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1928: Hard work, luck save Scofield Dam

This photo was taken from the roof of one of the cars of the first relief train. Its view is due north. Arrow 3 shows a squad of men working on the hastily thrown up parapet in an effort to prevent the water from seeking the hole in the dike. Arrow 4 shows the safety valve to relieve pressure on the dam. The scattered men in the background are grouped near the area of the most severe damage.

Sun Advocate publisher

On the morning of May 21, 1928, the first Scofield dam keeper, Jack Booth, watched as the structure that held back thousands of acre feet of water located just above the present Scofield Dam began to crumble. He immediately called officials through the Scofield operator in Price, and with that a huge effort to save the dam began.

Within a short time local people from Scofield and the nearby mines converged on the dam and began using anything and everything to shore up the dike.

Over the next few hours about three-fifths of the front of the dam collapsed, making more water rush out through the back of the dam. A lot of fill put in by those responding that had been used to reinforce the dam was lost. By 10 a.m. that morning a special train with fill materials and bags was dispatched from Price. When the train arrived the crew found a small group of workers tired, discouraged and out of materials. They resumed their work as soon as the supplies got there, but within a short time reports from those on the spot later reported that another collapse on the front of the dam made the whole structure "quiver."

As night approached the resolution of the workers trying to save the dam "began to wane," stated the News Advocate in the May 23 edition of the paper.. The darkness of the mood of the people matched the night that was falling around them. Some reinforcements had arrived by train but the water was taking its toll on both the dam itself and on the men and women working to reinforce the structure.

By 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning the fight appeared lost. The dam was leaking badly and there just weren't enough people to fill in the gaps. It looked as though the dam might collapse and cause destruction similar to what the Mammoth Dam collapse of 1917 had wrought upon the downstream communities.

"With the rising of the water, stout-hearted engineers at the scene of the dam also became discouraged," stated the paper. "Leaden skies in the vicinity dimmed the faith which had been freely expressed earlier in the day, and reports of the losing fight were again circulated in the waiting multitude below. The start of a light rain dampened the ardor and slowed the relief work. The alarming feature was the sinister steadiness with which the water crept higher on the reinforcement the relief workers had constructed in the dike face."

Then about 2 a.m. reinforcements arrived from Price and Castle Gate on a special train and work resumed. Slowly the team of people made progress toward shoring up the dam and by day break great strides had been made to keep it together. A pressure relief valve that had been installed was also working full force by Tuesday morning and the water level in the reservoir began to drop. Then a new crew from the mines arrived as well as a railroad maintenance crew from Salt Lake showed up to help.

But then another rainstorm came by and water started to pour into the reservoir from the streams above. The water started to raise again. The paper reported that "after 30 hours of successful combat" but bolstered by the fact they all thought of the water inundating the Price River valley, the group pressed on. Even more reinforcements arrived on Tuesday and by the end of the day the immediate danger had evaporated. The dam was somewhat secure, because so much water was by then being released that the pressure subsided.

The fight to save the dam was a combined effort. People came from all walks of life to help. In addition the mines that sent men and the railroad paid those that came to be there, according to the paper.

One report that came out about the failure of the dam was that it was affected by beavers which had built a dam near the dike. That beaver dam had collapsed only a short time before the leaks were spotted.

The next week the Governor Dern appointed a committee to take control of the dam and to study why the dam had almost failed. By this time the danger had subsided, but crews continued to work on improving the strength of the dike. The water in the dam was lowered to a very low level by the next fall so repairs could take place, but costs, questions of the state stepping up with dollars to help and the damage that had been done to the dam the in the spring of 1928 kept it from ever becoming the edifice, able to store vast amounts of water, that it once was. It was, for all intents and purposes, never very effective for storing water again.

A little over a dozen years later, at the beginning of World War II, plans would be laid to replace it with a bigger structure, the basis of which is what stands today.

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