COE - 1935-1971

The First Thirty-six Years: A History of the Albuquerque District, 1935-1971
Army Corp of Engineers, Albuquerque NM

This document represents the invaluable research efforts of Nathan J. Sewell, a
pioneer employee of the District. Material gathered by Mr. Sewell formed the basis
for an excellent writing by Dr. Louis C. Tulga, Assistant Professor of History at the
University of New Mexico, 1967-1971.

In 1929, a joint report of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State of New
Mexico had concluded that flood control and irrigation projects along the Canadian
River were not economically feasible. But because of widespread unemployment
in the early 1930's the federal government directed its various agencies to
recommend projects that would create jobs. Under direction from General Edward M.
Markham, Chief of Engineers, the Division Engineer of the Lower Mississippi
Valley Division, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, issued a report in October 1933.
The report, "Unemployment and Destitution in Certain Sections of Texas, Oklahoma,
Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico," concluded that although Conchas Dam could
not be justified in terms of flood control and irrigation benefits, its construction
would provide a good deal of employment.

On the basis of this report, the Chief of Engineers, in 1935, applied for approval
and funding of the project from the National Emergency Counei I, under provisions
of the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935. Within several months, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Conchas Dam Project and appropriated $4,500,000
in ERA funds. The following year the project came under funding provisions of the
Flood Control Act of 1936.

The Conchas Dam was to be built some thirty miles horthwest of Tucumcari, New
Mexico on the Canadian River just below its confluence with the Conchas River.
The project was assigned to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and a War Department
Engineer District, under the Lower Mississippi Valley Division, was established
on August I, 1935 in Tucumcari. The District, with jurisdiction over the
watershed of the Canadian River west of the New Mexico-Texas state line, was
organized into three main divisions: Administrative; Engineering; and Town Management.

At the outset, the Tucumcari District was under the direction of District Engineer
Captain Hans Kramer (later Brig. Gen.), two commissioned officers, a medical
officer, and a staff of 143. Captain Kramer I born in Germany in 1894, graduated
from the U.S. Military Academy in 1918. He served the District from August 1935
until his transfer in November 1939--shortly after the completion of the Conchas
Dam. Because of Captain Kramer's dedicated leadership in seeing the project
through to completion he is recognized as the" Father of Conchas Dam.""

When the District was founded, Tucumcari was a typical western town inhabited
and frequented by merchants, stockmen, and rai I road employees. District offices
were located in a remodeled store front adjacent to the old Vorenberg Hotel on
Main Street. The distance from the town to the project site made it necessary to
build a construction camp at the project site: general town facilities; and housing
for about 2,500 relief workers, 1,400 construction workers under contract, and
for at least 125 families of federal civil service employees. Building the construction
camp was the first order of business.


The Tucumcari District's primary mission was to direct construction of the Conchas
Dam Project while providing as much emergency relief employment as possible. The
project consisted of three main elements: (I) construction of a secondary highway
from the railhead at Newkirk, New Mexico to the project site; (2) the building and
administration of an on-site construction campi and (3) construction of the dam and
appurtenances .

The site was in an area of relative isolation, about 30 to' 60 miles by rural road from
the nearest town or city. The District built a two-lane gravel road, some 27 miles
long, between the site and Newkirk. Almost all material for the project had to be
shipped to Newkirk and hauled over this newly constructed road. Its heavily traveled
surface was kept in repair by constant use of a self-propelled road grader. While the
Conchas Project was under construction, traffic was so heavy that the road could not
be blocked long enough to allow for paving.

Provision of suitable and adequate water supply for domestic and construction use
was one of ihe more serious problems encountered. The original water supply was
obtained from a system of 40 shallow wells which supplied about 30,000 gallons
per day. Water for construction purposes was taken from deep wells. In time,
the domestic water supply became inadequate and it was necessary"to utilize the
river flow. Canadian River water was impounded in a temporary reservoir with a
storage capacity of 70,000,000 gallons. As a precautionary measure, additional
water was stored in a tank which held about 10,000,000 gallons. From these
facilities, water was pumped to a purification plant at the camp site.

Electric power was initially supplied by a 35kw generator. As the construction
camp expanded in size, a powerplant was installed with a capacity sufficient to
furnish adequate power for both domestic and construction consumption. The Ga~
Company of New Mexico built a pipeline from Tucumcari to the camp site, using
labor hired by the government. After some time, serious leaks in the system forced
the abandonment of the gas line. Butane gas and fuel oil were hauled by truck to
the camp. Telephone and telegraph services were extended to the camp and the
Post Office Department established a third-class post office at Conchas.

The site selected for the 'camp was a gently sloping area above the bluffs of the
Canadian River with excellent natural drainage. The tract contained about 834
acres. It was conveyed by the Red River Valley Company, owner of the Bell
Ranch, to the federa I government by easement for the construction period of the

Start of camp construction necessitated the recruitment of labor from relief rolls
of New Mexico and West Texas and a Corps of Engineers field office was set up
at Conchas. The Town Management Division supervised the camp facility and
a Corps' commissioned officer acted as Town Manager. Because of communications
problems between the District headquarters at Tucumcari and the field office at
Conchas the District offices were moved to the construction site. On October I,
1936 the Tucumcari District was renamed the Conchas District.

When it became apparent that construction contracts for the dam cou Id be awarded
as early as September 1936, the schedu Ie for construction of the camp facility was
accelerated . The number of employees working on the camp increased from 500
in March 1936 to nearly 2,400 in June. As a resu It of increased production, all
housing facilities for personnel, the utility installations and miscellaneous buildings,
except for the theater and some garages, were avai lable for occupancy by
October 15, 1936 .

The camp was designed to accommodate about 2,500 persons. It consisted of
apartments, individual residences, dormitories, an infirmary, town hall, and
other such buildings necessary for town life. All buildings in the camp were bf
Pueblo style architecture and the basic building materials were adobe and native
stone. Rental rates were based on the amortization of all equipment over a four
year period, plus operation and maintenance costs and the interest on the investment
at the rate of 3.5 per cent per annum.

The Town Management Division provided full municipal services to the camp.
The camp's 24-bed infirmary was one of the most completely equipped hospitals
in the State of New Mexico. Dining facilities were cafeteria style in a 1,500-
man capacity mess hall operated by the federal government. There was a 7-man
police force and a volunteer fire department at the camp. Concession agreements
were made on an annual basis to businessmen; who operated the wide range of
services found in any town the size of the camp.

The Conchas Dam Recreation Association, a quasi-official organization whose
membership included all employees of the project, conducted community recreational
activities. Softball, tennis, golf, and basketball were among the sports activities
available to employees and their families. Dances were sponsored from autumn
through spring and the Association supported camera, rifle, drama, and bridge clubs.

Family quarters within the construction camp were limited to official personnel.
To accommodate the families of other workers, several temporary communities
sprang up near Conchas. The largest and most prominent of these were Mesa Rica
and Gate City. The presence of families necessitated some arrangement for schools.
A WPA grant paid three grade school teachers for the 1936-1937 school year at
Conchas. High school students attended school at Tucumcari. By the next school
year, the New Mexico State Board of Education, in cooperation with the San Miguel
County School Superintendent, established a grade school and high school at Conchas
for about 150 students.

Land for Conchas Dam was procured by the New Mexico Interstate Streams Commission
and conveyed to the federal government in fee simple. Additiona I tracts
were conveyed by the State of New Mexico by easement for the reservoir. Excavation
operations for the main dam began in December 1935 with the help of
relief labor. Contracts for the construction of the main dam and wing dams were
awarded in September 1936. The Dam consists of a concrete gravity main section,
1,250 feet long and 200 feet high, located in the Canadian River canyon. Flanking
the concrete section are earthen dikes with a total length of about 3.7 miles.
A service spi Ilway 300 feet long is located in the main concrete dam, and a concrete
emergency spillway 3,000 feet long is located in the north dike. Irrigation
headworks located in the south dike's south abutment consist of a tunnel 700 feet
long. Power for lighting and operation of equipment was supplied by a 150kw
hydro-electric unit working off a 24 inch penstock. Three additional penstocks,
five feet in diameter, were installed through the dam for possible future development
of power.

The Reservoir, with a total storage capacity of 550,800 acre-feet, controls the
runoff of the Canadian River. It provides 273,000 acre-feet for irrigation, 198,
200 acre-feet for flood control, and 79,600 acre-feet for deposition of sediment.

The average daily employment from August 1935 until June 1939 was 1,302, of
which 67 per cent were relief workers. Employment peaked at just over 2,500
in the spring of 1938. To minimize on-the-job injuries, a comprehensive program
of education and safety enforcement was instituted. Under the circumstances,
the District produced a commendable safety record. From August 1935
until June 1939 government hired labor worked a total of 7,244,619 man-hours
with only 105 lost-time injuries and one fatality. Employees of contractors at
Conchas, for the same period, worked a total of 2,853,900 man-hours with 173
lost-time injuries and five fatalities. The successful resolution of safety problems
is but one example of the skill and dedication of Captain Hans Kramer and his
staff of commissioned officers and civilian personnel.

When Conchas Dam was completed during the summer of 1939, the Bureau of
Reclamation used the camp to house its employees who were engaged in the
construction of the irrigation canal and laterals from the dam to fields downstream.
In february 1940 the National Park Services took over the camp to
house CCC recruits who were to demolish portions of the camp 110 longer needed
and to build recreational facilities near the dam. When these were finished they
were turned over to the New Mexico State Parks Commission for operation. Buildings
for the permanent operation of the dam were constructed by the Corps of
Engineers in 1939. These were adobe with stucco exteriors and included a headquarters,
a res idence for the Superintendent of Operations and Mai ntenance, and
four duplex structures for operations personnel.

Before the completion of Conchas Dam, Major General Ju lian L. Schley, Chief
of Engineers, had sought out other possible projects for the Conchas District. In
February 1939 the little Rock District had issued a preliminary report on the
feasibility of the proposed Caddoa Dam Project, which Congress had authorized
in the Flood Control Act of 1936. The little Rock District had already acquired
rights-of-way for surveys and exploratory work in the project area. On May 2,
1939 the Conchas District was transferred from the Lower Mississippi Valley

Division to the Southwestern Division. On June I, 1939, 'the territorial limits
of the Conchas District were extended to include the watershed of the Arkansas
River west of Walnut Creek, Kansas. The proposed Caddoa Project, located-on
the Arkansas River about 18 miles upstream from Lamar, Colorado, now fell within
the jurisdiction of the recently expanded Conchas District.

A temporary field office was set up in Lamar while District headquarters were
being built at the project site. On November 4, 1939, Captain James H. Stratton
replaced Major Hans Kramer as District Engineer and later in November 1939 the
Lamar suboffice was moved to the new quarters at the Caddoa site. On December
4, 1939 the District was officially renamed the Caddoa District and, in short order,
virtually all District personnel transferred to the Caddoa offices.

In June of 1940, after the death of Congressman John A. Martin of Pueblo, Colorado,
the Caddoa Project was officially renamed John Martin Reservoir.