Sunday, August 26, 2012

“The Best Dam Man in the World!” by Larry Reed (PART TWO)

John Savage grew up in the small village of Cooksville (“a wee bit of New England in Wisconsin”), attended school there, as well as the nearby Evansville High School. He then attended the Hillside Home School at Spring Green for two years, a private academy operated by Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts. In 1898 his family moved to Madison and he completed his junior and senior years at Madison High School, and then studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin for the next four years, graduating in 1903. Here is Savage about 15 years old.
His first job in civil engineering was with the U.S. Reclamation Service “Temporary Force” as an engineering aid at a salary of $60 per month to work on the Minidoka irrigation project in the Snake River Valley of Idaho. Thus began his life’s work, advancing in his profession with many impressive achievements and awards to come, although he modestly called himself just “one of Uncle Sam’s employees.” Savage always had great affection for his hometown of Cooksville on the Badfish Creek with the nearby Yahara River with their dams powering the four grist mills from their flowing waters. His father was Edwin Parker Savage (who served as chairman of the Town of Dunkirk in 1889) and his mother was Mary Therese Stebbins. He grew up on the family farm, which had been established by his grandfather who came to Wisconsin in 1842 settling in the Town of Dunkirk north of Cooksville. (Unfortunately, the historic farmhouse that he grew up in was destroyed by fire in 1996.) He first married Jessie Burdick Sexsmith of Milton Junction, Wisconsin, in 1918; she died in 1941. He later married Olga Lacher Miner in 1950. He had no children. When Savage died in 1967 at the age of 88, he was lauded for his designs of the world’s great dams, for his many impressive water project-related accomplishments throughout the world and for his dedicated service, his modesty and his self-effacement. As one person wrote, “Perhaps the final irony of his life was that John L. Savage, a man who hated publicity and was dedicated to public service, had actually left to posterity monuments as permanent as any created in the entire history of mankind.” No doubt: John Lucian Savage (1879-1967) was the best dam man in history. [Excerpt from “The Village of Cooksville: A Chronicle of the Town that Time Forgot,” by Larry A. Reed.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

“The Best Dam Man in the World!” by Larry A. Reed (PART ONE)

As a boy, John Lucian Savage—who would later become known as the best dam man in the world— undoubtedly explored the four dams on the Badfish Creek and Yahara River near his hometown of Cooksville in the late 19th century. John Lucian Savage was born on December 25, 1879, a little north of Cooksville on his father’s farm in the Town of Dunkirk, Dane County, not far from those four separate, water-powered grist mills. He attended the Cooksville School as a child and later received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1903. Savage went on to design the world’s greatest dams, earning the title of the “Best Dam Man in the World.” He served as the Chief Designing Engineer at the Bureau of Reclamation in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1924 to1945, and supervised the design of about 90 dams and related structures in the U.S.A. and throughout the world. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science in 1934 from the University of Wisconsin, and he consulted with numerous countries on water resource projects after he retired from the Bureau. Savage is also credited with inventing and developing several significant construction techniques and devices used in hydraulic engineering. One of his most important innovations was to pour the massive amounts of concrete needed for those huge dams in sections that were cooled by circulating water through pipes embedded in the concrete; otherwise it would have taken about a hundred years for the heat to dissipate as the concrete cured.
He designed the highest dam, the Hoover Dam, and the biggest, the Coulee Dam, and initially designed the largest water project in the world— the Yangtze Gorge Dam in China in 1944, which was finally begun in the 1980s following Savage’s basic design. During his career he designed and advised on projects throughout the world— Australia, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, Japan, Canada, India, Afghanistan, Palestine, Taiwan, Spain, Puerto Rico, Colombia, China. The photo is Savage on the Yangtze River, 1944.
“If you spin a globe of the world and jab a finger at a continent, the chances are good that you’ll strike a part of the earth that has been changed by John Lucian Savage. A modest, humble man Jack Savage is a dynamic force in turning deserts into crop-bearing soil, in sending electric power into kerosene-lamp country, in raising the living standards of millions of people,” stated an article in Collier’s magazine in 1953 titled, “The Best Dam Man in the Business.” (To be continued.)