This column ran in the Feb. 23 edition of the Prairie Post.
It seems the snow is deep and the chance of a “high water event” exists again this year.
No one anticipates the type of flood we had last year although the amount of precipitation and how quickly the warm spring weather arrives are still unknown factors that will determine what kind of problems the James and Pipestem will create this year.
But one thing is known. The investment that was made in years past in the Jamestown and Pipestem Dams were well worth it.
Construction began on the Jamestown Dam in April of 1952. The structure was completed by the fall of 1953. It held back its first spring time runoff in the spring of 1954.
The spring runoff from nearly 1,300 square miles of land is held behind the dam and then released in a controlled manner.
The Jamestown Dam was a bargain to build with construction costs of about $2 and a total cost, including the acquisition of the land and other costs, of about $4.7 million in 1952. Adjusted for inflation that is about $36 million in today’s dollars.
Construction started on the Pipestem Dam in June of 1971 and was completed two years later. The Pipestem Dam holds back the runoff from nearly 600 square miles.
I couldn’t find the costs associated with construction of the Pipestem Dam but they are probably comparable to the Jamestown Dam costs.
And through the decades these two earthen structures have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in flood damage.
And the saving in damage to property is probably minor when compared to the human suffering associated with floods.
The Jamestown Dam was a project of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Pipestem Dam was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Obviously both agencies of our Federal government.
The two structures are examples of the types of projects we rely on the National government to accomplish. In this case, and in many others, the Federal government has demonstrated its ability to provide a service that improves the lives of its citizens.
The next time you hear someone state that the government never gets anything right you might want to remind them that much of Jamestown would have been under water last spring if it hadn’t been for Federal programs.
Our government isn’t perfect, nothing in life is. But when it sets out to provide a necessary service that can be accomplished no other way it shines.
Sorry, I got on my soapbox a little bit this week. I’ll get back to the history of the region next week.
This column ran in the Feb. 16, 2010 edition of the Prairie Post
The debate on statehood for the Dakota Territory seemed to have drug on for decades. Politics had divided the move from territory to statehood. It was assumed at the time that the area would elect Republicans when given a chance to vote for Senators and Congressmen.
The Republicans in Washington wanted to bring the Dakota Territory in as two states and double the number of Senators the region would send east. The Democrats in Washington wanted, at most, a single state sending two Senators to the Capital.
That all changed with the election of Republican Benjamin Harrison as President in 1888. To add to the change in the power base the GOP gained control of the House of Representatives in that same election.
There was even concern the President may call a special early session of Congress to pass the statehood legislation. While this didn’t materialize it did start a scramble in the Dakotas to be prepared when the Federal Government changed the status of the region from one territory to two states.
It seems South Dakota was better prepared and had a constitution ready to be adopted as soon as it officially could. North Dakota wasn’t that prepared.
On Dec. 5, 1888 a public convention was called in Jamestown “for the purpose of considering questions of vital importance, particularly the calling of a constitutional convention and securing an early admission into the Union.”
The meeting was open to any public spirited man; women need not apply, and was called to order by E.P. Wells as the chairman of the Jamestown citizens committee.
The group ultimately elected former territorial governor Gilbert A. Pierce as chairman. And while they had no legal authority they did resolve, by unanimous vote, a few things.
They asked the northern part of the Dakota Territory be admitted as a state as soon as possible and it be called North Dakota. They also resolved a Constitutional Convention be authorized by the Territorial Legislature sometime after it convenes in January of 1889.
And they invited South Dakota, Montana and Washington to also seek statehood along with North Dakota.
I bring this up because Jamestown seems to have a history of being the first to use the name “North Dakota” to reference this region. In fact, it was used as a geographical reference when used as the title of the “North Dakota Hospital for the Insane” in 1885.
The convention in 1888 in Jamestown indicates the public wanted statehood and wanted that state named North Dakota.
Which has got to make you wonder a little bit about the creativity of this state’s early leaders.
After more than 25 years as the Dakota Territory the best we could come up with was the north part of the territory. I’m not one to rewrite history and I believe, after nearly 125 years, changing the state’s name would be ridicules.
But would we have warmer winters if they had called the state Fiji?
I just read that Dick Francis, an English mystery writer, has just died at the age of 89. I’ve enjoyed his work for many years although his writings from the 1970s and 80s was decidedly better than more recent efforts.
Many believe his books suffered in quality after his wife died in 2000 leading some to speculate she may have played a big part in the creation of the novels.
Dick Francis was a steeplechase jockey over in England years ago. I believe he even rode one of the Queen’s horses to victory in some big race decades ago. When he retired he turned to mystery writing with most of his books set in the European horse racing world.
His latest work came out just a few months ago and lists his son Felix as a co-writer.
A few weeks ago Robert B. Parker, another of my favorite authors, died. Now Dick Francis. If this keeps up Stuart Woods and Bernard Cornwell will pay me not to like their books anymore.
It is Valentines Day. Historically speaking there was a St. Valentine, the patron of love, lovers and friendship.
Here I thought he was the patron saint of chocolate and lacy underwear.
Oddly enough, at least according to some historians, Feb. 14 may commemorate the date of his execution, by beheading, at the hands of the Romans in 270 A.D.
I look at it as a sign of how much the human race wants a little romance in our lives. We mark the death of a dedicated priest, martyred for refusing to renounce his religous beliefs, as an excuse to give, and receive, gifts and make out.
Which reminds me I need to pick up a little chocolate on the way home tonight.
Saw some national news coverage of what I consider the best kind of snow storm, one that is hundreds of miles away. This one closed down Washington D.C. which is always a good thing.
CNN this morning had live views of the Connecticut Turnpike or some such eastern highway. The talking heads were commenting on how bad the conditions looked.
I thought it didn’t look all that bad. Anytime you can have video that shows traffic on the highway during a storm it isn’t a whiteout. I mean if it would have been a bad North Dakota blizzard the entire screen would have been white.
What I did notice is that one out of about every 10 vehicles going down the road was a snow plow. Somewhere between that ratio and what we have here, about 10 plows for 20,000 people, is the ideal mix.
Snow, and the movement of it, has made a lot of news lately. It seems some people are unhappy with the efforts to clear the streets of town after some of the recent storms.
This seems to be a problem of the modern age. If we go back a century or so there were few options as far dealing with snow. You could go over it or shovel it.
Well, I suppose there was a third option. You could just put up with it until spring when Mother Nature would take it away.
No snow blowers, at least not for the homeowner. The railroads had what they called rotary plows: a special steam engine with a rig on the front that blew snow and anything that else that may have blown onto the tracks.
Even with these rigs, which weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds, the snow could be too hard. After the blizzard of 1966 the late Jamestown resident E.W. Wiese was called in by the Northern Pacific to use dynamite to breakup hard packed snow banks.
Other times the railroad would turn to manpower. After any storm of that era the railroads would send out snow trains. This train would serve as a warm home, and a source for a hot meal, for a crew of men that would go out and shovel off the tracks for miles at a time.
This tells us a little about the economy of the region back then. A lot of men in the community didn’t have regular employment and worked at short term jobs as they became available. A man might work on some farmer’s hay crew in the summer, threshing crew in the fall and cutting ice during the winter and take any other jobs that came along through the year.
I believe the street crews worked on much the same principle; if it snowed the city, or the businesses along Main Street, hired people with shovels to clear as much of the snow as necessary for horse drawn sleighs and bobsleds. I’d also guess they probably handed a shovel to anyone in the city jail.
That was back in a time when muscle, whether man or horse, powered most endeavors.
In our modern time diesel fuel and snow plows have replaced muscle and shovel which is probably a good thing. And there have been other changes as well.
Few people don’t have commitments that require them to be at work at least five days per week even if none of those jobs involves shoveling snow. But maybe we can go back to having prisoners shovel out miles of roads.