Acquiring construction equipment
in 1918 no easy task

Note: This story is based on information taken from The October 1918 Miami Conservancy Bulletin, which was published monthly by MCD during construction of the flood protection system. The public could buy a subscription to the Bulletin to learn all about the construction process.

Construction of the flood protection system was a challenge far beyond just the design and implementation.  The United States was in the midst of World War I. American companies had been making supplies for the Allies even before the US joined the fight. The demand for material and labor was so high, MCD abandoned the idea of having a contractor build the flood protection system and decided to hire its own staff.

But the project almost came to a halt before it got started. Accessing $1.5 million ($27 million in today’s economy) worth of equipment for just the larger pieces was a daunting task, given the war. Some people suggested the entire project should be indefinitely postponed.

MCD’s Board of Directors determined the risk of delaying construction was too great. Another flood could kill hundreds and destroy industries, many of which were part of the war effort.

MCD chose to use the electric dragline for the bulk of the work, including excavating and transporting about 13 million cubic yards of earth for building the five dams and widening the Great Miami River channel through the cities.

MCD staff scoured the country and uncovered practically every electric dragline in use in the United States. Which leads up to a nearly unbelievable story.

To inspect one of the draglines that ended up in Hamilton, Fowler Smith, MCD’s purchasing agent, and “Big Bill” McIntosh, the master mechanic, waded through 4 feet of January snow in northern Michigan where the dragline had been working in an open mine. To get it to the railway, a “gang of men” shoveled snow 6 feet deep, over four days, for a distance of a quarter mile, with the temperature at 35 degrees below zero.

Three other machines were also dug out of snow in the same kind of weather near Chicago. Two more draglines — and these were among the largest ever manufactured — were dragged out of a swamp in southeastern Mississippi.

“Such difficulties, whether physical or of other kinds, were never allowed to stand in the way,” the Bulletin reads.