Saturday, March 18, 2023

1938 VIP Inspection Trip To Grand Coulee Dam

Guest post by Sean Hess.

October 1938 Train Car Crossing Grand Coulee Dam

The two most important visitors on the train crossing Grand Coulee Dam on October 25, 1938, are Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes and the Commissioner of Reclamation John Page.  Ickes’ trip to Grand Coulee was part of a much larger trip that Ickes took with his wife Jane starting on October 16, 1938.  This trip was, in part, a chance for Ickes to inspect a number of Bureau of Reclamation projects that were underway throughout the West along with Page, who was responsible for getting the projects implemented.  Along with his supervisory role, Ickes was also in the West for a political mission.  The November 1938 mid-term elections were just around the corner, and Ickes was in the region to do what he could for candidates that Roosevelt favored.

The initial part of Ickes trip took him west from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, and then to Reno, and all of their travel was by train.  When they arrived in Reno, Ickes found himself extremely fatigued, and he decided to cancel the leg of his journey that would take him from Reno by automobile down to Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam, much to Ickes chagrin).  They pushed on to San Francisco and stayed there for 3 days, during which time Ickes bounced back from his intense schedule.  They took a train down to southern California to look at the reclamation projects in the Imperial Valley, and then made a stop in Hollywood to hobnob with movie producers like Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck.  They eventually returned to San Francisco, held a short ceremony commemorating the start of work on the Central Valley Project, and then headed north to Portland.  While in the Portland area, Ickes inspected work being done on Bonneville Dam.

From Bonneville Dam, the Ickes travelled on the Northern Pacific to Spokane.  John and Anna (Roosevelt) Boettiger, one of the President’s daughters, drove from Seattle and joined the party in Spokane.  “After breakfast we boarded automobiles for our trip to Grand Coulee, which also I had not seen since 1934.  Grand Coulee was a drive of over ninety miles but the day was pleasant and the trip not particularly tiring.  The Boettingers rode with Jane and me and on the way up Congressman Leavy was in the front seat with the driver.  Coming back Commissioner Page occupied this seat.  Grand Coulee was very thrilling but it still has a long way to go“ [Ickes 1954:494-495].

Ickes returned to Washington, D.C., by way of Chicago [Ickes home town] on October 29, 1938.

Here’s some information about Leavy, who may be pictured with Ickes and Banks at the Vista House.

Ickes, Harold L. 1954. The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes, volume II: The Inside Struggle, 1936 – 1939.  Simon & Schuster. New York.

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