Monday, September 26, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: Alabam

If you were to ask any of the workers on the Hoover Dam in the 1930's who were the important men at the site, several names would be mentioned: Frank Crowe, Charlie Shea, Walker Young.  You would also hear the name Alabam, a man that one of the workers stated was 'one of the most important men on the job, next to Crowe.'  But, Alabam was not an engineer, or a government official, or even a general construction worker. Alabam's job was to clean the latrines.  And he took it seriously. 

Alabam was an older man and not physically capable of performing the hard labor required of a member of the general construction crew.  He was assigned to keep the latrines, then called the 'chick sales' or the 'Jiggs' or the 'one-holer', clean and well stocked.  It was not a glamorous job, nor was it an easy one.  Consider the number of 'one-holers' required for 5,000 workers.  Consider these sitting in the middle of the desert in temperatures over 120 degrees.  

Alabam was often seen with his shovel and his 'good necklace', a string of toilet paper rolls that hung around his neck.  He shoveled waste, threw lime, swept out the latrines and made sure they were always stocked with toilet paper.  He referred to himself as 'the sanitary engineer', and workers say he always had a good attitude about it. 

"Alabam" by sculptor Steve Ligouri


One of my favorite stories about the man comes from the oral history of a dam worker.  One day, a construction worker noticed Alabam fishing around in a latrine hole with a stick.  The worker asked what he was doing, and Alabam told him he had dropped his coat in the hole.  The worker said, "You don't want (it) after it's been down there."  Alabam's reply: "I don't care about the coat, but my lunch is in the pocket." 


Alabam was one of the thousands of ordinary men that found their way to the Nevada desert during the Great Depression and did whatever job he could find in order to survive.  It didn't matter what the job was, he put his heart into it and performed his duties in a way that gained him the respect of the other workers.  But is the common man, the latrine cleaner, ever remembered? Ever commemorated?  Well, yes.   

In the town of Boulder City, the city that built the Hoover Dam, a public arts program has sprung up in the past few years that includes several bronze statues commemorating the workers that built the dam.  There are puddlers, and women strolling through town, and children playing. And as you drive down Nevada Way, you will see a life-size statue of Alabam with his shovel and his necklace. The common man, the outhouse cleaner, never to be forgotten. 

8 comments:

Natalie Kenney said...

Kelly, I love this. My favorite part of history is learning about the people - not always the most well-known heroes - but the everyday people that lived through these events. Hysterical hearing about the lunch in the coat pocket! Great post, as always!

Loree Huebner said...

I love that they've honored one of the little people who contributed so much. Cheers to Alabam! Great post.

Marion Spicher said...

I checked this out as a result of a tweet. What a pleasure to read! Thanks for a great post.

Erica Lucke Dean said...

It just goes to show you that every job is important to the big picture. Very well written as always.

Stephen Moran said...

this is the type of story I love to read, but I love history in general. I've been reading a lot of Vegas history lately, which overlaps with some of what you are working on...so I can't WAIT to read your book.

A friend of mine works at Railroad pass and every time I go there I feel the history.

Excellent writing.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you all. I love the individual stories from the dam. I tried very hard to give some of these characters a second life in my novel. So glad you enjoy my Hoover Dam stories!

74red said...

Great post. I loved this story. Just goes to show that the "little people" do make a big difference.

Anonymous said...

It just goes to show you that the nature of man is to survive. We will do what ever we have to to live. Another great read, enjoyed it very much .