THIS DAM LIFE
By: C.S. Grady
Copyright 2016 C.S. Grady
A short collection of articles about the early days of the Boulder Dam Project, that focus on a single person, Albert Wayland Jennings.
May 24, 1933 – Uncredited, believed to be Robert Lee Web
After two years of digging, but a year ahead of schedule, the Boulder Dam will be getting its first load of Concrete next week. However, it seems that even though a milestone has been reached representatives from the Six Companies and the Bureau of Reclamation have decided to keep the fanfare to a minimum and keep everything moving. They have expressed hope in finishing the entire project ahead of schedule and if they continue to work as they have been, we can expect them to.
With the real construction about to begin, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Albert Jennings of California’s Henry J. Kaiser Co. out of Oakland. He will be supervisor for a concrete crew working the overnight shifts. He was able to give us an idea of the process they were going to use in the construction.
Each team would pour eight cubic feet of concrete into a Form that is approximately 24 feet by 24 feet, creating a layer of concrete about 12 Inches thick. After pouring they will Screed the top of the concrete to make it flat, followed by another pass with a device, they call a float to smooth it and pack it tightly. Once each step is done, the team moves to the next form and repeats the process. Once the concrete is dried, they will remove the forms and fill the gaps with grout.
I asked about the general safety working at night to which Mr. Jennings gave us this last quote “It’s hard work, but I was lucky, I drew a night crew, though I ain’t none too happy to be pouring at night is sure does beat the heat.” And to that I agree, good luck to all you concrete dogs and stay safe out there when the pouring starts.
August 23, 1933 – By Robert Lee (Web)
From the basin, bottom tiers rise higher and higher. Only twelve weeks in to the pouring of the concrete that will one day be the Boulder Dam, the Six Companies are rearranging their crews. We will see less progress over the next week or so as the crews are reorganized, one change of note to our readers is that of a promotion being given to Mr. Jennings.
“His teams constantly outperform others, with fewer men he is keeping pace with some of our day crew,” said a site manager from one of the Six Companies.
With his late shifts and his need to change from sleeping during the day to working during it, we were unable to get a statement from Mr. Jennings about the news before we went print. We were able to talk to a few of his crew about working for him we learned something interesting; he has a nickname ‘Watasha.’ One of his crew told us. “He just has a way about him, kind of like your grandfather. You know, you do not work hard because your granddad makes you, you just do. And seeing as he is half Japanese and ain’t none of our grandfathers we just took to calling him Watasha, which he tells us means old number one in his mother’s language.”
We asked why Old Number one in any language, “He’s the boss, the number one, and I don’t know if you have ever seen him, he ain’t that young anymore.” the man finished with a laugh.
There you have it, ‘Watasha’ is moving to days and hopefully the dam will be done next week.
October 23, 1934 – Uncredited, Robert Lee Web was the only columnist
Allegations of improper hiring have rocked Boulder. Construction was halted early Friday afternoon when inspectors from the Bureau of Reclamation found evidence that the Six Companies had violated section 4 of the act of June 17, 1902 (32 Stat. 388, 389), or simply put had hired ‘Mongolian’ labor.
Over the weekend, the citizens of Boulder were effectively held under house arrest, unable to leave for Las Vegas or the Site to work while the USBR and the Six Companies checked the legitimacy of each employee in question. One of them our very own old number one, He had this to say about the preceding.
“This is just a witch hunt; Storms never last, bad times all seem to pass and the clouds brewing now won’t be the last. I’m not very popular here with some people. I never wanted to be.” Mr. ‘Watasha’ Jennings went on to say “I’m here to build a Dam not friendships.”
Another worker had this to say, “American means, American. Not half American.” His rant continued but in the interest of our readers, I will only add this from his comment, “A lot of good people are going hungry because of people like him (Jennings) something needs to be done.”
The Six Companies refused to issues a direct statement in response to the comments above other than to say, “Hopefully work will resume Tuesday.”
January 16, 1935 – By Robert (Lee) Web
This is my last piece with the Journal. According to the morning muster another two people have decided to quit the Six Companies, bringing the total walk-off this winter to 10. In times such as these to have so many people leave a good paying job seems suspect, even more so with one of the names on the list today, Albert Jennings. A Six Companies representative went on the record stating, “We see a lot of turnover in the winter months, happens at all job sites.” When I asked him directly about Mr. Jennings he seemed become distracted with the time. I pressed again only to receive a curt, “I have nothing more to say on the subject,” he stood and stormed out of the room.
I took it upon myself and asked around, and found in the weeks leading up Mr. Jennings “leaving” he started to get more fight back from his crew. Production slowed and they were not meeting their goals. A worker off the record told me he was approached by a group of men who wanted to, as he put it “get rid” of Mr. Jennings. I asked for further details, but in fear of his life he did not want to speak further.
Readers of this paper know, Mr. Jennings has been a regular contributor to the paper offering many insights and insider commentary on the building of the dam. If you are still out there Mr. Jennings I hope you are doing well.
January 16, 1942 – Uncredited believed to be written by Robert Lee Web
Albert Wayland Jennings, 61, Missing since January 16, 1935 was declared legally dead at the request his mother Kaiya Jennings (85) and old friend and current Standard columnist Robert Lee Web.
Mr. Jennings worked on the Boulder Dam from its first Drop of Concrete up till his mysterious disappearance in the winter of 1935 a mere 4 months before his work would have been completed. His crews respected him and said he lived by a simple code, “As long as you are honest and upfront with me, I will be the same with you. But I still do things my way.” Some believe it was those very same ideals that lead to his dis-appearance. We may never know the truth behind this great mans end, but we can now close the book on this chapter. Ride on Watasha.
Inspired by the song "Highwayman" written by Jimmy Webb. This is a set of newspaper clippings about a construction worker and the early days of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam project. This is the third in a series of four short stories, following the pattern of the songs verses. If you like this be sure to read the other two stories, 'The Highwayman' and 'Upon the Tide' and be on the look out for upcoming tale: 'In Black.'