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Transcript of interview with Theodore R. Garrett by Marilyn Swanson, March 2, 1975






On March 2, 1975, Marilyn Swanson interviewed Theodore R. Garrett (born 1898 in Overbrook, Kansas) about his life in Boulder City, Nevada. Garrett first talks about his move to Las Vegas to work for Six Companies during the construction of Hoover Dam. He then describes his job as a truck driver at the dam, the wages paid at the time, and the construction of the buildings and other housing in Boulder City. Garrett also mentions the food provided to the workers, the recreational activities available, and his family’s move to Boulder City.

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Garrett, Theodore R. Interview, 1975 March 2. OH-00654. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett i An Interview with Theodore Garrett An Oral History Conducted by Marilyn Swanson Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett iv Abstract On March 2, 1975, Marilyn Swanson interviewed Theodore R. Garrett (born 1898 in Overbrook, Kansas) about his life in Boulder City, Nevada. Garrett first talks about his move to Las Vegas to work for Six Companies during the construction of Hoover Dam. He then describes his job as a truck driver at the dam, the wages paid at the time, and the construction of the buildings and other housing in Boulder City. Garrett also mentions the food provided to the workers, the recreational activities available, and his family’s move to Boulder City. UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 1 The interviewer is Marilyn Swanson, 612 Avenue G. The date is March 2nd, about 3:33 p.m. I’m interviewing Mr. Theodore R. Garrett, 619 Avenue G, Boulder City, Nevada, one of the earliest residents of Boulder City. This is for the Oral History Project of the American Association of University Women. Mr. Garrett, where were you originally born? Born in Overbrook, Kansas. And you went to school there? Yes. And then what did you do after school? I went to high school and then joined the Army in 1917, and after I was discharged in 1919, went back to that area in farming until the Depression came along. And couldn’t make a living in farming anymore, so worked at other jobs in the area, and prior to the announcement that they were going to build Boulder Dam in Nevada, I was working for the (Unintelligible) Railroad Company on constructing a new track from Kansas City to some point in Iowa named—I don’t seem to remember at this time what the name of the town was. You were working on the railroad then when you heard about the construction of the dam and the job openings? Yes. Were you married? Yes. And so, another fella that was working in the same crew (unintelligible) decided this was probably the only place to go where you could find a job, so we came on out (unintelligible) stayed home until we could get settled out here. Where were they living? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 2 They were living with my mother and father. So, we arrived in the intersection of the road from Las Vegas to Boulder City in Needles January the 15th, 1931. Then you went into Las Vegas? Travel to Boulder City being restricted to people that were already on the job and working, we went on to Las Vegas and set up camp on the west side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Charleston Boulevard and an old artesian well and reservoir. Hiring for work at Boulder Dam was done by the Six Companies employment office, which was commonly called a slave market (unintelligible), was located on Carson Street across from the old courthouse building. The employment offices for Six Companies would come in every day with a list of job openings, and they would post these job openings on the bulletin board, and if there was anything there that was in your line of work or you thought you could do, why, you had to make out an application. Most of the employees being hired at this time were great people who had formerly worked at one or the other of the Six Companies on other jobs, which made it difficult for someone that was not familiar with either of the construction companies forming the Six Companies to get an interview with anybody. At this time, also, there was an influx of hundreds of people coming to Las Vegas looking for work, which were for the most part, in most condition than we were at that time. Las Vegas was a small community railroad town prior to the influx of workmen coming from all states in the Union to try to work on Boulder Dam. There was no residential area west of the railroad tracks, and the old Charleston Boulevard was approximately the southern boundary. Fifth Street, now, is Las Vegas Boulevard—was approximately the eastern boundary, and the northern boundary was approximately the Old Fort, which is now a historical monument. That is located near the present Elks Club. The camp that we established with, we had a small tent, and we walked Downtown for the most part and spent time around the UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 3 employment office about the time the employment agent was arriving, and not being able to go to work at the jobs that were available, it was necessary that we supplement our income by working a little around the area of Las Vegas. One job was washing dishes at the old Silver Dollar Café, which was located on North Second Street at that time. Another venture was that, on the Union Pacific, Las Vegas was a stopover and unloading point for all livestock being transported to the area. And they had a stockyard and a feed yard established, and that was another job that we had done. That paid better than dishwashing. (Laughs) It was also something that you were used to. Yes. And going back to the northern boundary of Las Vegas, everything north of the Old Fort was desert area, but at this time, it was beginning to be built up with tents, cardboard shacks, and any kind of a structure that people could live in until they went to work. A lot of these housing areas was just composed of empty abandoned cards with a sheet of plywood over the door to keep the weather out. And on the road east into Boulder were various camps set up, tents, plywood (unintelligible) and what have you all along the road in various places where there was water between the Railroad Pass and Las Vegas, particularly around the area which was, at that time, called Pittman, which is not a part of Henderson, because of the artesian water. After considerably time and being unable to obtain employment through the employment office, I finally ran across a friend of mine who married a lady that I went to high school with back in Kansas, and who was an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation. He informed me that there was plenty of jobs available in Boulder if you could get in and mill around and talk to some of the foremen that were in and out of Boulder City. So, we arranged to come in to Boulder the first time through what was at that time called Bootleg Canyon. There was quite a settlement of people up in there in tents and shacks of all kinds that were already working on the job. So, it UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 4 wasn’t too difficult to get in. My friend had gotten discouraged by this time, so he went back to Missouri. So, I continued on contacting people and finally got in to see one of the foremen that I was told about previously and finally got a job driving a truck. My truck-driving career started in May, 1931, and continued on until the Six Companies completed the construction of Boulder Dam in 1936. The foreman I talked to and hired me for the truck driving job asked me if I had ever driven a truck. I said yes, but I didn’t tell him it was only a ton-and-a-half truck. So, they needed truck drivers quite bad at that time, so we went down on the job and got on a ten-ton international truck that they used for hauling muck, and we backed into the tunnel under the (unintelligible) and loaded up and started up the hill—I was half scared to death, but I made it up and (unintelligible) and come back, and the foreman jumped off the truck and says, “Go ahead.” (Laughs) “You’re hired.” “You’re hired.” So that was the start of that particular phase of that truck driving. Now, the muck you were hauling was the debris that they blasted out of the tunnels? Muck that we were hauling was debris, rock, that was being blasted out of the fifty-foot tunnels on either side of the river. This had to be hauled up the hills on either side of the river, back on Nevada side through a tunnel back into the dump area into the canyon. Where was this dump area located? On Nevada side, was south and west of the dam as it is now. On the Arizona side, you went straight up the riverbank to a dump area that was on a canyon running into the river further down the line. And while this was going on, there were also trucks on the other hand because the tunnels had started on both the upper and lower portals at the same time. After hauling this muck and rock for a little while, one of the fellas that was driving a lumber truck from the lumber yard UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 5 to the dam area quit, so I took that job for a while, which proved to be interesting. The lumber came in on flatcars stacked in two piles on the car. The trucks were the capacity that would haul a half a carload of lumber in one load. So, the crane operator would just hook on to this half a carload of lumber and set it on the back of the truck, and the truck had rollers, when you got ready to dump it when you got to the end of the line, you started to back up and set the brakes and just roll right off the back end of the car. How big was the lumber? Well, it was all the lengths of the lumber, but usually when it came in, it would all be the same kind, either form lumber and dimension lumber that was used in preparing the form for the concrete in the tunnels. I’m really wondering how long was your load on this truck, generally? The truck had a bed fourteen feet long, sometimes sixteen and eighteen foot lumber you could haul on top of the truck. And then after that job for a while, they wanted me to drive a concrete agitator truck up on the upper portals. So, I went over and drove those for a while, and finally, the top truck driving job was vacant, so I took that job and stayed with that until we were through. What was that job? That was a job driving a flatbed truck from the warehouse to the various tool rooms on the job down at the dam site. That job was called the candy truck. (Laughs) And that paid $75 a month. What did you start working at, what wage? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 6 Four dollars a day. So, that was considered the top truck driving job on the job, so I stayed with that until the job was done. Why was there a big difference in pay? Well, you were called out at night quite frequently to deliver something in a hurry, so they figured it was cheaper to pay a flat monthly salary than to pay overtime, is the reason. At that time I started to work in May, it seemed that every facet of construction that was to be done in the area was getting underway. The railroad from Las Vegas to Boulder had been completed, and the government part of the railroad from Boulder City to the aggregate screening plant, which was under construction, the gravel pits on the Arizona side of the river up in the neighborhood of Burrow Point, the mixing plant to be installed on the canyon wall at the upper portals, and the mixing plant to be installed at the lower portals. Where was the aggregate screening plant was located in the Hemmingway Wash area? At the lower water mark time in the past few years, you could see the water reservoir on an island just offshore. Oh, the one that’s out in the lake? Yes. And this railroad operation being performed by the government was a complete railroad system, only on a small scale. Steam engines were used, and bottom dump gravel cars were used to haul the aggregate, and then the railroad also included the stockpile area, which is up near Boulder City. The stockpile area was located just below what is now known as the Lake Tree Housing Project, just outside the city limits of Boulder City. Where did you live while you were working? Well, at first I moved my tent out to an area adjacent to the Union Pacific tracks, which was just north of the old depot building, which has been removed. And when the dormitories were UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 7 completed, I lived in them most of the time until Pearl and Teddy arrived in 1932. The New Mexico Construction Company awarded a contract for the leveling and grading of the streets for Boulder City, and they were well along in their contract, and I think one of the unique situations there was that, instead of using power equipment to do their leveling and grading, they used mule-drawn fresnos. Probably a lot of people wouldn’t know what fresnos are; maybe you could describe those. In case you’re not familiar with the term fresno, it was pulled by a free horse team of mules that was about six feet in width, and it was just strictly a dirt mover— A scraper. Scraper. One man handled the fresno; it was on skids, and it would roll back and forth, and that’s the way the dirt was moved for the leveling process. And that probably was about the beginning of the end of the horse and buggy days. Where were the mules corralled? The mule camp was located in the area in back of where Mr. and Mrs. Dewitt (unintelligible) lived. At 632 Avenue G? Yes. And in the alley area back in that area, it since then has been filled in considerably, that’s where the mules were stored when they weren’t being used. About how many mules were there? I think at that time, they had about sixteen or eighteen mules working, which the same mules weren’t working all the time because it was a twenty-four hour job. How many men were working on the streets then, probably? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 8 I don’t recall. There was quite a bit of work going on besides the leveling and grading. There was laying out the streets, and I don’t recall this time how many men were actually employed in the street grading and leveling. Of course, all this work was being supervised by the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Reclamation housing was under construction at this time also. This housing was located around closed to the top of the hill on Colorado Street and Denver Street. For the permanent structures and for the, what they called temporary structures, was located between Utah and Wyoming, east of Utah, and over as far as M Street. These houses, most of them are still there. At the time, the government turned the land and appurtenances over to the municipality. The government houses were put up for sale, first to the occupant, and then if they didn’t want the house, why they were offered to anybody that wanted them. After Pearl came out in ’32, I moved out of the dormitory of course and I’ll let her describe the housing that we utilized from then on out. When the Six Companies completed their construction of the dam, they were to remove all temporary structures built in Boulder City and elsewhere for their use, and— You said they took them off all—? The Six Companies housing was located in the area south of New Mexico Street and about halfway up the block north, and over to Utah Street on the east and A Street on the west. These houses were all put up for sale. They had three types of houses that were three prices: one-room house was $100, two-room house $200, and three-room house was $300. And they moved out pretty rapidly. And everything south of New Mexico Street was removed, either torn down or moved out. The houses in the other areas were, people bought those and some of them are still being used after being brought up to certain minimum specifications that was recommended. Do you happen to know why these blocks between Wyoming and New Mexico are so long? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 9 No, I don’t know the exact reason for it was, except that it was probably more economical not to have so many cross streets. You said there were only Six Company houses halfway up; what was above it? Well, nothing. It was just open area? Open area, mostly. Over in the east part of town, there was an area that people were building their own houses, and it began to appear that it was going to get out of control, so there were some restrictions put on for their building over in that area. On Wyoming Street, between Nevada Highway and Utah, the first hundred feet, I believe—I could be wrong about that—was reserved and laid out for parking use by people who lived in the area below, between Wyoming and New Mexico. They weren’t intended to have any off-street parking, then, on their lot? No. This was provided parking space on both sides of the alley to take care of the number of houses that were in the block. However, it didn’t work out that way. People that would come over in the block didn’t care about walking clear to the north end of the block to park their cars, so on-street parking was never frowned on. Shortly after the government housing and the government administration building were completed, the area located up to the south of the administration building and above Arizona Street were restricted for park use. The area adjacent to the administration building was a rock hill, and to plant trees, they would drill holes in the rock and use about a half a stick of dynamite to make a hole big enough to plant trees. The Chinese Elms were the fastest-growing tree for desert areas at that time, so that was primarily what was planted. Of course, the lower part was also planted with trees, but no blasting was UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 10 needed for that. Fill dirt, however, was hauled in from blow sand areas located near the area to cover up the rocks. Did you say that the Six Company left some buildings? Yes. When the Six Companies finally removed all their structures except two buildings, to my knowledge—and that was the old Boulder City Hospital building and the National Park Service warehouse. The National Park Service warehouse was formerly the Six Companies machine shop before the power plant was completed and the shop moved down there. While living in the dormitories, we naturally ate at the Anderson mess hall, which was serving meals about every hour on the hour due to the eight-hour shift and twenty-four hour days that were being utilized. The employees were transported to and from the dam from transport trucks at the beginning and the end of the eight-hour shifts. When did your time start, your shift time? Well, the day shift started at seven o’clock in the morning and the swing shift started about three in the afternoon. But what I was meaning was, if you worked at seven o’clock in the morning, where were you supposed to check in at seven to catch the transport truck down, or? Well, everybody had to go to the garage area to catch the transport truck, and the garage area was located approximately where the Bureau of Mines operation is located now on Elm Street. So, did you punch a time clock? There was no time clock except for the employees who worked in the garage. If you missed the transport truck, you didn’t work that day, is that it? You just didn’t work; you didn’t catch your truck unless you used your own transportation. So, actually then, your shift included the time of travel time? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 11 No. No? Your shift at that time included the time after you got to the job. Oh. And the graveyard shift, I believe, started at about eleven or 11:30 at night. So what time, how far ahead, then, would you have to report to the garage to be down at work then? Well, it took about thirty minutes for the transports to go down to the job, and about forty-five minutes to come up the hill from the job. Did you like riding up—these were the big two-story transport trucks you’re talking about, right? Well, there was a few of those big double-deck transport trucks— [Audio cuts out] The double-deck truck? Mm-hmm. There was a few of the double-deck transport trucks, but most of them were the flatbed trucks with about an eighteen-foot bed with planks across which would hold approximately fifty men, and they were all covered with canvas canopies. I imagine it was a might uncomfortable ride, then. No, it really wasn’t that bad. Of course, everybody was forty years younger then, and they didn’t mind it so much. I understand you got box lunches from the mess hall? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 12 People that lived in the dormitories had to pick up their lunches at the mess hall, which consisted of a box lunch and when you went along the line and picked out what you wanted, and quantity was no item—you could have all you wanted to eat. What was the typical lunch for you, then, include? Oh, two or three kinds of sandwiches. What kind? Oh, beef, pork, ham, cheese—you name it, they had it. Raw fruits, oranges, apples, bananas, and pie and cake for desert. And that was about it. I would worry about those meat sandwiches in the heat. Did anybody get food poisoning? Well, I suspect probably they did sometimes, but then occasionally you’d see somebody digging into their box lunch before lunchtime, so they probably didn’t stay in the box that long. What did you do in your spare time? Well, spare time, you tried to get what sleep you could, and for recreation, the Six Companies had what they called a recreational hall with pool tables and card games and snack bars and what have you, and you could spend some time in there, but for the most part, there wasn’t too much recreation, particularly in the earlier days. Where was this recreation hall located? The recreation hall was located in the triangle area now occupied by the Department of Water and Power, Bureau of Power and Light. How big a building was it? It covered the whole area between Nevada Highway and the street back of it. Birch? Birch Street. UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 13 Arizona? No, up to about as far as the north end of that office building. Oh. When you came to town, you were driving a car, right? What kind of car was it? The car that we came out here in was an old 1910 Buick, four-cylinder torqueing car that we bought for ten dollars. Sounds like a bargain. Did it have the wooden spokes? It had the wooden spokes. And you had a problem then? And after I went to work, I parked it on the hill right west of the Elm Street and forgot about it. I don’t know whatever happened to it. (Laughs) And it wasn’t the only one; that hill was covered with them. Did you ever go into Las Vegas? Oh, occasionally, we’d go in once in a while—not too often. There wasn’t much in there except what gambling and so forth on Fremont Street. One major thing, as far as Las Vegas at that time, too, was—of course, it was during the Prohibition days, but all the saloons in Las Vegas, front door was locked, and you had to go around to the back door to get in. Did they have signs out front that they were saloons? No, there weren’t any signs, but everybody knew; you followed the crowd. Did they have names then? Oh, some of them did. I don’t recall—one, in particular, I recall later, which later became a gambling hall, was the old Boulder Club. That was the name of one. UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 14 Did you have to identify yourself then to get in the backdoor, was just—the back door was used? No, big double doors stand wide open. But there was some minor thing on the law, then, that they—? No, it wasn’t in the law. It was, I think, a situation where, “You pay me, and I’ll keep quiet.” Oh. (Laughs) How did your life change then when Pearl came out and Teddy came out after the school year was over? Well, it was more relaxing. We moved quite frequently, which Pearl will get into in her remarks—until we got located in a government house (unintelligible) on Arizona Street, and of course this happened after Six Companies were all through and had moved out. At that time, I had become acquainted with the government people who were operating that warehouse, so I went to work for the government, and I worked in the warehouse for about three months, and there was an opening available in the purchasing department of the bureau, so I went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation, as a purchasing agent then. And I continued on as purchasing agent until 1954. And later, in 1948, we were having difficulty with government priorities and a shortage of materials, so it was decided that we should have a branch procurement office in Los Angeles close to the market areas. So, in 1953, I was sent down to organize and set up a procurement office in that area, and we operated that office until 1953. Things were leveling off, and it was decided then that we would close the office, and that was done and moved back to Boulder City and back to a purchasing department in Boulder. So you were only gone about five years, then, from Boulder? UNLV University Libraries Theodore Garrett 15 In 1954, I believe it was, we went through one of the usual reorganization periods, and money was getting tight, construction was well along close to completion on the power plants, so I was transferred into the property division and became property management officer for the Region 3 in the Bureau of Reclamation. Region 3 comprises Boulder City, Needles, Yuma, Parker Dam, Phoenix, and all the areas in the Southwest. I think primarily we were discussing the salary I received for driving the so-called candy truck. I imagine the salary was $75 a month. That should be corrected from $75 to $175 a month. [Audio cuts out]