The 75th anniversary of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge last week brought back special memories of Evan “Slim” Lambert – one of Hawaii’s tourist-boat pioneers – to a number of veteran recreational boaters in Honolulu.
Lambert’s ashes were scattered offshore of Waikiki over 14 years ago, however the story of his surviving a death-defying fall off the Golden Gate Bridge during its final construction phase in 1937 has kept his memory alive.
“Before coming to San Francisco in 1935, my dad was a cowboy in Arizona,” his son Skip Lambert related. “He had come there to sell a load of cattle and decided to stay as a construction worker on the Bay and Golden Gate bridges after making the sale.”
According to the book “High Steel – Building the Bridges Across San Francisco Bay,” by early 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge was nearly completed. All that was left was to strip away the wooden forms from under the concrete roadway.
On Feb. 17, Slim was bossing a 13-man crew working off a 30- by 60-foot movable scaffold “stripper” suspended on wheels beneath the deck of the bridge and 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 (safety) 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, the net fell away and he managed to clear himself from the net and the stripper just before they hit the water. Somehow Slim survived the fall, although he suffered numerous broken bones, and he was soon pulled from the water by a passing fishing boat.
Sailing off to the South Pacific had been Slim’s dream, so once he had recovered from his injuries, he booked passage to Hawaii with plans to continue to Tahiti. Those plans were cancelled when he arrived in Honolulu to find he was a celebrity after a story of his survival hit the local newspaper.
Slim initially began working for the Hawaiian Electric Company and eventually became the first to offer glass-bottom boat rides and dinner cruises off Waikiki and Kaneohe Bay. And although he and his wife Cotton became active members of the Waikiki Yacht Club, he also found time to establish his 6L Ranch, promote rodeos, and raise horses and cattle on Oahu for some 30 years.
It would seem his plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge was a pivotal point in Slim’s life and for Hawaii as well.