Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Mighty Hoover Dam

A number of years ago my wife and I, plus dear friends from Columbus, Ohio were embarking on a 14 day tour of the western National Parks. We flew into Las Vegas and spent the night there in the famous Golden Nugget hotel.
The sun had already fallen and the glitzy lights filled the darkness making every kind of color change as its motion and movements fascinated the new comers. All types of invitations came from one building to another as were rode down the strip. It didn’t take us long to know why it is called “sin city.”
The next day we met our tour leader and boarded our bus headed for the first of the national parks and historic places we were to see. Actually from Las Vegas to Hoover dam was only about 35 miles riding though dormant country until our first view of the constructed wonder.
As we unloaded near the visitor’s center, I became so engrossed by the height, size and depth of the gorge that my thoughts began to wonder about how this dam was built and the length of time to do it.
There was a lot of information inside the center and after reading much of it, the realization of how all of this became overwhelming to me.
I learned construction began in 1931, and was completed in 1936. For these five years 8,000 workers toiled in the harsh, dry canyon bottom. Amazingly, they completed the dam in less than five years -- ahead of schedule and under budget.
Also that Hoover Dam was once known as Boulder Dam and that the concrete arch-gravity dam was in the Black Canyon section of the Colorado River on the border between the states of Arizona and Nevada. When completed it was both the world's largest hydroelectric power generating station and the world's largest concrete structure built a cost of $165 million.
Lake Mead is the reservoir created by the dam was named after Elwood Mead, who oversaw the construction of the dam and Herbert Hoover who was very instrumental in the dams possibly was honored by it being named after him.
Six Companies were contracted to build a new town called “Boulder City” for workers, but the construction schedule for the dam was accelerated in order to create more jobs in response to the onset of the Great Depression. However, the town was not ready when the first dam workers arrived at the site in early 1931. During the first summer of construction, workers and their families were housed in temporary camps like Ragtown while work on the town progressed
A popular story holds that the first person to die in the construction of Hoover Dam was J. G. Tierney, a surveyor who drowned while looking for an ideal spot for the dam. Coincidentally, his son, Patrick W. Tierney, was the last man to die working on the dam, 13 years to the day later. Ninety-six of the deaths occurred during construction at the site. These do not include other incidental and coincidental (heat stroke, heart failure, etc.) deaths during construction. There were 112 deaths associated with the construction of the dam I read later.
Looking over the dam I could see it was protected against overtopping by two spillways. The spillway entrances are located behind each dam abutment, running roughly parallel to the canyon walls. This complex spillway entrance arrangement combined with the approximate 700 ft. elevation drop from the top of the reservoir to the river below is a difficult engineering problem and posed several design challenges. The large spillway tunnels have only been used three times in the history of the dam. In addition to use in 1941 and 1983, spillway use was required in 1999.
Observe the following interesting facts:
Today, the Hoover Dam is the second highest dam in the country and the 18th highest in the world. It generates more than four billion kilowatt-hours a year -- that's enough to serve 1.3 million people!
Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall. That's almost 200 feet taller than the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
There is enough concrete in Hoover Dam (4.5 million cubic yards) to build a two-lane road from Seattle, Washington, to Miami, Florida, or a four-foot-wide sidewalk around the Earth at the Equator.
Because of the heavy traffic over the dam and the increase in tourism to the region a new bridge to by-pass the dam is under construction. It too is a feat of engineering and also will add to the wonderment of the area. (Go to my blog at to see a photo of this new bridge.)

“And God made the arch for a division between the waters which were under the arch and those which were over it: …”- Genesis 1:7 (BBE)

No comments: