Interview with Erma Godbey, Wife of a Hoover Dam Builder, for Program One: "A Tale of Two Rivers"
Note: This transcript is from a videotaped interview for the "A Tale of Two Rivers" segment of "Great Projects." It has been edited lightly for readability.
ERMA GODBEY (EG): Well, we were already living in Oatman, Arizona, 'cause we had moved down from Silverton 'cause all the mines had closed and there was a mine working in Oatman. But then my husband had gotten canned from that mine and so there was nothing else we could do but to come here, because [the Hoover Dam] was the only job that was going in the whole United States. And so we, my mother and stepfather, came down and they had a 7-passenger Dodge touring car. We had no transportation and I had to put all of my things that I had moved from Silverton in storage and we just brought what we barely could bring with us, a few clothes and a very few, oh, ah, cooking utensils and things. And we had 'em all tied onto the car every which way -- on top and on the sides and on the running boards and everything and we drove down from Oatman, Arizona, to Needles and around by Searchlight and on up here. And they were just building Railroad Pass Casino because the State of Nevada had just passed a law that gambling would be legal. And Railroad Pass Casino, they were building it outside of the government reservation because they couldn't have it inside the reservation, but they could have it in the State of Nevada. And so when we got there, we asked and they said, "Well, you go on this other way into where Boulder City's going to be." So we turned then and when we drove on over here from Railroad Pass. And we stopped at the Six Company camp and asked, you know, what we could do. And they said, "Well, you gotta go down to the camp at the river." And so we just had to keep a-goin' and then we drove to where you turn down to go to the wash down there. And we went down that wash to the river bottom, and that's where just everybody had moved in there just like us, with nothing hardly. So we called it Ragtown, Hell's Hole.
EG: They came from everywhere. They walked. They drove. They came from everywhere and nobody had anything but what they could either take on a car or what they carried. And so it was Ragtown. Everybody had pieces of cardboard and any piece of lumber or anything to make a shelter.
EG: Well, because this was the only job that was even goin' in the whole United States. It was the Depression and it was the only job and it was gonna go, you know, because it had been in the works for a long time. And, of course, they were gonna build the dam to keep it from flooding Imperial Valley. And then, you see, making the electricity was a second idea.
EG: Well, the first night, we got down to Ragtown and we just slept on the ground and slept. And then my mother and stepfather, they drove their car back to Colorado and left us there. And my mother said, "Well, I'll never see you again." But we were hardy folks and we had come from hardy folks. So, anyway, that's the way it was and so then the next day I got some clothesline, and I had a wool blanket that I'd had the woolen knitting mills make, and it was one of these that went under you and over you. It was a real long one. And I had it fastened with horse blanket pins to the clothesline rope and poles stuck in the ground to try to make a little bit of shade, because it was so terribly, terribly hot.
EG: By 10 o'clock in the morning it'd be 130 [degrees]. It'd be clear past your 120 that
your thermometer shown and on up further. And then it'd keep on gettin' hotter until 4 o'clock in the afternoon before it started gettin' cooler again.
EG: Well, Ragtown was just everybody from everywhere -- livin' the best they could with the little teeny bit of things they had brought with them. And, you see, it was started because they were going to drill the diversion tunnels to divert the rivers around the base of the dam so they could build the dam.
EG: I have an idea there was about a thousand there at the time, and they were all in these just any kind of shanties and, you know, with no more shade and stuff than I had and cookin' on campfires or whatever.