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The builders of the Hoover Dam owe a huge debt to acrobats.

The builders of the Hoover Dam owe a huge debt to acrobats.

The most spectacular—and dangerous—job on the Hoover Dam project belonged to a group of men called the high scalers. It was their job to strip the canyon wall of all of the loose rock caused by the wind, water, and extreme temperatures. The loose rock posed a threat to all of the men working on the dam’s foundation in the riverbed a thousand feet below. The job entailed being lowered over the canyon rim in bosun’s chairs—rectangular 2’ × 1’ wide—and then rappelling from the chair down the cliff to the worker’s station. Getting back up was even worse: the worker had to climb hand-over-hand up the hundreds of feet of cliff. On top of that, they had to work with 44-pound jackhammers.

High scaling was not a job for the weak, uncoordinated, or faint of heart; they needed strong men who wouldn’t be afraid of dangling in midair, hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. So they hired sailors, acrobats, and circus performers for the job. The job wasn’t all strenuous work, though; occasionally, when the foremen weren’t looking, the acrobats and circus performers would do stunts for the workers below.