The history behind the 2012 Dam Days pin
Friday, August 10, 2012 6:05 AM
SPRING VALLEY, WI - This year's 45th Dam Days pin (button) is taken from a photo I took of Adolph Johnson in the summer of 1968 while I was working with the blasting crew creating what is now the road entering the Recreation Area behind the Spring Valley Dam.
Collectable 45th Dam Days buttons are now on sale at most Spring Valley businesses.
Peggy Larson has done a marvelous job of translating my black & white photo into a striking color image. Here is some background on that photograph and Adolph's role in the construction of the Midwest's biggest earthen dam.
Adolph is 79 now, known for his work ethic, his big heart, and (especially!) his sly wit. Just about everybody in the Spring Valley area knows Adolph. If you don't, you have probably met him on the road in his little tan Chevy pickup with a sign that says "Wild Thing!" on the front. Adolph and his wife Ruth raised six children on a farm north of Spring Valley: Doug, Dennis, Dale, Debbie, Diane, and Darla. Ruth passed away in December of 2001.
Adolph was one of two operators that ran the pneumatic drills during dam construction. There were two drills, and the late Wayne Spence ran the other. The pneumatic drill was a rig that moved around on tank treads and bored deep holes in solid rock. It was a noisy, dusty, and dirty machine, but Adolph says he didn't mind that, because the pay was good.
It was up to the drill operators to start a complex and coordinated process that ended up creating the spillway and the rock-covered north face of the dam. They bored holes of varying depth, some of them 20 feet deep that would later be loaded by the blasting crew with sticks of dynamite held in half-hitches of detonating cord about a foot apart. The holes would form a grid of hundreds of holes about 100 feet by 60 feet, each hole filled with explosives.
Once the dynamite was placed, the holes were filled with pea gravel and fertilizer, and each detonating cord would eventually be hooked up to a master cord to the detonator box when everything was ready for "fire in the hole." All of this was done under the strict supervision of "Wild Bill" Collins, an expert and no-nonsense boss from the Hercules Power Company, a division of Dupont.
When all was in readiness, the crew and everyone else were removed from the area and the Hercules boss detonated the whole grid. If everything went OK, there was a big "WHUMP!!" and the ground shook while some whitish dust rose into the air.*
Solid rock had been busted into chunks of rubble that the big end loaders could now load into the giant Euclid trucks to be taken to a big metal strainer called "The Grizzly." The small stuff filtered down to be used as fill, and the big rocks or "rip rap" were hauled to "dress" the north face of the dam. Meanwhile, Adolph or Wayne and their drills were already involved in boring a new grid, starting the whole process all over again. Drill. Prep. Detonate. Load. Haul. Dump. Drill, etc. This went on month after month for two years.The next time you drive to the Eau Galle Recreation area down that corridor between those cliffs, take a closer look. The scars of Adolph and Wayne's drills are still there, amid the cliff swallow nest cavities on both sides of the road. Imagine all the holes that had to be drilled, all the cubic volume of rock that had to be removed to create that 100-foot wide corridor through solid limestone.
That road is 60 feet above the lake and 20 feet below the top of the dam. In case of a catastrophic flood, the water would not go over the dam, but spill out through this road and down to Mines Creek, acting as a safety valve to prevent the dam's (and Spring Valley's!) destruction. And that is why it is called the spillway.**
*Everyone was ordered out of the blast area because rarely things did NOT go okay. Instead of a WHUMP! and dust, there would be a loud blast and rocks would fly a hundred or more feet into the air. You did not want to be anywhere near where those rocks came down, because your hardhat wouldn't help you much.
** Over the years, people have begun calling the outlet (where water comes out from under the dam) the spillway; but that is incorrect. The spillway is the road and corridor between the limestone cliffs leading into the Recreation Area.
Editors note: The collectable 45th Dam Days button is now on sale at most Spring Valley business and you should purchase yours now before they are all gone. If you don't have the collectable 45th Dam Days button yet, there is one question. Why not?
If you do have one, there is only one question. Why aren't you wearing it?