Although the words “Woody Guthrie” and “Federal employee” don’t usually come to mind together, in May 1941, the Government hired the great folk singer to write songs about some of its hydropower projects in the Pacific Northwest. The results included such classics as “Roll on Columbia,” “Pastures of Plenty,” and “Grand Coulee Dam.”
Woody and his songs came to mind as I started thumbing through Dams, Dynamos, and Development: The Bureau of Reclamation’s Power Program and Electrification of the West, a handsome, large-format book published for the centennial of the Bureau in 2002 and now back in print. It includes a broad array of wonderful black and white and color photos, as well as reproductions of art work (even a Norman Rockwell, left), all of which illustrate the history and activities of the Bureau in building dams and power plants to generate electricity. Many of the photos capture Woody’s “big Grand Coulee country in the land I love the best” and the other rivers and canyons of the West.
It’s not just a picture book; there’s also a lot of hard information on the history of the program, the changing views of the effects of dams and hydropower facilities on the environment – even an extensive listing and photo gallery of the 58 power plants that comprise the Bureau’s power network. It conjures up the heroic age of building America’s infrastructure while addressing such issues as alternative power sources and environmental protection.
You can get a copy of this excellent book here or find it in a library. If you want to view some of the art work, check out the Bureau’s American Artist and Water Reclamation Web page; for some of the photos, there’s the Bureau of Reclamation Photography and Engineering Drawings Collections page.