As others labor to replace Lower Monumental Dam's lower lock gate, Dean Lodmell could be forgiven for taking a "been there, done that" view.
Forty-nine years ago Lodmell was a young engineer happily tackling a big job. Fresh from being part of building Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Lodmell was appointed as project and office engineer for the contractor which built the Lo-Mo's navigation lock, spillway, fish ladder and non-overflow section.
A native of Walla Walla, Lodmell said he was happy to be returning to his home town to work on the $25 million project.
"I went to Sharpstein, Wa-Hi and Whitman (College)," he said in a recent interview. "Whitman College had a combination program with Columbia (University) for engineering and I got my civil engineering degree from Columbia and then got my master's degree."
As he was finishing work on his master's in 1959, his professor for structural engineering who was working on the new stadium called up and said, "Well, come on, we can use you for helping design Dodger Stadium." Then in 1962 the stadium's contractor, Vinell Corporation, won the contract to build the south section of Lower Monumental Dam.
"What an opportunity to come home to Walla Walla and build this," he said. "What a real fun thing and what an opportunity."
For the next four years, Lodmell lived in Walla Walla and commuted every day to the dam site. He worked 10-12 hours a day "and many Saturdays was out there doing the work that needed to be done," he recalled.
Among those tasks were designing all plant facilities, including the concrete plant that turned out the huge quantities needed to build the structure.
"I think we had about a million cubic yards in our contract," Lodmell said with a laugh. Because concrete heats as it cures, the mixture had to be cooled down to 40 degrees before it was placed, a feat accomplished by running the aggregate material through cold water and adding tons of shaved ice to the mix as it came out of the batch plant.
Lodmell said the best part of working on the project came at the last.
"What was exciting for me was when Vinell got the contract for Little Goose Dam in 1965, they left me to oversee and get done the remaining work for a year," he said. "So I stayed there and had the best time making sure everything on the navigation locks got fabricated correctly, the (electrical) power installed and all the machinery associated with it."
"It was wonderful. I was working with some of the best experts, welders and others in the territory," Lodmell recalled. "It was a great learning experience."
One of the high points came when the navigation lock was finished. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wouldn't accept the work until it had been tested, it fell to Lodmell to be the first person to operate the massive machinery.
"I had to sit up there in the control booth and manually run the darn controls to make sure it worked," he said with another laugh. "Only then would the Corps accept it."