel systems were complete tons of dynamite and black powder was packed into all of the tunnels (coyote holes was the term used for the tunnels). The explosives were trucked in on a flat bed truck (called the “candy wagon”) driven by a Mr. Truesdale (a free-man) to the end of the work road where the tunnel system had been created. Convicts unloaded the truck and carried boxes of dynamite and cans of black powder into the tunnel for placement by the blast specialist who was named Tom Carlson (a free man). The dynamite came in four different strengths 20%. 40%, 60% and 80%. It came from the manufacturer in wooden boxes in two different sizes (30 lb. and 50 lb.). The black powder came in granular form packed in black metal cans which weighed 30 lbs each. The dynamite percentage indicated how much nitroglycerine was used in relationship to the inert ingredients in the manufacture of that particular batch. The higher percentage gave a “quicker” explosion and was used primarily to break up rock. The lower percentages and the black powder were somewhat slower burning and were used for “lifting” the mass of rock and soil up and away from the proposed road bed. The blast specialist supervised the placement of each kind of explosive and also placed electrical igniters (caps) at desired locations within the mass of explosives. After many days of placing truckloads of explosives the blasting wires were connected and the dynamite and black powder mixture was discharged in one massive explosion. According to a paper written by the Federal Writers’ Project sponsored by the Federal Government—“163,000 cubic yards of solid rock had to be excavated in a lineal distance of 1,000 feet; One blast of 70,000 pounds of dynamite moved 95,000 cubic yards, blowing 75,000 yards into the sea”.

I, along with my mother and father and Donald, observed the Lime Kiln Point discharge from our ranch atop Lopez Point. The first image was that of rapid escaping dust from each of the tunnel branch outlets, followed by the slow lifting of the whole rocky point (mountainous in size) upward and outward over the ocean to disappear into the offshore waters nearly a half mile away. When the mass of rock reached its zenith (highest point) we experienced the tremendous blast of sound which then had reached us. We were told that the proposed roadbed was nearly negotiable after the blast. Gene and my uncle Fred Harlan had walked over to Point 16 and observed the blast from there.

Coyote holes were used at Harlan Point and Indian Point to establish the “cuts” through the ridge tops in each case. These locations were closer to our ranch and during their construction we had the opportunity to inspect the process more closely. It was interesting to see the convicts gathered around a bonfire in the early morning coolness using dynamite for firewood. (To be continued)

4 thoughts on “Weds reading: Highway One construction, part 2, by Stan Harlan

  1. It took me a while to figure out “free man.” Finally, I think it means men who weren’t convicts. It’s great to read these first hand accounts. Thank you for sharing them.

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