Controlled Deluge


On Wednesday morning, March 23, John Stamets collected me early for the long drive to the North Fork of the Skokomish River. John has been commissioned by HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) to document the Cushman No 1 Dam just west of the Hood Canal for the library of congress. The dam is operated by Tacoma Power, a public utility for the city of Tacoma. I had the pleasure of going along to help carry equipment down a valley into the site below the dam and assist John with his recording process. We took the tram down the hill into the valley, picked up lanyards and hard hats in the power house, divided up bags and clipped in for our walk in. We set up at the base of the dam. The needle valve is a beautiful piece of engineering. I learned from John it is a Larner-Johnson Needle Valve (c. 1926) and it’s sole purpose is to regulate the draining of the dam should the need ever arise. It is tested 4 times a year and would be tested today so we could shoot it in operation. The needle operates as a plunger that regulates and controls the flow of water.I watched John as he set up his 4×5 camera, loaded film, took spot meter readings and scrutinized the light and shadows. I paid attention to the parts and pieces, and the supporting bags and equipment for field work. I killed some young spring budding branches for the sake of photography. I geeked out over a massive concrete wall ripe with cracks and efflorescence.


After two critical exterior views, we climbed up into the machine room so John could take an interior shot. The engineers arrived and opened the valve 10% for a test run.Next came the deluge:


I can’t begin to describe the power, all I could think about was tsunamis. I was clipped into the tie wire shooting like crazy, wishing I’d packed a wider angle but knowing there was no way I would be changing out lenses balancing on a cliff like this. Hiking out on a metal walkway bolted into the cliff from the machine room, the boulders we clambered over to reach the base of the dam were now 16-20′ under water. One last view looking back at the valley:

Thanks to Tacoma Power and John Stamets for an exciting day of field work!

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