From Dam to Rodeo in the Pre-Roundup Parade!

My first real job turned into quite a parade!


The time was about 1950 in Pendleton Oregon. I was 27 years old and  working at my first real job as a mechanical engineer.  We were building the McNary Dam in Eastern Oregon. What was even better was that this dam, and all the work buildings it, were of great interest to the people in the country towns nearby.  We engineers aren’t used to such popularity!


The dam was at Umatilla Oregon, on the Columbia River about 200 miles upstream from Portland. Each autumn (sometime in August), there is The Pendleton Round Up. It is a giant rodeo that runs for several days. Rodeo riders come from all over the West and from Canada. Back in those days, the dam was a big deal to all these people.  The organizers of the rodeo asked the construction company for the dam to put something in the massive parade they were planning for the event. It was early on in the work schedule for the dam at that time. We were mostly preparing the rock formation. We were drilling shot holes with wagon drills and loading them with explosives then blasting away tons of basalt. It was quite effective at getting the job done.


We got the idea of getting one of our long flatbed trucks, and put a giant rock on one end. At the other end, we placed a wagon drill and an air compressor. The wagon drill was an air drill on two wheels. This was a very useful machine for drilling shot holes in the rock. The holes are loaded with blasting powder, and exploded. The broken up rock is carried away in dump trucks.  Most people had never seen equipment like this. 


For the rodeo, we set the wagon drill to drill a hole in the rock. Then we cruised down the parade route, started the air compressor and began to drill into the rock. We had hardhat workers on the truck handling the equipment. Of course, all the machinery made a terrific noise and created massive amounts of dust from the rock. We put on quite a show as that truck made its way slowly down the main street of town. We got more attention then the rest of the parade. However there was an unintended consequence.  The noise we were making scared the horses. There were even several run-aways.  Boy, were the cowboys mad.  The parade officials were pretty upset as well. The onlookers, however, just loved us.  Nothing could beat all the powerful equipment and the tremendous racket and dust!

Here is what was printed in the company news:

“The longest and loudest float ever to swing down Pendleton streets in a Dress-up Parade was the 6- foot long pole trailer carrying a 7 ton rock being drilled by a wagon drill, a compressor with steamboat whistle, three western-garbed girls, and four construction stiffs in hard hats!  All this was the contribution of McNary Dam Contractors to the Pre-Roundup celebration parade in Pendleton, Saturday night, August5 13th, and it was the second prize in the Industrial Division of the parade.”

Besides the fact that we were pretty proud of ourselves, our public relations was somewhat improved when, the next day, a picture of all of us on that truck appeared on the front page of the East Oregonian (Pendleton morning newspaper)!







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