Boating Made Possible by Aerial Acrobats
By Jack Innis
Tuesday, 21 June 2005
The next time you splash your boat in Lake Mead (or other lakes created
by the Hoover Dam), tip your hat to the aerial acrobats who helped make
the dam possible.
The next time you splash your boat in Lake Mead (or other lakes created by
the Hoover Dam), tip your hat to the aerial acrobats who helped make the
Yes, among little-known tales in the creation of Hoover Dam are those of
high-scalers, men who rappelled down sheer cliff walls adjacent to the dam
during construction between 1931 and 1935.
When the site for the dam was originally surveyed, geologists noted that
the canyon walls suffered from millions of years of erosion. Over the
millennia, water had frozen in the cracks and crevices, splitting the
rock. This caused a great concern because being hit by falling objects was
the number one cause of death on such projects.
So, high-scalers were called upon to rappel down the cliff faces and
chisel, blast, jackhammer, and pry the rock loose so that construction
could begin below.
The men who volunteered for this work included former sailors, circus
acrobats, and American Indians. All of them were young, agile men, not
afraid to swing out over empty space on a rope.
The work was as hard as it was dangerous. With hand tools slung over their
shoulders, the men would descend the canyon walls.
Jackhammers were lowered to them, and the men would drill holes for
dynamite. Once the men had tamped the dynamite in place, they d evacuate
for the blast.
After the shot, they d climb back down and use crowbars to free up any
loose or broken rocks. Life on the cliff face was difficult and dangerous.
High-scalers had to contend with pressurized air hoses and charged
electrical lines that criss-crossed the canyon wall. They lived in
constant danger of being hit by falling rocks or dropped tools.
In fact, the men improvised hard hats by coating cloth hats with coal tar.
Believe it or not, these homemade hard hats were very effective.
Several men hit by falling rocks actually had their jaws broken but did
not receive skull fractures. Eventually, the dam supervisors contracted
for commercially made hard hats and issued them to every man on the site.
High-scalers were risk takers, and that attitude became evident whenever
the foremen weren t around. For fun, the men would swing out from the
cliffs and perform stunts.
Contests judged by the workers below were held to see who could swing out
the farthest or who could perform the best stunts. So, next time you re
out having fun on the lake, take a good look up at some of the tall cliffs
and thank the high-scalers who helped make your day possible.