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Off The Editor’s Desk – 3-6-2013

This week I would like to take a look at the Hoover Dam and the Hoover Dam by-pass project that we visited on our recent vacation.

The new bridge is called the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Bypassing the need to use Hoover Dam as a crossing from Nevada to Arizona saves many minutes in travel time.

The bridge is named for Mike O’Callaghan, a decorated Korean War Veteran who was born in LaCrosse, WI and grew up in Sparta and former Governor of Nevada; and Pat Tillman, a football player who left his career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist with the Army and was later killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Located some 1500 feet downstream from Hoover Dam, it spans the Black Canyon as it is 1900 feet long and almost 900 feet above the water of the Colorado River. This makes it the second highest bridge in the United States, behind the Royal Gorge Bridge. The bypass project cost some $240 million with $114 million in bridge costs.

We visited Hover Dam in 2010 and printed a picture of the bridge being built at that time and now we were able to drive across it. But with the high guardrails, one cannot see the dam or the lake from your car as you travel over it. Stop and travel to the visitors’ parking area for the bridge and walk up a few flights of stairs and onto the bridge. If you have a problem with heights, this is not the place to be, but it gives visitors a great view of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. As we were walking onto the bridge we met a couple from Eau Claire, who drove there just to see the bridge.

The bridge opened late in 2010 and as I was researching material on the bridge I found out that the first person to take his own life from the bridge was on April 7, 2012 as attempts by local officials to talk the person out of jumping were not successful.

The view from the bridge at Hoover Dam is breathtaking. The Dam was constructed in the 1930s when there was no hydraulics and there were wooden spoke wheels on trucks and cables to support workers and equipment, and most of the work was by hand.

The Dam is 1244 feet long and 726 feet high and the maximum depth of the water behind the dam is 590 feet and backs up a reservoir for some 112 miles. It provides flood relief, irrigation, and electrical power to the southwestern United States.

The dam is also called Boulder Dam; a name that President Roosevelt wanted after he defeated Hoover. If you note the lighter colored rock on the canyon walls in the picture, those rocks are covered with water when Lake Mead is full and what you see now is the draw down of water. The Colorado River basin has seen a lower than normal rainfall over a period of years. This was our fourth visit to the dam in the last fifteen years and we have never seen the lake full.

As we were talking to people on the walkway, one person stated that several workers died during the construction of the dam and were buried in the dam. That’s not true. No one was left in the dam during construction.

However, 112 deaths are associated with the construction of the dam. Included in that total was J. G. Tierney, a surveyor, who drowned on December 20, 1922 while looking for an ideal spot for the dam. He is counted as the first man to die in the construction of the Hoover Dam. His son, Patrick W. Tierney, was the last man to die working on the dam’s construction, 13 years to the day later.

Forty two workers died of pneumonia during the construction. Workers alleged that this diagnosis was a cover for death from carbon monoxide poisoning, brought on by the use of gasoline-fueled vehicles in the diversion tunnels and a classification used by the Six Companies (the general contractors) to avoid paying compensation claims. Those tunnels were exhaust filled 50-foot high holes where the temperature sometimes rose to 140 degrees.

Despite these conditions, the dam was completed in record time and under budget.

— Carlton

Editor’s Note: Sources of the information in this article are from