Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: A Thanksgiving Tradition

If you are working on the largest government project in the nation, and using men that are basically starving for your labor, how do you get any productivity.  Simple. You feed them. And that is exactly what Six Companies did.  They contracted with Anderson Brothers, a well known Hollywood catering service in the 1930's, to tackle the problem of feeding the growing number of workers on the Black Canyon project, later to be known as the Hoover Dam. 

They started in a mess tent that held about 350 men, and soon an additional mess hall was set up temporarily at River Camp, two miles upriver from the site. This was in the Spring of 1931, when there were only about five hundred men on the payroll. By November of that year, the workforce had increased to about 2500, and Anderson Brothers had a full scale mess hall in the town of Boulder City that was capable of seating 1200 at a time.

Anderson Brothers Mess Hall
Because the job site was 24 hours, so was the mess hall. Food was brought in by rail and by truck and it was never in short supply.  There was always a variety--steaks, pork chops, roast beef, fruit, fresh baked pies and cakes.  Meals were served family style, and when a platter was emptied, it was soon refilled. The food was excellent and there was plenty of it.  For $1.50 a day, deducted from their wages, the men could eat as much as they wanted, which included packing their own box lunch to take to the work site.

Their families, however, weren't so lucky.  They weren't even allowed in the mess hall---until Thanksgiving, 1931.

It was on this day that Anderson Brothers decided to open up their operation to the men and their families for the holiday.  The tables were dressed with crisp linens and at a cost of seventy-five cents for adults, children ate free, the 2500 employees and their families were served an all you could eat Thanksgiving dinner served on china. And they ate. 

  • ·         2400 pounds of turkey
  • ·         300 gallons of oyster soup
  • ·         half a ton of candied sweet potatoes
  • ·         300 pounds of cranberries
  • ·         760 pies
  • ·         half a ton of plum pudding

...these are just a few of the items served on that day

It had been a hard year for the thousands that had traveled from all over the country to take their chance on the Hoover Dam. They had lived in cars, tents, openly in the desert and braved deadly snakes and spiders, sandstorms, starvation and the unbearable heat.  They had begun moving into the rickety houses in town and businesses were starting to open.  Boulder City, the only city in the United States at the time with a 100% employment rate, was starting to come together as a community.  It was a long way from the Depression-ridden cities and towns they had come from, and a long way from the desert.  It was paradise.  And they were thankful.

It was a wonderful gesture of Thanksgiving on the part of the Anderson Brothers, but this day also marked a very important event in the history of the Hoover Dam: the unofficial birth of Boulder City as a community.  From that day forward, every Thanksgiving and Christmas during construction was observed in the same way and having holiday dinner at Anderson's Mess Hall became the first community tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Anonymous said...

What a nice piece of History & Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing this with ! I love history & your passion :)

Erica Lucke Dean said...

I absolutely love reading your history of the Dam blogs...and I love hearing about pie.

Loree Huebner said...

I loved the Thanksgiving history of the dam.

Hope yours was grand.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you all! I thought this was a nice way to remind myself at Thanksgiving how much I really have to be thankful for. I haven't been living in a tent in the desert for the past year, so I figure it's all good.

Guilie said...

What a great story to share for this Thanksgiving--thanks, Kelly!

Suzanne Shumaker said...

Interesting piece of history. I wonder if the mess hall turned a profit?

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Six Companies turned a profit. They charged the men a higher amount, taken from their paychecks, than they paid on the contract for the mess hall. I'm sure Anderson Brothers didn't lose any money or they would have cut back on the food. A lot of the meat came from their own ranch.

Kellianne Sweeney said...

Thanks for sharing yet another good story :)

Anonymous said...

760 pies...I just...fainted from the awesomeness of that vision.

They were taking a well-worn wisdom of armies that march on their stomachs, no? Feed them and they will come.

Oh, but I like the interesting info. you give us. (Dances)

Anonymous said...

I did the grand tour of Hoover Damn when I was a kid, and drive over it often. This is a new peak into it's history. Thanks :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

There are many more tidbits above under Hoover Dam stories, and many more to come! Thanks for checking it out!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Looking forward to more!

Amberr Meadows said...

What an incredible feast. I love learning all of this about the Hoover Dam, and it's always fun to get a bit of history on your blog. I'm late, but hey. Still got some turkey? :-)

D.C. said...

From the moment I read,...they fed them..I was wondering about the families. Like, what did the families eat while the men filled up on meat and potatoes on their lunch hour. Hopefully the workers lined pockets with bacon the other 364 days.

Thanks for the awesome story, Kelly!

Natalie Kenney said...

I've made it for the leftovers! This is a beautiful Thanksgiving post Kelly. Nice to know the families finally had a decent meal.

MAJK said...

That's a great reminder to all of the importance of Community. I've worked in a couple of businesses that keep a 24/7 cafeteria open for their employees and it's a flat payroll deduct if you want to use it.

It's often little things like this that build loyalty by way of building community.

Great story!

Anonymous said...

A very heartwarming story Kelly! I read this a while back but never made a comment. Thought I'd pop back and tell you how much I liked it. :D

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thank you, everyone. Plenty of leftovers for everyone. I'm curious, does anyone make plum pudding?