Northwest Profiles: Grand Coulee Dam Stories

Hello I’m Lynn Veltrie and
welcome to a special edition of Northwest
Profiles. Coming up, in conjunction with the
series American Experience, which in April
will present an engaging and intelligent look at
one of the nation’s largest public works project,
the Grand Coulee Dam, we here at KSPS decided to dig
into our Northwest Profile archives in search of
stories we’ve produced over the years related to
this iconic structure. Sure enough we found
two classics, both of which have been dusted
off and polished up for your enjoyment. Our first story titled
“History Under Water” focuses on the
enormous impact the dam’s construction had not
only on the entire northwest but, in
particular on a small town located on the Columbia
River named Marcus. Produced in 1997, it’s a
poignant story told through the eyes of two
brothers who along with growing up in Marcus were proud
to call it their hometown. Magnificent, Imposing,
Inspiring! These are just a few of the words that
often come to mind when gazing upon the Grand Coulee
dam for the very first time. Built between 1933 and 1941,
this massive structure, made of nearly 11 million
cubic ft. of concrete, is the largest dam of its kind
and greatest single source of hydroelectric power
in the nation. Measuring close to a mile
wide and 46 stories high, the Grand Coulee
dam by comparison is three times the size of
the great pyramid in Egypt. And that it is why this grand
dam, like the great pyramid, is viewed by many to be
a “Modern Day Wonder.” A noble symbol of modern
man’s engineering skills and ingenuity both used
in this case to harness one of our greatest
natural resources the mighty Columbia River. (Craig Sprankle) For years
back in the 1900’s various people would come up with
different schemes to dam the Columbia River and
provide irrigation water for the Columbia Basin and turn
it into an agricultural area. And what you see
behinds us is a result of all that thought process
and political process.>>While irrigation was one
of the primary purposes of the dam it was by no
means the only one. It was also designed and built
for the generation of cheap, hydro- electric power as
well as for flood control along the Columbia. For more than a half century
since its completion in 1941, the Grand Coulee Dam, by most
accounts, has far exceeded expectations and in so doing has
had, and continues to have, a profound impact on the entire
Pacific Northwest region. (Sprankle) Of course the impacts
are both positive and negative … We’ve just talked
about some of the positive impacts the flood control,
the irrigation development, the hydro power production …
But we also got the damming of a free flowing river and the
impacts on the communities that were there before
the dam was built there were both positive and
negative impacts on that. The Spokane area probably had
a positive impact because it drew businesses into
the area and Spokane being the business center of
eastern Washington benefited from that. But
then we have other smaller communities that were in
what is now the reservoir were probably negatively
impacted because those towns had to move and buildings
had to be torn down.>>One of those communities that
stood in the way of progress back in 1933 was the oldest
town in Stevens County, the pioneer, railroad
town of Marcus. With a population of 600, Marcus
was not only the oldest, but the largest and
most prosperous of the 10 communities in all,
that would eventually be engulfed by the back waters
of the Grand Coulee dam. (Bill Seideman) Well
it’s quit an old town. The origins date back to the
1840’s when the Hudson Bay company built a factory as
they called it Fort Colville as it was properly named about
two and half miles down from the town of Marcus. And a
little bit later than that about 1859 as I recalled
it the border dispute between the United States and
Canada was being resolved and they sent out surveying
parties and the English party wintered at the old
town site of Marcus and put up a few log cabins.
And about that time there was a gold discovery
made along the river bank and that of course
presented a market and there was a German and
Jewish peddler came through and his name was Marcus
Oppenheimer and he utilized these buildings that the
border commission people had abandoned several
years earlier as his residence and as a store.>>From those rather humble
beginnings in 1862 Marcus Oppenheimer, for whom
the town was later named, would, together with
Joseph Monahan, officially establish
the town in 1890 … By 1901 the great
northern railroad, spurred on by the
tremendous growth of the mining industry
throughout the region, had built a bridge over the
Columbia river at Marcus, and in turn made Marcus a very
important railroad junction. (Bill Seideman) The railroad
really changed the town. We had three branches
coming one from Spokane, one from Republic and
one from Nelson. And the round house was built
then which is a repair shop for the old steam locomotives.
And we also had the Superintendent offices there. Fact is during its heyday
there were around I think 3000 people living in
Marcus and it had the fame of being a pretty wild town.
One of the older residence there a fella by the name
of Antwine Palasier, who grew up in Marcus
and he told me one time it was quite a place. He said
as I recall it there were fifteen saloons and twelve
brothels in town … So it incurred quite
a bit of notoriety.>>While Marcus had its wild
side, it was for the most part your typical western,
pioneer town. A town built on hard work,
self-reliance and when needed a good dose of old
fashion values. To those who lived there, like
Bill and Harry Seideman, who grew up on a farm
just outside of town, Marcus was simply home. (Bill Seideman) Well it was
a very interesting life a very pleasant life actually. We lived about a mile
out of town on what was called at the time the
Dobson Ferry road because between Marcus and the
Columbia River there were two roads, three roads out
of town one to Spokane, which was not impeded by the
river. But if you wanted to go north up into Canada
you had to cross the river and there was a ferry
right at Marks but if you wanted to go down
river to the south they crossed just below our
home about a half- mile. There was a man by the
name of Dobson who operated a ferry across
the river. In those years the ferries were not motor
powered they were powered by the river itself.
Anyway that’s where we lived and there was a lot
of traffic there plus the fact that we also had the
advantage of living near the only decent swimming
hole in the community.>>For people, like Bill
Seideman, who have moved away from their hometown to
live and work elsewhere, their fondest memories of
home tend to fade over time. Yet, thankfully most can
easily rekindle those childhood memories just
by going home again … Unfortunately, that’s hard
to do for those who grew up and moved on from the
old town of Marcus because usually there is
hardly a trace to show that this one time bustling
railroad town ever existed … However, on occasion, due to
larger than average snow packs, the operator of the
grand coulee dam, the bureau of reclamation, is
forced to reduce the water of Lake Roosevelt for
flood control purposes. In three months this mammoth
reservoir is drawn down to re-form the Columbia
River as it once was and in the process the old
town of Marcus reemerges. (Sprankle) A lot of people still
think there are still towns under there but when the
lake levels drops you won’t see a town emerging
ah what you’ll see is the old foundations possibly
the sidewalks and streets that are still intact.>>Beyond that, what the
receding water reveals are bits and pieces of
what life used to be like over a half century ago. And
while what’s left isn’t much, it’s just enough to revive
within Bill & Harry some of those fond
memories of home. Bill and Harry Seideman: (Harry)
The foundations are all so obliterated now by the rise
and fall of the water every year that it’s harder
to tell whose house is on what bunch of broken
up cement anymore.. But, some of them we
know like the old DC Corbin apartments, the
man who had the railroads built up here and built the
biggest building in Marcus. (Bill) What do you
make of this Harry? This again is a puzzle to me? (Harry) Well, we probably
should know but who knows everything what they ought to
know. (Bill) Now this must be getting near the old
Corbin apartment building (Harry) Ya, this
would have been the center of the building ya you
see this was almost a block it was at least a
half a block square this building here. (Bill) Ya,
it was a big building. I believe it was at least
three stories high and it had a big balcony out over
these sidewalks here remember that? (Bill) It was
a fancy place very ornate.>>Like any vibrant community
the old town of Marcus had a central
business district. It was located close to
the river along what was called Main Street, a busy
thoroughfare once lined by spacious sidewalks and
beautiful shade trees. Bill and Harry Seideman: (Harry)
I think it was about 1935 when they black
topped main street. (Bill) Ya that’s about when they
did. (Harry) In old Marcus you know Bill we had a
hospital, we had a bank, we had a theater, we had three
or four three grocery stores, two butcher shops and
each one to the butchers had their own as their
own slaughter house out in the woods outside
of town and feed lot. They bought their own
cattle and fed them, kept them slaughter them and
made their own sausage.>>One of the more
prominent features of the old town of Marcus was the
great northern railroad bridge that stretched from
the center of town northward across the
Columbia. What made this landmark so interesting
was the fact that between 1901 to 1941 there were
three different bridges all built in the same
location. (Harry Seideman) They started the second
bridge in 1928 or 1929 and it was practically finished
in the spring of 1930 when we were in school
and they were doing some finish up work there
with a torch and the sparks fell down and the
timbers and everything there in that bridge were
creosoted and they caught fire. The first bridge caught
fire and the other one was only 20 or 30
yards away and it was blazing mightily and the
old bridge which was a covered type bridge caught
fire too. And we just came in school and I was in the
first grade and here were these mighty big timber
wooden bridges burning away (Bill) Ya, I remember
the smoke was so heavy that it even darkened the sun
for a time. (Harry) Well after the two bridges had
burned they started a third bridge and
finished it in 1931.>>The last area of town that
Bill & Harry were eager to explore was where the railroad
facilities once stood. This busy section of Marcus
was of particular interest to the Seideman brothers
because it was here where their father worked in the
roundhouse and they spent a good deal of their
time while growing up. (Bill Seideman) Okay
Harry this is about where the depot sat.
There isn’t much left to see here is there?
(Harry) Well this was the waiting room. (Bill)
Right, remember there was two waiting rooms one for
the ladies and children and one for the men.
(Harry) Ya that was true, that was the good old
days. (Bill) Yep and one of the dirty jobs was to
clean the spittoons in the men’s waiting rooms. Those
old brass spittoons that was dirty job. (Harry) Ya,
I always enjoyed listening to the clatter of the
telegraph operator he was right about here. Remember
the old restaurant, which we called the beanery
then, everybody called it the beanery then. (Bill)
Ya that’s where you got a plate of beans and a cup
of coffee and a piece of pie in the early days
although Misses Mullin. (Harry) Misses Mullin had
a good reputation as a good cook. (Bill) There
isn’t much to see here anymore. (Harry) Well they
used the cinders to keep the mud and dust down I
guess. (Bill) Hey Harry lookie there … (Harry)
Hey, that’s a spoon out of the old restaurant, a soup
spoon … I’d like to remember her clam chowder
oh that was so good, ya man look at that Bill.
(Bill) Ya, genuine silver German silver. (Harry)
That would be historical if we could remember who
was eating with that!>>The discovery of this
small treasure marked the end of Bill and Harry’s
tour of their old hometown … Now, with their
memories refreshed and plenty of stories to tell
it was time, as was in 1941, to move on and
wonder if they will ever be back again. That of
course, according to the Seideman brothers, all
depends on Mother Nature and time, which Bill &
Harry both admit they are running short on. Yet,
despite all the uncertainty, one thing remains a
constant, the waters of Lake Roosevelt now
gone, will soon be back to once again reclaim the
old town of Marcus … As I mentioned, our
profile on Marcus premiered on KSPS 15 years
ago in November of 1997. Now, if youíre wondering
what happened to the Seideman brothers who were
featured in our profile I’m sad to say that Harry
passed away in 1998 just a year after our story first
aired.. As for Bill, who was a Spokane resident
when we first met him in ’97, he and his wife are
now living in Idaho just outside the small town of
Coldasak and according to his family he’s doing
quite well considering he just celebrated his 91st
birthday earlier this month. For our next story
titled “The Power of Light” we again turn the
calendar back to the mid 1990’s. In fact, it was
the summer of the ’96 when we travelled to Grand
Coulee Dam to witness some entertainment on a grand
scale. Projected across the entire span of the
dam, Grand Coulee’s laser light show was developed
as an educational tool for the Department of
Reclamation and to this day it continues to provide
entertainment for all ages. On a spring afternoon in
the desert, nature makes few sounds. A bird, the wind.
For real noise leave it to man. And yet, one of man’s
most powerful inventions makes little noise. Here in
Washington’s Columbia Basin, Grand Coulee Dam stands
huge and silent until nature spills over. Even twelve million cubic
yards of concrete can’t hold back the Columbia. Visitors come to see
the dam but the water steals the show…until
nightfall. ♪ (Craig Sprnakle) Well we’ve,
we’ve done a light show here at Grand Coulee since
sometime in the 1950s. Each night during
the summer months, the spillway of Grand Coulee Dam
becomes a giant movie screen. But only a high tech
production will do for this engineering marvel.
A 36 minute laser show. Craig Sprankle works at the dam
for the Bureau of Reclamation. (Craig Sprankle) Actually we
were at the point where we had to replace that
light system and, uh, we started talking to people
around the community and had some public workshops
and that’s where the idea for the lasers came out
and we just sort of followed it through from
there.>>Tourists gather at the visitor’s center just
after dusk as they have since 1989. (Presentation) In all,
inexpensive hydroelectricity in the Pacific Northwest attracted war time
industries representing over one billion dollars.
A region that had no aluminum production at all
soon produced 40% of all U.S. aluminum. With just a
small fraction of my potential energy being
harnessed, enough energy was now being produced to
meet this demand, making the Columbia Basin Project
a significant help not only to the Pacific
Northwest economy, but to the United States and the
end of World War II. (Mark Edwards) Okay, this is our
control panel. Uh, what you’re seeing here is….>>Inside the visitor’s
center is a little room that’s of
limits to visitors. It’s the home of four huge
lasers. Mark Edwards is a technician for the bureau. (Edwards) The kryptons
produce the red wavelength, the red beams, and the
two argons produce the blue and green
light that we see out on the show. Uh, we
can walk around here….>>Gases inside each laser
determine the range of colors. The beams are projected
through filters, which change their colors. They bounce
along a series of mirrors, which regulate the light
flow and intensity. (Edwards) These come out
here, here, here, and over there and uh, go
into all these optics and it goes through an optical
path and uh, then out onto these scanners and the
scanners have little tiny mirrors that are about the size
of your little fingernail and they’re on a galvo
that, uh, move and that’s what traces the image
out on the dam. There’s, two scanners
in each….>>Once the laser beams are
produced and regulated, the scanners do all the work. Through tiny quick vibrations
they reflect the beam’s tracing patterns onto the dam. (Edwards) It is. It’s
a point source, the laser’s a point
source and it moves so fast, because of
persistence of vision, a person’s persistence of
vision, it looks like it’s drawing a solid image and
that’s done through these cards that control the
position and the rate of scan out on the dam.>>This bank of computers
runs the show. With music, sound
effects, a narrator, and hundreds of fanciful and
realistic laser images, it’s a complicated production that
goes off flawlessly each night. (Presentation) Where before,
uncontrollable forces of nature could lead to a devastating
flood, now the Grand Coulee Dam, with the enormous
capacity of Lake Roosevelt has sufficient space to help
control these wild flows. (Edwards) As you can see on
the beam when it’s out there, you can see all sorts of little
sparkles close in where it leaves the beam block, just
where it leaves the building. The little sparkles are
dust particles in the air. And if you see, happen to
see a real bright one, that’s a bug flying through
and getting zapped. It’s like a giant
bug zapper also. With lasers, safety is crucial.
These are low-intensity units unlike those used for
surgery or to cut steel. That’s why they don’t damage
the surface of the dam. Even so, if you look
directly at one for any length of time
you could go blind. Even a reflection off a mylar
balloon could be dangerous. A mask is attached where the
beam leaves the projector. It allows the beam to
travel only onto the surface of the dam so that
if something went wrong and beam went wild, the
mask would prevent it from harming anyone. And
there are two kill switches installed at the
visitor center. (Glenn Stauffer) And either one
of those will stop the laser or power the lasers down
if one of the people manning those buttons sees
something that could be a danger to the public.
Glenn Stauffer is another bureau technician. Both he
and Edwards respect the dangers that go with
working with lasers. (Stauffer) we were required to
take, examinations of our eyes before we started in
’89. They checked to see that there were no laser burns.>>Both engineers say
they’ve been careful and never had a safety problem. (Presentation) The Grand
Coulee Dam alone, my waters can generate a staggering six
and a half million kilowatts, the equivalent energy of over
8.7 million horsepower. This electricity not only
provides a large share of the power needs for the
entire Pacific Northwest, it generates revenue
to pay for the dam and help to fund the irrigation
development in the region.>>There is no shortage of
power at Grand Coulee. That’s important when
it comes to lasers. Each of these units has
it’s own DC power supply. They generate so much heat
they must be water cooled. All this machinery
cost plenty in 1989 and there have been
updates since. But Bureau of Reclamation
officials feel the expense has paid off over the years. (Sprankle) The purpose
in doing the show was to educate people
on Grand Coulee, Bureau of Reclamation,
and what we do, but to do it in such a way
that was entertaining. That people went away thinking
they’d been entertained but they’d actually
been educated and I think it
fills the bill there. (Spectator) The story, the
lights, uh telling the story, I thought that was
really nice. (Spectator) It was really good.
I want to come back and see it again sometime. (Spectator) I thought it was
fantastic. I’m going to encourage everybody I know
to come up and see it. ♪ As you might imagine with
the march of technology, the Grand Coulee Dam
laser light show is now bigger and more
spectacular than ever before. So check it out. The show
is free and runs nightly from late May through
the end of September. And with that it’s
time to turn out the lights on this special edition
of Northwest Profiles. Don’t forget, on the way in
April, Public Television, through one of its
most revered series, American Experience, will
take a closer look at the building of Grand Coulee
Dam, its impact and its legacy going forward
here’s a small preview of what you’ll see. Grand Coulee is going to the the
biggest thing ever, it’s going to create farms, electricity,
jobs.>>It blocked the wests’ wildest river, and changed
the course of history.>>Harry Truman said that without
Grand Coulee it would have been almost impossible to win the
war.>>But the mamouth project that
had benefitted millions wasn’t built for free.>>When you block
a river there is no going back.>>Grand Coulee Dam, on
American Experience. Again, that’s Grand Coulee
Dam on American Experience coming to both KSPS-HD
and KSPS World in April. Check your local listings
or go on line to for specific dates and times. Until next time this is
Lynn Veltrie saying so long and remember, living
in the beautiful northwest provides us with plenty to
see and explore, like the Grand Coulee Dam, just
remember when you do you take time to enjoy the

2 thoughts on “Northwest Profiles: Grand Coulee Dam Stories

  1. If you want to know more read learn about the corruption at the Dam!

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