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Enjoy Magazine

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Construction of Shasta Dam

08/26/2013 05:19PM ● By Enjoy Magazine
Shasta Dam is as big and powerful as public works projects come. Weighing in at a hefty 15 million tons, it easily keeps 4.5 million acre-feet of water in place for California’s thirsty Central Valley while its spinning turbines generate hydroelectric power that’s distributed to 15 western states.

But behind the 6.5 million cubic yards of concrete, the mighty penstocks, the powerhouse and the 602-foot-tall spillway are the men who built Shasta Dam, their families and those who stayed on to transform the boomtowns into thriving communities.

They are the ones being celebrated this month as the Bureau of Reclamation, the Shasta Lake Heritage and Historical Society and the city of Shasta Lake mark Shasta Dam’s 75th anniversary with a week of events culminating Saturday, Sept. 21, with a community barbecue, live music, dedications and a lighted boat parade.

“I think this is a great opportunity to bring the community together,” says Shari Harral, Shasta Dam’s public affairs specialist. “The whole community was born through the construction of Shasta Dam and I think it’s wonderful to take the opportunity to recognize the engineering marvel of this structure, the benefits from the Central Valley Project, and to honor the remaining dam builders and show them our appreciation.”

Construction of Shasta Dam officially began on Sept. 21, 1938, and Harral says organizers decided to commemorate the start of the dam rather than the completion to ensure as many retired workers as possible could attend.

The workers, now in their late 80s and 90s, were the strapping young lads eager for steady work after years of the Great Depression. They cleared brush, built roads, crushed rock, dug tunnels, set rigging and poured the millions of yards of concrete that went into construction of the dam.

“There are very few of them left and that’s why we’re celebrating the start of the construction, to honor their tenacity and hard work. They put their hearts and souls into this,” Harral says. “I’ve had the honor of talking with them, and it was so truly different back then, going through the Depression and a war, and it came in under budget and ahead of schedule. Through tenacity and pride, they completed this project.”

Planning for the celebration started more than a year ago, says Darlene Brown of the Shasta Lake Heritage and Historical Society. “We want to do it right. 75 years only comes around once.” Brown says she’s looking forward to the Saturday luncheon with the dam workers and the “dam kids” families.

Organizers hope a dozen or so retired workers will be able to attend a luncheon and join bureau officials on a special tour of the dam the men helped build.

Retired dam workers are treated to a luncheon during the annual Damboree, where they get a chance to rekindle old friendships and reminisce. Some of those remembrances and oral histories were recorded in 2008 and have been added to a film the historical society produced. Volume Two of “Hard Times, Hard Work” titled “Shasta Dam, Dam Workers and Those Dam Kids,” will be screened Sept. 18-19 at the Visitors Center.

“I think the people will just love it,” Brown says. “I have some old footage from 1941 that a friend sent me. It was taken from the top of the head tower, and there’s a guy riding a beam across the river.” The video also includes personal snapshots taken during the construction years.

Organizers also are looking toward the dam’s future with “The Big Idea” science and engineering contest for Gateway Unified School District students in middle and high school. The top 16 entries will be displayed all week in the Visitors Center.

“These are the kids who will be managing this and dealing with the consequences, and I think it’s incredibly unique that we’re engaging them and getting them thinking and coming up with new ideas. Thinking about it now is a great way to get the ball rolling,” Harral says.

It’s also a good way to get people, young and old, to appreciate a significant member of the community that is often overlooked. “Shasta Dam is the second largest dam in our country, it’s a true icon and it’s pivotal in the success of agriculture and economy in California and our country. I truly believe it needs to be showcased,” Harral says.

As part of the celebration, nighttime tours will be offered Tuesday and Wednesday. “This is a completely different animal at night,” Harral says. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Turtle Bay Exploration Park will host tours of the Monolith, site of the massive rock crusher and the start of the 9.6-mile-long conveyor belt that carried aggregate to the dam. On Friday, members of the Kutras family will discuss their historic connection to the Monolith.

Bureau employees, students and visitors are all invited to the top of the dam on Friday night to join in a formation to create the numerals 75. A California Highway Patrol plane equipped with an aerial camera will document the feat.

Saturday’s finale will include the dedication of a monument at Shasta Lake City Hall that will soon feature a used 50-ton turbine from the dam’s powerhouse, a free barbecue at the Shasta Dam Visitors Center (hosted by the Shasta Lake Lions Club), a free concert and a lighted boat parade.

“Hopefully we can bring a new breath of excitement about Shasta Dam being here, so the community as a whole can celebrate what a wonderful gift this is in our own backyard,” Harral says. •

For a complete schedule of events, visit or For more information, call the Bureau of Reclamation at (530) 276-2037