The Big Pour

The Big Pour

Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? The large self-propelled device in the image above these words isn’t a bicycle, is it? And yet this is a site that is allegedly devoted to cycling, right? Well, there are times when I’d like to think that this is a site that just uses the bicycle to get at larger, more human issues like community, culture and happiness.


It’s impossible to hid the fact that I like cool machines. Writing about cycling is a pretty terrific excuse to play with fascinating machines. Being a cyclist predisposes one to digging big, fascinating machines. As it happens, Los Angeles is the site to a new construction project worthy of at least minor media attention. Construction crews are working on the new Wilshire Grand hotel in downtown. By the time it is complete, it will be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.


In a big city like Los Angeles, something is under construction at almost all times. One new building ain’t no biggie. Except, this one is. Because the ground here is prone to movement, the architect behind the new hotel wanted the foundation to be one single piece of concrete. To do that, the entire foundation had to be poured in one continuous movement. My wife and I figured that at least one of the boys would find it amazing, though I’m thinking she wasn’t referring to the four-year-old still lodged deep within me.


What sold us on going was the pitch that this was promised to be the largest continuous pouring of a foundation in history. Agents of that most hallowed institution of the extreme, the Guiness Book of World Records, were on-hand to verify that this was more concrete poured at once than anywhere else in the world. Beginning at 5:00 pm on Saturday crews began pumping concrete into the huge whole in a process that was to take 20 continuous hours of pouring.


The new Wilshire Grand promises to be some 73-stories, 1100-feet high, containing shopping and more than 900 hotel rooms. It sounded big, really big. And when is big not cool?


Those large crane-looking trucks are the concrete pumps. The construction crew used 19 of them in pouring the concrete for the foundation which is 330 by 440 feet, and lies 106 feet below street level. Mini-Shred was pretty fascinated so long as something either moved or made loud machine sounds. A good belch of diesel exhaust was enough to get his attention.



Given the number of very large vehicles moving around the restricted confines of dense urban landscape, the need for coordination was higher than any game of Twister you ever played.


I had a chance to speak with someone from the project and the details he rattled off were mind-boggling. It was like talking to an astrophysicist. The numbers were mind-stunningly huge. So each cement mixer carries 10 cubic yards of concrete. The foundation required 120 to 150 concrete trucks per hour. Each of those pumps had two trucks parked next to them at all times. As soon as one was empty, they’d switch to the one next to it, and the empty would pull out and another would be directed into position.


Here’s where the math starts to get interesting: One cubic yard of concrete weighs about 4000 lbs. So the payload for each truck was roughly 40,000 lbs. or 20 tons. Those pumps were directing between 2400 and 3000 tons of concrete into that hole, per hour. That’s a total of between 48,000 and 60,000 tons of concrete for the foundation, which when translated back into a measure of mass we have a visceral appreciation results in this figure: between 1,920,000,000 and 2,4000,000,000 lbs.


The Deuce, if he could talk, would tell you that Mini-Shred is by far the coolest person he’s ever met. Mini-Shred has yet to develop a taste for adulation, so scenes like the one above are about as good as it gets.


After the family outing on Saturday, I decided to get up early Sunday and head back to downtown by bike and see if I couldn’t gain a vantage of the hole. What I saw was staggering; it reminded me of something out of the War of the Worlds.


I’m amazed by just how small the shipping containers are. In the far right corner there’s a bucket loader that looks like a Tonka toy. I haven’t seen anything so fascinating since I stopped reading Richard Scarry books. For a brief moment, the world was new and I could be anything I wanted when I grew up.

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  1. Adam

    All I can think is how amazing the skatepark would be if they used all that concrete…
    That’s my bmx child coming out to play.

    1. Author

      Brian: Yes, I was fascinated by that as well. I read that all the concrete contractors (there were four or five plus a backup) had to be within 20 miles of downtown. Keeping stuff lined up just right was amazing.

      LesB: If there is, he had to have pissed off a lot of people; there would have been a ton of witnesses.

      Adam: Yes!

      Kevin: Damn. I knew there was a chance (even after double-checking my work) that my match would be off. I’m a writer and I always made mistakes in chemistry in physics by order of magnitude. Now help a brother out and give us the right answer, please!

      Andrew: Well let’s just say Thomas Pynchon beat Scarry for a while, but I did go out and buy a bunch when my wife was pregnant with Mini-Shred. I still love those books.

  2. Andrew

    My kids all loved those books. Actually I’m a bit verklempt, as my youngest is probably getting to be a bit old for them. My wife and I also got a laugh out of the one called “What do People Do All Day?”. We refer to it as “Just WTF do People Do All Day?!!!?”

  3. Randall

    Since Kevin seems to be away (and Padraig asked), 48,000-60,000 tons is 96,000,000 to 120,000,000. In practice though, I’d challenge anyone to look a a hunk of concrete like this and tell the difference between a hundred million pounds and a billion.

    For a little style fun though, that low figure is:
    6.4 million race bikes or
    65.3 million full camelback podium bottles or
    2419 fully loaded Garmin Sharp Busses (MAN Lion’s Regio std.)

  4. Roger

    My favorite thing about concrete pumping trucks are that the two main manufacturers are Putzmeister and Schwing. Sounds like a ready made SNL skit, but you can’t make this stuff up.

  5. MattC

    Saw this on the news yesterday, but your coverage was WAY better! Love the pics of the hole with the 19 pumping arms reaching in like a spider (with 19 legs)…what a job to make this happen! Just imagine the coordination down in the hole with all the workers, trying NOT to end up missing a few guys when it’s all over with! That had to be a rather expensive operation…wonder what the price tag would be on something like that (including rental of the pumping trucks, concrete trucks, the concrete itsself, then pay for all the workers and drivers, and most likely a small army of people on the streets directing traffic). Crazy cool stuff, thanks for sharing!

  6. LesB

    If you like these machines, I think you’d love some similar-profiled machines I saw being used do dismantle tanks from a tank farm here in Torrance. These gizmos seemed like something out of a hyper-corny Godzilla type movie. The arm would reach out and “bite” a chunk out of the tank and set it aside. It kept this up till the tank was fully devoured.

    1. Author

      I’m thrilled how much everyone has enjoyed this. I knew that at some level we’re all geeks. Thanks everyone!

      LesB: If I had known about that, I’d have been there. With Mini-Shred AND a camera.

  7. Mike

    I worked on a concrete foundation crew in college in the late 90s. At that time, just one of those pumper trucks rented out for something like $500-700/hr.

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