Golden Gate Plunge
Changed 'Slim' Lambert and Hawai`i

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (2/07/98)
By Ray Pendleton

"Falling off the Golden Gate Bridge was a pivotal point in his life," Evan "Slim" Lambert's son Skip told me, a few days after the scattering of his father's ashes off Waikiki Beach last month.

"Before that, dad had been a cowboy in Arizona," Skip said. "He was 25 in 1935 when he broke his leg, and his boss sent him to San Francisco to sell a load of cattle."

After making the sale, Slim decided to stay as a construction worker building the Bay and Golden Gate bridges.

The book "High Steel - Building the Bridges Across San Francisco Bay" provides a very graphic picture of the bridge workers' challenges and Slim's "pivotal" experience.

Early in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was nearly completed. The only thing left was to strip away the wooden forms below the concrete roadway.

On February 17, Slim was bossing a 13-man crew working off a 30- by 60-foot traveling 'stripper' - a movable scaffold suspended on wheels beneath the deck of the bridge - more than 200 feet above the water. Suddenly, one at a time, the supporting corner brackets of the stripper began tearing loose.

"I felt everything slipping," Slim said after the accident. "There was nothing to hang on to. So I hollered ... and jumped into the net ... a moment later, I heard a sound like thunder as the 10-ton stripper ripped from its hangers..."

Slim hit the net just before the stripper. The 7/8-inch hemp netting sagged slowly, ropes popped, and the net fell away with another thunderous noise.

"Men were screaming and falling all around me ...," Slim recalled, "... I was one of the few who missed being struck by the stripper ... just before I hit the water with the net ... I tried to jump. I think I succeeded because I wasn't fouled in the net ... I saw some timber and grabbed on."

Slim was finally pulled from the water by a passing crab fishing boat, and although suffering many broken bones, including his neck, he became the only long-term survivor of the accident.

Before the accident, watching ships pass below him, Slim had often dreamed of sailing off to the South Pacific. So once he recovered from his injuries, he booked passage on the Matson ship Malolo, bound for Hawai`i.

Slim had planned to continue on to Tahiti, but fate intervened when he was recognized in Honolulu as the Golden Gate survivor and a Star-Bulletin story brought him instant celebrity status.

Soon he was working for Hawaiian Electric, living in Waikiki's old Beachwalk Apartments, and spending time on Gray's Beach in front of the Halekulani Hotel. It was there he met the love of his life and mother of his children, Eleanor "Cotton" Jenkins.

Slim would go on to become the "father" of O`ahu's offshore tourist-boat industry - the first to offer glass-bottom boat rides and dinner cruises off Waikiki and Kaneohe Bay. And with a nod, perhaps, to his early years, he would also found the 6L Ranch, promote rodeos, and raise horses and cattle on Oahu for three decades.

Slim surviving the fall off the Golden Gate Bridge became not just a pivotal point in his life, but it would seem, one for all whose life was touched by him.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

Hele On