Jim Klinger, Concrete Construction Specialist, The Voice Newsletter June 2021

About a month ago I purchased one of those so-called “Ebikes” from our local big-box store. This particular model features 14-inch wheels and fold-down handlebars. A rechargeable battery-powered motor can be used to supplement the traditional foot pedals. Gears, shock absorbers and a comfortable seat were not available options on this model. The purchase was motivated by domestic pressure provoked by post-retirement weight gain to the tune of about 50 pounds above normal.

The general idea was to ride the Ebike, using the foot pedals, up and down the neighborhood streets. The electric motor assist would only be used sparingly. My last bike ride was on a banana-seat Stingray down the side streets of Tucson in 1966. The raised handlebars made popping wheelies a breeze. Although some 55 years have passed, I still remember cruising on the easily-controlled Stingray along gently rolling, off-road desert trails for hours on end.

It took a few days to get used to the Ebike’s controls. I found the steering and handling to be quite difficult. This was definitely not the classic 1966 Stingray. On a Saturday morning, I was elected to drive my wife to the local grocery. After opening the garage door, I figured I could make a quick Ebike run to the local park and back before the wife finished her morning constitutional and nobody would be the wiser. The electric motor could be brought to bear if needed. The sleepy neighborhood streets were quiet, so off I went for a quick spin. I was not wearing a helmet, nor did I even consider it.

What happened next hangs in my memory in a vivid, slow-motion blur. I can remember trying out the electric motor, misjudging the turn radius into the park, and losing control of the Ebike when the wheels crossed the transition between asphalt street, concrete gutter and trench drain. I remember sailing face-first into a chain-link fence, and coming to rest in a tangled mess at the base of the fence. Once the wheels stopped turning, I knew I was bleeding and could not feel anything below my waist and only part of each arm. One of the neighbors witnessed the spectacle, called 911, and made sure I did not move. Once the ambulance arrived, the medics boarded me up for a 40-minute ride to the closest local hospital with trauma facilities.

I spent the next six days in the ICU. The first night was sleepless, despite being heavily medicated. It was bad enough being paralyzed from the waist down. But the sounds coming from the adjacent rooms in the trauma center were enough to fuel any dreams with a touch of terror. My family was devastated.

By the second day, and after many MRI and CT scans, I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury (SCI), aggravated by an age-related indignity of spinal arthritis. But I also started to regain feeling in my hands, toes and legs. After a few more days, I felt like I might even be able to get out of bed.

By the eighth day, I was able to walk, and convinced the doctors to let me go home to convalesce. Prior to release, I received several complimentary fashion items, including mandatory neck braces (one for casual wear, the other for use in the shower). I also received a few days’ supply of catheters, which are self-inflicted tubes that are used to manually drain one’s water plug every six hours or so. As it turns out, SCI injuries can negatively affect the manly hydraulic system. I have since regained full control of those particular bodily functions.

As of today, I cannot feel the tips of my toes, but I can walk. My right arm has numb spots, but I can make a fist and write with a pencil. My left arm has a few numb spots as well, but the nerves in my wrist and hand alternate between burning pain and sharp electrical shock. It feels like the bone marrow itches, but any attempt to scratch is extremely painful.

Today I am a very humble man. I may not regain 100 percent of my health, but it’ll be close. It could have been a lot worse.

I have attended many presentations given by Bruce Suprenant. Bruce typically starts out by telling the audience that one of the best ways to learn something is via mistakes, hopefully mistakes made by others. I am telling you this so you can learn from my mistakes.

I can’t say whether or not you should be driving one of these Ebikes. But you really need to wear a helmet (it’s the law in California), make sure to read the safety literature from the manufacturer, and take any training that might be required. It has been said that certain things are “just like riding a bike”. Whether or not that always applies is borderline questionable.

It finally dawned on me (after having my face dragged along a chain-link fence) that the ASCC stresses safety in everything we do. Even at the ASCC Technical Committee meetings, the very first item on our agenda is always safety. In the ACI/ASCC “Contractor’s Guide to Quality Concrete Construction” the very first chapter is devoted to safety. The key takeaway here is that safety is a 24-7 concern that applies equally to the jobsite and to quick spins at home on a Saturday morning.

And speaking of specifications…when you get laid up in the hospital, it gives you time to prepare a presentation for a World of Concrete luncheon regarding the many difficulties that surround project specifications. In a 1981 edition of Concrete International, Raymond Huen explored specifications and how they might be improved. Huen points out that the first known written specification can be found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 6.

In Chapter 6, the Owner does, in fact, direct the contractor to build a boat out of wood approximately 450 feet long by 75 feet wide. But there had to have been a verbal concrete specification issued by the Owner to the contractor beforehand saying: “You must place an 8-inch thick concrete working slab 500 feet long and 100 feet wide for use by the follow-on boat builder. Do not worry about slope to drain or birdbaths. Those parts can be discussed later”.

In similar fashion, Henry Reid’s classic 1877 textbook titled “The Science and Art of the Manufacture of Portland Cement” contains a running commentary of a beef that Reid had with another researcher, John Grant, regarding who first invented a tension test mold. In a fit of pedantic silliness, one of the participants claimed his ancestors were part of the crew on Noah’s ark. “That’s nothing”, said the other, “back then, my ancestors had their own boat”.

Stay safe, everybody.

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