That Dam Thing – #1LinerWeds

I mentioned in Monday’s post that the first dam across the Connecticut River failed within a matter of hours. I also threatened promised to discuss some of the technology associated with the dam and canal project. The construction of the dams not only gives me the opportunity to talk about some of the technology, but it offers a great one-liner.

The first dam (1848) was a “timber-crib” dam. Essentially, an open grid of heavy timbers that was filled with stone and rubble. More in a moment…

The second dam (1850) was also a timber structure, with rocks and stone for ballast and support. Although it was anchored to the bedrock, which the first dam was not, the angle to the river was incorrect, and problems developed due to vibrations caused by the water spilling over the dam. An attempt was made to mitigate these design problems by adding timbers and stone to the down stream side of the dam for support. The modified dam was stable, but the mill owners who relied on the power derived from the water stored behind the dam were concerned about its long-term viability. In 1895 construction of the third dam began. This was (still is) a gravity dam, meaning that its sheer weight prevents the water upstream from moving it. The dam is made of granite. Large blocks were assembled with the aid of two technical innovations. A narrow-gauge railroad was built to move the base stone into place, and a cableway was suspended from one side of the river to the other to move stones to the upper levels of the dam structure. At the time, it was the longest cableway in the world.

Back to that first dam, and the one-liner. The first dam was constructed within a matter of months. The following information was reported in Harper’s Weekly in 1848.

Upon completion the gates (which allowed the river to flow around the dam) were closed at 10 AM and the reservoir behind the dam began to fill. The head engineer, proud of his accomplishment, exclaimed:

“There! Those gates are shut, and God Almighty himself can not open them!”

By noon the dam was leaking. By 2:00 PM it was evident that the structure was weakening. At 3:20 PM, the dam failed.

This post is part of Linda G. Hill’s fun weekly series One-Liner Wednesday. If you have a one-liner, If you would like to join in on the fun, you can follow this link to participate and to see the one-liners from the other participants.


    • Maddie is making the switch from avoiding the sun to seeking the sun. Pretty soon, the comfy top will go on her cot, and in a few months, she’ll be wearing her vest :)

      I remember when we had pine trees and the big year would come around – ugh the work.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Talk about having to eat your own words!! In all fairness, it was quite an undertaking to take on such a massive project back in 1848, when you consider what they had to work with. Clearly they learned by their mistakes and dam #3 stands proudly today.

    Love the last photo of the leaf shadowed by grass. And of course MuMu enjoying her brushing and Maddie loving the warmth of the sun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My dad would remind them (as he reminded me often) “you didn’t have time to do it right, but you have time to do it twice.”

      I took a couple photos of leaves like that. I was fascinated by the shadows. MuMu was spreading rumors that she never NEVER gets brushed. I had to offer proof. Miss Maddie is making the switch to sunny spots without so much as a missed sit.

      Take care, Ginger. Enjoy the nice cool days.


  2. Thank goodness for the engineers and laborers who build viable damns, because you can’t trust God to do it. ;-)
    I’m glad you are enjoying cooler weather and sun with Maddie and keeping up with MuMu’s needs. Happy Wednesday, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, I’d say after his definitely (wrong) statement that he had a huge case of egg on his face-but it was likely washed away quickly. 🤦‍♀️No one gets far without some trial and error. Amazing how far we have come in so short a period of time to be able to do mock ups and trial runs and calculate so many possibilities prior to actual construction projects.
    I love your nature shots! My favorite is the second sun through the trees with the solar flares. Mumu looks like she’s thinking, “Hey, what’s going on here?” Lolol i hope you get your rain soon, Dan. We’ve had enough for a few weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s dry and cool here, Cheryl. Too dry. Some of the engineering during the 1800s was fascinating, but a lot of men reaching too far without a good understanding of how things really worked. Some lessons you learn the hard way.


  4. Oh-oh… that engineer really was tempting fate.
    Loved seeing the old drawings and images, Dan. =^-^= MuMu looks like she’s enjoying that brushing. Crystal has not been letting me get more than a few swipes with the brush lately, but she gave in this morning. Enjoy your day. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What went through that guy’s mind when the dam broke?! Besides the thought of God laughing… Maddie looks so pretty in the sun. Thank you for the proof of brushing MuMu. I was beginning to wonder……

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If the engineer’s declaration doesn’t fall under the category of “famous last words” I don’t know what does!
    We live near a small village called Latchford – it sits on the Montreal River – the first dam was opened in the early 1910s. The town more recently adopted the slogan “Latchford – best little town by a dam site.” Cute, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dams are fascinating. Many of my ancestors hailed from the little town of Butler, TN – a town ultimately relocated and flooded when the TVA built the Watauga dam. I have old records of the relocation of ancestors’ cemeteries and homes. Dam failures can be catastrophic. Very interesting read, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Dan – those early engineers were driven to learn and had great belief … your technical aspects here reminded me of our Whaley Bridge Dam – an earthfill or embankment dam built in 1830s … which nearly failed last year and had to have serious repairs (a village is downstream!). It always amazes me how structures are built, and how brave those early ‘builders’ were … let alone the workers who actually did the builds. Thanks for this post and for the images … it really opens our eyes to life back in the 1800s … good to see the animals too and your walking places … take care – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Hilary. I’m glad you enjoyed this. We have thousands of dams like the one you describe, across the country that are in danger of failing. Adding to the cost, we now have a regulatory process in place that controls which dams can be repaired and which must be allowed to (hopefully) slowly fail.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sometimes I look at old structures like dams and bridges wondering if they got it right the first time. Your post answered that question. Not surprisingly, there was learning and a healthy heaping of humility along the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mother Nature said immediately after he said that, ” Here, hold my beer”. 😀

    I’m glad they got it right eventually and it’s still working.

    Maddie looks super relaxed and comfy on the step. I do like long shadows.


Add your thoughts or join the discussion. One relevant link is OK, more require moderation. Markdown is supported.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.