We were on a project in the early 70s between 12th and 32nd St, installing new water and wastewater lines all up and down I-35. We were moving water and wastewater lines for an expansion of Interstate 35. It was one of the most difficult projects I have ever been involved in. Nelson Lewis had a very sharp mind and could figure out these difficult jobs and how best to make everything work. Nelson was a great person to study under and learn the business from. I will always be thankful that I got my start working for him.
Most other contractors would throw up their hands and walk away as soon as they unrolled a set of plans like this one. It literally was a maze of pipes that had been thrown together over the past century as Austin went from a small town to becoming a city.
We had excavated a shaft about 30 feet deep in solid limestone on the west side of the Interstate at Manor Rd. We had drilled (or bored as we called it) a horizontal hole across the big highway and installed a large water line through it. One of the last things was to pour ready mix concrete to hold everything in place.
Nelson strolled up to the edge of the hole where a ready mix truck had back up and was getting ready to dump his load into the bottom, so he had his chutes extended out over the hole. Nelson, to get a better look, leaned out and was holding onto the chute. Next thing we knew Nelson was falling and tumbling down the almost vertical rock face of that massive hole. The chute hadn’t been properly attached, and had gone down with him. Nelson laid there in the bottom of the hole for a minute. We thought he was most likely hurt really bad. Just then he started to move around. Eventually he found his way over to a ladder and came climbing out.
He walked around to the back of the truck, bent over in pain with his arm dripping with blood where the rock face had torn through the flesh. What does the truck driver say? “You really didn’t have any business leaning against my chute”. Nelson was pretty mild mannered and wasn’t one to lash out generally, but I can tell you, I heard Nelson Lewis tell that idiot driver things I’d never heard said before. After he got through with him, that driver went to his truck with his tale between his legs. He waited until Nelson left before he would even came out to operate the mixer.
Nelson had several scrapes and bruises but nothing serious. Which given the nature of the fall was a miracle.