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How they remember that day

"It made a great impression..."

"It made a great impression..." Some excerpts of accounts submitted by dam workers who remember the slide of 1938:

ARCHAMBEAULT, LEWIS C., 1103 Valley View, Glasgow, Montana 59230. "I was to go to work at 1:30 p.m. on the day of the slide in that area, setting out stakes in the core pool. When I arrived there was nothing left, so with a long probe I started looking for dead bodies."

EPPERSON, ROY S., P.O. Box 565, Mill City, Oregon 97360. "Beans to Bullets-Sept. 22, 1938 began as a normal clear, calm day at the Fort Peck Dam project. It was my day off as oiler on the dredge JEFFERSON. My wife Clara, a teacher in the Fort Peck School, had returned to school after having been home for lunch and started a pot of beans to cook, giving me orders to see they did not burn. About 2 p.m., I heard my next door neighbor rush into his apartment and in a loud voice call out to his wife, 'I am all right. The dam is gone.' He was a surveyor working in the area when an upstream portion of the unfinished dam began to slip. Another neighbor and I jumped in a car to see what we could do. When we got back 2 hours later, the apartment was full of smoke. The beans had boiled dry and looked like buckshot. The construction of the dam had been set back one year.

FLAHERTY, ERMA BELL, 983 Robin Drive, College Place, Washington 99324. "I remember putting in a 12-hour shift the afternoon of the slide, cleaning mud, sand and water out of ears, eyes, noses and lungs of patients who were fortunate enough to have survived the catastrophe."

GANNON, PHILIP E., 86 Broadacres Road, Atherton, California 94025. "In mid-afternoon in September 1938, I was working as a striker on a booster pump station about halfway down the downstream face of the dam on the tunnel side. After telephoning in my hourly meter/gage readings, as was my custom, I looked toward the crest of the dam. The first thing I noticed was that sections of the dredge-fill line running parallel to the main axis were slowly disappearing from view, as was a long boom crane. Immediately our booster station was shut down and the dredge (MADISON, I believe) was notified, and then myself and the other two members of the booster station watched more of the pipeline and more pieces of equipment move slowly out of sight, over a length of what must have been 2,000 feet. Some personnel were in evidence scurrying to safety as we saw some of the fill drop in towards the core pool. Later, of course, the 'slide at Fort Peck Dam' and its repair became a major part of USA dam construction lore. As a young engineer it made a great impression on me.

KLEIN, JEAN, 125 Klein Lane, Columbia Falls, Montana 59912. "Norbert was working in the shop below the dam at the time of the big slide. I spent a very terrifying day not knowing if he was safe and getting a few things together, ready to take our baby to higher ground if the siren blew so many times (for the alert sign)."

O'CONNELL, DONALD R., N. 5710 F Street, Spokane, Washington 99205. "It was such a terrible loss of life, and of course, the loss of valuable equipment. In conjunction with this, I helped a surveyor who lived next to me at the hotel (I can't recall his name after all these years) write his thoughts after being caught in the slide. He was in the onslaught of equipment, debris, water, etc., but miraculously survived. He came through this terrible accident holding onto his transit and with only his shirt collar left around his neck. All the rest of his clothes had been torn off. I guess God was looking over him. Wish I could recall his name, but I can't after all these years.

RUCKMAN, HAROLD J., 2175 W. Southern, Box 113 Apache Junction, Arizona 85220. "An experience of Manson Bailey: On the day the 'dam went out,' Manson Sr. was doing his work as a survey chief, on the area which slid out into the lake. I must refer to some of the engineers that were present in that work at that time for a full description of the magnitude of that disaster which moved a mountain of earthfill some 3/4 of a mile long and 1/2 mile wide. I was among the first crew which was chosen to investigate the area, this under the supervision and leadership of N. N. Fuller, the safety engineer. We walked over the area looking at everything visible which might reveal factual information. We passed the bed of a truck which had been torn from its truck, then above that some 200 feet there was a pair of tan trousers with the belt attached and fastened that had a set of tool checks attached and a leather purse in the rear pocket containing cards and ID belonging to Manson Bailey Sr. (Manson Bailey was a very well known person-he was a personality). The next day Manson Bailey showed up for work, however, he was a bit reluctant to talk of his experience. N. N. Fuller related that Bailey admitted that he had gone down under the sand several times while the earthfill was shifting and moving. He stated that he found himself on the top and was completely naked. His ears and eyes were packed full with sand. Then he climbed the west end of the slide and walked the road toward Glasgow. On arriving on a portion of the road where traffic was moving, he thumbed a ride to his home in Glasgow. An interesting thing brought all this back to my attention after I retired. I was visiting the Glasgow museum, say in the 1970s, and found Manson Balley Jr. attending the museum. On mentioning the above incident, he seemed surprised and said he was unaware of any of the above stated facts."

updated: 2005-02-11

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