Grand Coulee Dam: A Man-Made Marvel (Full Movie)


[ wind ]>>A century ago, many looked at the Columbia Basin
as a vast wasteland. But a few dreamers saw
something more, an idea to turn that harsh landscape
into acres of farmland. [ Music ]>>These visionaries
understood the potential of the Columbia River. The power to irrigate,
create energy, and control flows
would become a reality. But it would take decades of
tenacity, manpower, and focus. [ Music ]>>The first really active
person was an attorney named Billy Clapp, who was
promoting the area. You know this is a long Western
tradition to promote your area and try to get a settlement
and try and get towns and try and get agriculture.>>An attorney from
Ephrata, Washington, Clapp saw an untapped
potential in the Columbia Basin. In 1917, he proposed damming
the Columbia just below the Grand Coulee. He befriended Rufus Woods, publisher of the
Wenatchee Daily World, and Western attorney
James O’Sullivan. The threesome became
known as the Dam College and supported the
idea of a high dam that would pump irrigation
water into the Columbia Basin.>>People don’t realize, but by 1900 virtually
every major dam site in the American West
was already identified by the engineering community. They knew where the
good dam sites were. Grand Coulee, of course, was a
really good dam site in terms of reservoir size and
also in terms of location.>>Opponents felt the cost of
providing power and irrigation into the unpopulated high
desert of the West was too high.>>So there were a lot
of people saying, “Oh, we’ll never be able
to use this power. We’ll never be able to use it.” Well, of course, they
were proven wrong.>>The private power industry of
course didn’t want public power in competition with them, and naturally they
were going to fight it. But there were many, many
newspapers all over the world, especially in the
state of Washington, who thought the whole
project was a mistake. They thought that it was
never going to pay for itself. Who is going to use
all this power? There is no market for
power from Grand Coulee Dam.>>Despite opposition, Bureau of Reclamation engineers
were directed to build a low dam
in early 1933. This design, at 290 feet tall,
would only generate electricity. Congress approved the $63
million to excavate the riverbed and build the dam’s foundation. Now work lay ahead
for Reclamation to begin transforming
the unused potential of the mighty Columbia River. [ water flows ] [ hammering ]>>On a hot summer’s
day in 1933, Sanpoil tribal chief
Jim James held a stake, while Washington governor
Clarence Martin hammered it in. This signaled the start of
construction and the beginning of the largest water
project of the era. It also marked the
center axis of a new dam that would straddle
the Columbia River and bridge the boundary line between tribal and
federal lands. [ gravel drops ]>>Six months later, the
David H. Ryan Company and his subcontractors
started excavation. Teams of men and heavy
equipment worked round the clock to scrape the area down
to the ancient river bed and haul it away.>>Everything that’s there
on top of the bedrock has to be removed, and there’s
a general name given to all of this stuff, and
it’s called overburden. The overburden has to be carted
away somewhere so that you get down to the solid rock. At the Grand Coulee,
there was a lot of it.>>Over 22 million cubic yards
of earth and stone needed to be excavated before the
dam’s foundation could be built. The sheer size and scale of
the project was unprecedented.>>It wasn’t an ordinary
construction job. It was a monumental
project to contend with. [ machinery ]>>Soon after work began, Mason,
Walsh, Atkinson, and Kier, a consortium of companies
known as MWAK, won the construction bid
for the dam and power plant. The next several months brought
electricity to the dam site, supplied by the Washington
Power Company, which ironically was an
early opponent of the dam. Reclamation Chief Construction
Engineer Frank Banks oversaw the construction of Grand
Coulee Dam. One of the first
tasks at hand was to provide the workforce
with living quarters. Reclamation built
Engineer’s Town to accommodate government
employees, while the construction laborers
were housed in Mason City, which was built by MWAK.>>When MWAK set up
Mason City, well, of course it was an
interesting time. They had barracks
for the single man and housing for families
as well. Across the river of course
was the fancy quarters for the engineers. They built permanent houses
there that are still being used. They had nice streets and
beautiful headquarters for the engineers that
worked on the dam. The early construction times
were making headlines all over the country. [ Music ]>>As the need for
workers increased, so did the need for housing.>>Something like 14
towns were scattered around the Grand
Coulee Dam area.>>The scope of the
project continued to expand with the addition of a
government-run railroad line, a bridge over the
Columbia River, and the entire supporting
infrastructure. [ Music ]>>Right after New
Year’s Day in 1935, the first steel pilings were
driven into the riverbed, forming a temporary dam
called the West Cofferdam. The plan was to reroute
the mighty Columbia River around the construction site, using the Cofferdam’s steel
walls to keep the water at bay so work could begin.>>There were a number of
engineers who said, no, you’ll never tame that river. You won’t be able to do it.>>The Columbia River
is a huge river. Nobody stops the Columbia River. The best you can do is on a
low flow day you can push it to one side. That’s the best you can do. And that’s what they did.>>They did through an
ingenious plan of Cofferdams where they built this elongated,
horseshoe-shaped structure that blocked part of
the flow of the river. And then they began
building the foundation in that area once it
was drained of water. Very clever technology
to do that.>>It was winter, and the river
was flowing at its lowest, making a Cofferdam
easier to build. Laborers called pile bucks
guided each metal sheet of the Cofferdam into place, while steam-powered
sledgehammers drove them deep into the ground.>>They would drive these
into the underlying soil. They would take steel sheets
and put them in between two of the beams and let
the sheets go down and drive them into the soil. And they’d stack the
sheets on top of each other, forming like a continuous
steel wall.>>The Cofferdams were the
key to building the dam.>>By late September, work
began on the opposite shore. But a new challenge
threatened to slow construction. [ earth crumbles ] Collapsing hillsides
or abutments. These abutments anchored the dam and upheld its structural
integrity. Continuous hillside sloughing
had set back progress and hampered the
removal efforts.>>They’d take out
a cubic yard here, and a cubic yard would come
down and fill it back in. And they couldn’t deal
with that appropriately.>>In ancient times, the
winds in the east side of Washington State blew
a fine dust into the area, which accumulated
over the centuries and formed very good
soil for growing. This is called loess. It’s a German word. The problem with Grand
Coulee is this substance, if you start digging in it, it
tends to collapse in on itself. It is very hard to dig out. It can get to be a very tedious
and sometimes disheartening job. The engineers came up with a
unique solution to their problem of the hillside collapsing. They borrowed an old miner’s
trick of freezing the land.>>The result was an
ice-filled arch dam that froze the east
abutment in place. Standing 40 feet high, the
dam measured 15 feet thick and over 120 feet long. An ammonia solution kept
the temperature between zero and 10 degrees Fahrenheit
at all times. It held the hillside together
while excavation continued and the abutments
were strengthened. Engineered estimated the frozen
dam saved almost a million dollars in construct time alone. Grand Coulee was riding
on the cutting edge of construction technology. [ Music ]>>During that period of
course, there were innovations in the construction machinery. They got bigger and
bigger steam shovels, bigger and bigger trucks. There were all kinds of new
innovations that came along to make it more efficient. Nobody else had hauled that
much dirt out of a dam site, and it was a great dam site.>>It was no surprise then
that contractors hired at Grand Coulee became
ever more creative, this time using giant conveyer
belts to get the job done. Dirt, rock, and loose gravel
were carried two miles away to Rattlesnake Canyon on
the west side of the river.>>One of the solutions that
the contractor found for dealing with the overburden was to
haul it away on conveyer belts, and they developed a rather
unique series of conveyer belts onto which they could
load the overburden and have it shipped
off to piles somewhere where it was out of the way. It was one of the innovations, and surprisingly enough
conveyer belts turned to be an innovation
throughout the construction of Grand Coulee Dam,
moving rock and sand, concrete into the
construction area. They became very good
at using these large, extensive conveyor belts. [ Music ] [ water jet ]>>With excavation underway, the
bedrock was prepared and cleaned so concrete would adhere to it
and secure the dam’s foundation. As crews worked into
the fall of 1935, the next construction
phase would begin, placing concrete and lots of it. [ concrete ]>>Plans to build the almost
mile-wide Grand Coulee Dam would use more concrete than any
other construction project in the world at that time.>>The most unique thing about
Grand Coulee Dam was its size. It’s big. [ crowd cheers ] [ camera shutters ]>>On a cold day in December, Washington governor Clarence
Martin, dressed in overalls and a miner’s cap, ceremoniously
performed the new dam’s first concrete placement. Then, working the fresh concrete
into place, he made a show for the press and
the assembled public. The slurry was a precise mixture
of cement and aggregate taken from the nearby Brett Pit.>>They got the aggregate
locally right at the dam site. They got the sand locally. In fact, they had a problem
with the sand and the aggregate, and they had to shake that where
they separated these elements in order to get enough
aggregate. And that pile is still there. It’s like a geographic feature. There is a comical pile of
sand that is almost as tall as the dam downstream of Grand
Coulee Dam on river right.>>To get good concrete,
you need good aggregate. The glaciated deposits here
were excellent for aggregate. And of course they would
screen it for size, wash it, and then with those
different aggregates, then they would make
test mixes to come up with you know how
much larger, medium, and smaller aggregates and sand. So you knew the concrete
was going to be good if the batching was right.>>The concrete was
then mixed and placed into individual blocks
that varied in size. To prevent the cement
from overheating, each block contained
cooling pipes.>>Concrete generates heat
as it cooled, and they had to use another trick to see that
it cooled evenly and completely. Again, they ran pipes in
each pour of concrete, and they ran a saline
solution through those pipes so that it would cool evenly
and not crack or break up as it generated heat.>>After each bucket was poured,
the concrete was vibrated to consolidate and
eliminate rock pockets and trapped air bubbles. Once complete, the next block
was prepared in succession.>>It was just a whole series
of individual block placement. But before that could be
done, the previous block had to be sandblasted and cleaned
with water jets and air jets and no dirt, no grease,
no nothing on it. It had to be fresh blasted
concrete for that next one to start off on so — you know
so water couldn’t work its way through between the blocks. It had to be one mass
when you were done.>>You could take your
breakfast and set it on that eat it off
the foundation where they had cleaned it. They’d blow it. They’d dry it. They washed it would water. They’d scrub it if necessary. You could eat off it, and you
wouldn’t have grit in your food. That’s how clean this
would be, honestly.>>While concrete crews were
setting records building the dam, a dramatic change
occurred in the plans for the dam’s construction. After two years of
political wrangling, Congress approved funds
to build a high dam. The additional height would
generate more hydropower revenues and help pay
for the cost of the dam. Now contractors were
faced with a new challenge to build a dam 550 tall with
a foundation almost as wide. The higher dam would not only
generate more hydropower, but would also deliver
irrigation water and control springtime floods, protecting communities
downstream. [ Music ] When complete, the
larger dam would back up water almost 150 miles
to the Canadian border.>>But when you look
at Grand Coulee Dam, you’re actually looking at two
dams, the low dam foundation and the high dam
imposed on top of it. [ machinery ] [ Music ] Sometimes in building, thousands
of workers working together 6, 7, 8,000 people trying to stay out of each other’s
way, doing a job. I suppose from a distance
it looked not so much like an anthill with people
running around on scaffoldings, with tram cars riding
across the temporary bridges that were built, booms carrying
containers of concrete rising up and down, conveyor belts moving
large amounts of concrete, moving sand, moving
the raw cement.>>If you’re a worker
in this process, there are a lot of problems. There are people moving
heavy steel parts around you and moving the cranes. The communication
with the cranes with all the noise
was difficult. The people directing the work and the crane operators
can’t see each other. So they will typically have
the person directing the work standing off to the side. [ Music ] A crane operator frequently more than half the time can’t
see the place where the hook on the crane is going,
where the work is happening.>>It would be difficult,
hot work. You would be fatigued because
they’d work full shifts with nothing but a half
hour break to each lunch. And basically you couldn’t
go away, and if you decided that you needed to stop
because you were too fatigued, they would replace you. There was no problem of that. This was the Depression, and
there was no lack of people that they could replace
you with, and they did.>>Thousands of Depression
Era workers were not alone in their interest
in Grand Coulee Dam. A steady stream of curious
residents and travelers from across the country
watched the dam take shape. Grand Coulee was
transforming the area, and its success was
constantly in the news. [ film projector ] [ Music ]>>Never in all history
has any people built on a scale so colossal. The Public Works Program
of dam construction, typified by the mighty
Grand Coulee on the Upper Columbia River,
is a program of such immensity as to be almost inconceivable.>>They sold it as building
the biggest thing on earth. This huge structure that was
putting thousands of people to work at a time of
great economic depression. They talked about how
material and various parts from all 48 states came to
Grand Coulee Dam to help in the construction, how workers
came from all over the country to build this great dam. And there was pride in the United States building
the most monumental thing on the planet at a time of Great
Depression in the United States.>>The program is sharing
a fertile promised land, where only iron stretches
now exist. The program is sharing limitless
power, from which may rise a new and faster industrial empire,
bringing prosperity equally to all the people
of the 48 states. Grand Coulee alone will
provide irrigation for more than a million acres
of barren land. It will be the largest
hydroelectric power development concentrated on the
content of North America. [ Music ]>>Movie news reels touted that
the dream of unlocking the power and potential of the Columbia
River was now becoming a reality, and America
couldn’t get enough.>>It was a hot topic
because it was so big, and there was nothing like it. It was just made to
order for publicity.>>Grand Coulee was
really important to the Roosevelt Administration because it was a big
public works project, and in those days
you got your news from news reels and
from the radio. They loved to feature
Hoover and Coulee. [ Music ] It was a huge morale booster
for the American people. This was sort of the height
of Reclamation popularity because we were seen as
putting people to work in an era when a lot of people
were out of work. [ Music ]>>The $130 million Grand Coulee
Dam, largest in the world, is about to produce electricity
2 years ahead of schedule. With the blueprints turned into
concrete after 8 years’ work, Governor Langley of
Washington prepares to make dreams come true. The big moment arrives. The governor throws the
switch, and the first of 18 giant generators begins
to make history and electricity. The ultimate capacity
of the dam is 2 and a half million horsepower, with lines of distribution
far and wide. [ Music ] [ water roaring ]>>On June 1st, 1942,
water finally flowed over the completed spillway. Just 7 months earlier,
Pearl Harbor was attacked. [ gunfire ] [ explosions ] With America entering World War
II, Grand Coulee’s focus shifted from developing irrigation
for agricultural needs to supplying power
for the war effort. [ canon fire ]>>When December 7th came
along, there was no question about what the country
had to do. They postponed every
kind of civilian activity to put people to
work on the war.>>For this was total war, and
we realized victories were borne in the production line. We needed more ships,
more planes, more tanks, more guns, more shells.>>With the power plant
works only half complete and energy demand for war
production expected to soar, construction on the right
powerhouse was suspended so that the left powerhouse and generators could be
put online more rapidly. Plans for irrigating the
Columbia Basin were put on hold as energy production
took top priority. To that end, two generators were
transferred from Shasta Dam, which was under construction, to accommodate the increased
power demands at Grand Coulee. [ Music ]>>It was funneled into
shipbuilding on the coast. It was funneled into aircraft
building up in the Seattle area. And it was also funneled into
the desert, where it just sort of disappeared into the
Hanford Reservation, where they were manufacturing
fissionable materials for the atomic bombs.>>And that demand
for power continue to increase after the war.>>Subsequently, the
huge amount of power in the Pacific Northwest altered
the entire way the Northwest culture developed because
they used electricity for home keeping and lots
of things that other areas of the country didn’t
use it for. Now by the end of the war, Grand
Coulee was only producing power. It wasn’t producing
irrigation water at that time. [ Music ]>>President Truman drives
to the Grand Coulee Dam for the dedication ceremonies,
which were the official reason for his cross-country
whistle-stop tour. Dedicating the dam’s lake,
named for President Roosevelt, Mr. Truman says the Grand
Coulee project is the reason the Northwest is America’s
fastest growing section. [ Music ]>>With the war over,
irrigation was again a hot topic for the West. Proponents of the Columbia Basin
once more focused their efforts on expanding the potential
use of the mighty Columbia.>>The goal of irrigating the
Columbia Basin project was always there, just sidetracked
for a few years during the war. The government then
began working on building the pump
station, putting in a number of rather unique generators,
which can be used to pump water up the hill and from
the reservoir it creates up the hill in Banks Lake. The water can during peak
power periods be channeled down through these
units to generate power. It’s a very clever concept,
and it gets water up the hill into the lake to then
be channeled on down into the irrigation project.>>Irrigation became a priority in the continual transformation
of Grand Coulee Dam. It was an optimistic,
hopeful time. And on May 7th, 1951, the
first pump was started during a nation-wide radio broadcast.>>Here comes the water
from the Grand Coulee, rushing towards the dusty
acres, under control. [ water roaring ]>>Thirty-four years after
Billy Clapp proposed the taming of the Great Columbia River, the Columbia Basin irrigation
project finally became a reality. Now water flowed south to
create fertile farmlands in central Washington, while
hydroelectricity lit homes and powered industries
throughout the Northwest.>>The Grand Coulee Dam is the
key to the control of water on Donald Dunn’s farm and on
thousands of farms like it, covering an area larger
than the state of Delaware. The dam was started 19 years
ago to reclaim this wasteland. But its land-saving duty had
to wait for the end of the war, while all Grand Coulee power
flowed into the factories. Now there is power
available for the great pumps, and soon water will
flow along the pipes into the waiting
conduits, bringing life to a million dead acres.>>With irrigation
development in full swing, Grand Coulee entered
yet another phase. Engineers believed an
additional power plant and greater coordination with new Canadian dams upstream
could further expand the Columbia’s potential. A third power plant would
enhance flood control measures and significantly enlarge
Grand Coulee’s power generating capacity.>>They started working
with Canada, and they began working
on a treaty. And the idea there was that
dams would be built upstream in Canada. Those dams themselves
could generate power, and they could provide
water supply to Lake Roosevelt
and Grand Coulee. And so they could increase the
water supply by storing it.>>The United States signed
the Columbia River Treaty with Canada in 1964, and President Lyndon Johnson
approved the construction of the third power
plant in June of 1966. To make room for
the new powerhouse, homes in Mason City built
below the dam were dismantled or moved. Then demolition teams
blasted off the right abutment and part of the dam itself. [ explosion ]>>But it was huge. I mean they blew the end off of Grand Coulee Dam
to attach that thing. We were impressed that they
had actually dynamited off. They’d used explosives to remove
the end of Grand Coulee Dam in order to make that channel. Now you know that’s not the kind
of thing that people do lightly. That’s like performing
surgery with a chainsaw. That’s — that was really
impressive that they were able to do that economically. And well, you know
clearly it worked. It worked very well.>>Reclamation structural
designers made sure everything in the third power
plant was oversized and designed for large capacity. After extending the
dam by 1100 feet, crews set to work building
a 20-story power plant that held six 40-foot diameter
penstocks to direct water into stainless steel turbines
four stories underground. The oversized turbine blades
rotated inside 70-foot diameter generators, weighing
over 120 tons apiece. The new power plant hardware
was truly larger than life.>>Don’t forget. No one had built
anything remotely as big as Grand Coulee Dam. The shaft bolts on the third
power plant units are 5 or 6 inches in diameter. The nuts, to move a nut for a
bolt that holds the couplings on the shaft on the third
power plant units, they drilled and tapped the nut, and
they put an eye hook in it so they could lift
it with a crane. They weigh hundreds of pounds. They are huge.>>Reclamation put to work
the country’s best hydropower engineers to expand the dam’s
ever larger generating capacity. Adding to the power
plant’s stature, world-famous architect Marcel
Breuer lent his creative energy to the power plant
inside and out. [ Music ]>>Columbia, Columbia,
this is Houston AOS, over.>>The race to put a man on the moon was no doubt
the most visible facet of our increasingly
heated competition with the Soviet Union. But while the world’s
attention was focused on space exploration, the
U.S. battled for supremacy in another area,
hydropower generation.>>The third powerhouse was
politically very important for Reclamation and
the United States because Russia had just put
a huge power plant online. This sort of challenged
Reclamation’s Washington office to come up with a way
of one-upping Russia.>>They decided, well, can
you make one that’s 400? Can you make one that’s —
can you make one that’s 600? Well, let’s do 700. I mean it — since they
had the volume of water, just make some big ones.>>And big they were, three 600 and three 700 megawatt
generators were installed in the third power plant
between 1975 and 1980. Upgrades in the 1990s
expanded its power capacity to an impressive 805
megawatts on three generators. Today the third power
plant generates 2/3 of the energy produced
at Grand Coulee.>>The third powerhouse for a time was the largest
power plant in the world. And if you combined
it with the left and right powerhouses
already at Coulee, it was a big power plant.>>It made you proud
of what you were doing because it was a project that wasn’t being
done in every state. It was one of a kind.>>Installation of the last
giant generator marked the completion of the third power
plant, and over five decades of continuous construction,
growth, and activity at Grand Coulee. For over 20 years following,
the completed dam was known as the largest power
plant in the world. Today it continues to be
the largest hydropower plant in the United States, promising to exceed its generating
capacity in the years to come. [ Music ] Even Grand Coulee Dam’s
success as a hydropower giant and agricultural dynamo
could not eclipse the loss of Native fish runs that
had once traveled freely up the Columbia River
and its tributaries. This had a devastating impact on
the Colville and Spokane tribes, whose traditions and cultural
ties to the land, water, and wildlife were disrupted. By 1937, the dam’s slow rise from the riverbed had completely
halted salmon, steelhead, and other species from reaching
important tribal fishing sites like Kettle Falls on
the Columbia River and Little Falls on
the Spokane River. Tribal members could
no longer fish for this most valued commodity
on which they depended. The annual salmon runs that anchored the tribe’s yearly
schedules, including the timing of their most important
ceremonies, were gone. [ Music ] In addition, land was cleared
for the dam site and reservoir. This impacted more
than 3,000 homesteaders and Native Americans who were
displaced during the early design and construction phase. Tens of thousands of
acres were cleared, at a cost of over $10 million. Prime bottom land,
where Native Americans and pioneers had
been living, hunting, and fishing for generations. Both the Colville and
Spokane tribes were asked to relocate the remains of
their ancestors by moving them to new cemeteries
on higher ground. To compensate for this loss, Colville Confederated tribal
members receive a portion of Grand Coulee’s
hydropower revenues each year. The Spokane tribe is also
actively seeking similar funds through the Equitable
Compensations Settlement Act, currently under consideration
by Congress. [ machinery ] In the 50-year span
of construction work at Grand Coulee Dam and
the third power plant, 81 men lost their lives.>>You know we had
some tragedies. We had a form on the main
dam break and go down, take some people with it. [ Music ]>>You know a lot of
people were killed, mainly by falls during
the construction days. They were real tragedies. The father who dropped
something, and his son was killed
down below. Some men fell in the
river and were drowned. But the majority of
it came from falls. There weren’t anybody
buried in the concrete. You always get asked
that question.>>[Singing] I clumb
the Rocky Canyon where the Columbia River
rolls, seen the salmon leaping, the rapids, and the falls. The big Grand Coulee Dam in
the state of Washington is just about the biggest thing
that man has ever done. [ Music ]>>A challenge to Reclamation
engineers to match the wonders of the Ice Age, to
duplicate the glacial dam which centuries before
had blocked the Columbia, to make a million
acres bloom anew, to build an industrial empire from the wasted power
of the Columbia. Not useless leaf raking,
but productive public works. They moved mountains
and froze the landslide, laid down 10 million
yards of concrete. [ Music ]>>The most amazing thing
about Grand Coulee Dam, the contractors of this huge
project finished on time and under budget, and
that’s an amazing fact about Grand Coulee Dam. Think about that in comparison with contemporary
large projects. [ Music ]>>Today as we marvel
at the accomplishments of America’s engineering
pioneers, we look to the future and wonder how modern
engineers might continue to unlock the Columbia
River’s potential. Grand Coulee, providing
America with renewable, sustainable energy
for decades to come. [ Music ]

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