Thursday, September 10, 2015

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 211

 Ross Dam
[photo by Pat Buller]

 Ross Dam powerhouse
[Ektachrone by Clifford B. Ellis.  
Postcard published by J. Boyd Ellis, Arlington, WA]

A couple of weeks ago we went on a hike in the North Cascades National Park up Thunder Creek, a major tributary of Skagit River feeding into Diablo Lake behind Diablo Dam.  The next dam above is Ross Dam, and the dam below Diablo is Gorge Dam.  These dams plus other regional hydroelectric dams provide 89.8% of the electricity used in Seattle.  Of the three dams Ross Dam is the highest at 540 feet, Diablo is 389 feet, and Gorge dam 300 feet.  All three are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

As I was growing up I remember my Mom and Dad (Marge and Bill Schroder) talking about the time that he worked on Ruby Dam.  Today there is no Ruby Dam and I wondered where it might have been.  When we visited the City Light visitor center in Newhalem, Washington I purchased these postcards and discovered why Ruby Dam cannot be found.  Originally when the construction project began what is now Ross Dam was then called Ruby Dam after Ruby Creek one of the major tributaries that joins the Skagit River at the point where the dam was being constructed.  It was renamed for J.D. Ross the first Superintendent of City Light and the architect of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.  Ross died in 1939 and the dam was named for him in 1940. 

By process of elimination we have narrowed the years Dad worked on the dam to between 1938 and 1939.  Mom and Dad were married in 1939 near the end of the Great Depression in the United States and jobs were still scarce so he took it even though it meant only being able to come home every couple of weeks.  When Mom went up to visit him at the completion of the first section of the Ross Dam project one of the other people there discovered whom she had married and said,  “Oh, you married that fellow who did all that high work.”  Ross Dam was built in three stages, Dad worked on the first stage that took the dam up to 300 feet.  Since he was a carpenter he must have been building forms and scaffolding at the highest parts of the dam as the work progressed.  The second stage completed following World War II in 1946 added another 195 feet, and the final stage in 1949 added another 45 feet for a total of 540 feet.  Ross Dam is 1300 feet wide and is the fifth highest in the world.

Dad would live up at the site for a week or two and then come down for a weekend, I think, before returning to the job.  During the construction period a floating cookhouse was built as were floating bunkhouses for the employees.  These were located on Diablo Lake near what would become the powerhouse for Ross Dam.  The road up to the dams was not completed until after World War II so Dad would have had to take a train like the one pictured below at least part of the way.  The Old No. 6 engine and tender car are all that remain of the Skagit River Railway.  The 31 mile narrow gauge rail line was in operation from 1919 to 1954.  The engine and tender on display at the visitor center can be climbed on and the bell rung.  We saw several children climbing on it when we were there (and we did too).

No. 6 at the City Light Visitor Center, Newhalem, Washington

No. 6 Steam excursion train
[Color by Vandergon-von Normann, printed in Los Angeles, California, 1979]

It is possible to take City Light boat tours of Diablo Lake and the powerhouse of Ross dam at the end of the lake.  The train pictured on the above postcard is powered by a 1928 Baldwin 2-6-2 steam locomotive.  A note on the reverse of the card states the train tours ran from Sedro Woolley to Concrete in 1979.  Vintage cars were used as a remembrance of railroading's "Golden Age."  Number 6 was purchased new by Seattle City Light and was leased from them.  The train crew was furnished by Burlington Northern.  It is unclear if a tour train still makes the run.  A huge limestone deposit about 40 miles down river at the town of Concrete supplied the cement for the concrete for the dams.  The lake formed by the construction of Ross Dam, named Ross Lake is 24 miles long and reaches into British Columbia, Canada. 

The Alice Ross, 1935

The glacier fed water in Thunder Creek (a river really) and the lakes formed by the dams is the most beautiful milky green-blue color.  Tour boats like the Alice Ross, named after the wife of J.D. Ross, took visitors for scenic rides on Diablo Lake in 1935.

Thunder Creek

While we were hiking at Thunder Creek we saw signs at the ready to close the trail due to the severe forest fires we have had this summer.  It was only a few days after we had been there that the trail was closed due to the fires.  If we had not gone when we did I would not yet know where Ruby Dam was located. 

Many thanks to my brother who when I called and asked him also remembered the story and added some details.

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