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Fortune Magazine
September 1933 (continued)

ARTHUR POWELL DAVIS is the chief unsung hero of Boulder Dam. The others are the men who sweat out their days, and many of their nights, in Black Canyon. The Boulder Dam worker of 1953 is a national type of some importance. He is a tough itinerant American--the "construction stiff." His average age is thirty-three. His Photo of two men "camping out". average wage is sixty-eight cents an hour. He is taller and heavier than the average U. S. soldier, runs a greater risk of losing his life, and has passed a more drastic physical examination. He has been in most of the states of the Union and can find his Way in a dozen different kinds of unskilled and semi-skilled labor--a hoist in a Pennsylvania coal mine, a saw in Oregon, a shovel on a dozen road jobs. He has boiled a string of mules in Bluejacket, Oklahoma - followed a pipe line as it crept across a prairie, a few yards a day, toward a town invisible behind a hill range. He is inured to ceaseless, frightful heat--and fearful cold, too, for that matter. Four or five of him in an old car can always get to a row of lights on Saturday night and if some four-flusher cops his roll or his girl it may be a fight or a laugh-what's the difference? He has earned $10 a day roughnecking on top of 110-foot oil rigs, driven a steam shovel, been slashed in a dance-hall fight, thought a lot about getting married. He is sentimental, moody, and literate; he does not believe he will ever be anything better than what he is, and isn't trying, regardless of the schoolbooks, the adage to "make your spare time pay," and the example of Abe Lincoln. He leaves some money every week or so in Block Sixteen, Las Vegas (legalized prostitution), but has enough left to send a money order to somebody somewhere once a month. He shares the universal superstition of miners that if a woman ever walks into a tunnel where you are working you'd better get out quick because there's going to be a cave-in. He keeps washed. He smokes a pack of cigarettes a shift. When he travels, he rides freights. He knows how to live in jungles, but has never begged. The most he ever had in his life was $5,000 after the pipe-line job but he hung it on a wrong deal and lost it. He likes hunting better than baseball, horse racing better than either. He'll pick a grudge, or smell bad luck, mosey out and hit the road or the rails, but while he works he is inspired with a devil of loyalty, shrewdness, and skill. He wears Friendly Five shoes, and sleeps seven hours a day. He is the man, as much as General Superintendent Crowe and U. S. Engineer-in-Charge Young, who is putting up this dam faster than anyone thought it could possibly be done.

YEAR in, year out, Crowe and Young and their 200-odd inspectors and foremen and their labor gang battle the Colorado twenty-four hours a day. The day shift comes on at 7:00 A. M. and knocks off at 3:00 P. M. Swing shift from 3:00 P. M. to 11:00 P. M. Graveyard from 11:00 P. M. to 7:00 A. M. The inevitably ribald slang of the construction camp has coined for the wives of the night workers the name of "Graveyard Widows." At night Black Canyon is lighted like a theatre with incredible clusters of sun arcs, bought from a bankrupt San Francisco ball park. The men come to work in covered lorries wearing papier-mache safety helmets that look like A. E. F. tin hats. [The American Expeditionary Force was the force deployed to Europe in World War I.] These serve to protect them from falling rock--the greatest danger of the canyon work. Despite this precaution, in addition to a doctor and a field hospital at the base of the dam, over fifty men had given their lives to Boulder Dam by midsummer last [1932].

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Last Reviewed: 9/10/2004