We had a project that required a hydraulic elevator to be installed down in the low part of San Francisco. We were inside the sea wall but it’s a leaky old sea wall. So we went down in the basement and broke out an area of concrete, and dug down about four feet. The whole thing was gravel and the bottom two feet of the hole were underwater. We had to set forms and pour the bottom of the elevator pit. I didn’t know what else to do, so I dug a hole off to the side that was lower the elevator pit and put a great big trash pump in there. I got a tide book, waited till we had a low tide, turned the trash pump on, and bailed the whole thing out. We filled Green Street with salt water pretty much trying to pump out the bay.
I kept the laborers late and we poured the bottom of the elevator pit so the concrete had a chance to kick before the tide came in. Came back the next morning and of course there were two feet of sea water standing in the hole. We went through the same procedure again several times trying to get the walls formed and poured. We formed an 24″ hole in the bottom of the floor which was to accommodate the drilling machine that was going to drill for the hydraulic shaft. There was no way that it was ever going to be made water tight, so I cast a five gallon bucket flush with the floor to create a sump for a pump. We got the walls poured finally, got the basement slab poured back in, everything was tied back together and we were ready for McRae and his indoor drill rig.
The water level was still going up and down with the tides. I came to work the next Monday morning and there was a fish in the pit! I walked in there Monday and I looked at that thing, and I yelled, “What the FUCK! This CAN’T be! A fish CAN’T swim up through the gravel into a concrete elevator pit.” The only thing that tipped me off, after I hooked it out, was that it had been cleaned – all the guts were out of it. Somebody had gone to the fish store in Chinatown and bought a whole fish, head and all, and thrown it in. It was kind of flattering that somebody went to all that trouble to play a joke on us, and I watched the corners of everyone’s mouth carefully, but still, that first burst was a heart attack.