Last of Conchas Dam builders to be honored

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

When Earl Flint was a boy, his toys all had wheels.

“I was all about machines and how they would change the world,” he said.

And they did change his world 75 years ago when he was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help build Conchas Dam.

A news release from the USACE reports Flint, 99, of San Jon, is the last known Conchas Dam builder alive today.

“I was one of the luckiest people in the whole world, I thought back then,” he said.

He’s expected to attend a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Friday celebrating the dam’s 75th anniversary at the dam overlook. Officials will seal a time capsule scheduled to be opened in 25 years.

Flint said he landed the job as part of a group that hauled concrete to Conchas from Newkirk.

Conchas at the time was “nothing but a tent city filled with workers trying to support their families,” during the Great Depression, Flint said.

Flint said his brother Frankie Flint was hired to build a road to the site.

“There were no roads in those days,” Earl Flint said. “There were routed paths where trucks had flattened the grass but no roads like there are today.”

Michael Louge, USACE public information officer, said 2,500 people were hired initially to build a camp for workers.

Another 1,458 were hired once construction began, he said.

Flint said many of the dam’s workers, including himself, had been employed by the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) of 1933.

“During that time you could only work for 40 days,” Flint said.

Flint said he was selected to work at Conchas because of his past experience with heavy machinery.

“I got my start operating a Caterpillar building a graded road on the Caprock south of San Jon,” he said. “There is a job where I learned real quick how to clutch break and operate a machine.”

Flint said he completed the eighth grade and left school to begin working. He said he was self educated when it came to machinery.

“Now days there are so many electronic and computerized parts of the machine,” Flint said. “But back in the old days I could walk around a piece of heavy equipment three times and run it.”

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt replaced FERA with the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

“That was a good day,” Flint said. “Instead of temporary employment many of us were going to work until the project’s end.”

Flint said while he worked at Conchas he taught several drivers how to operate the trucks, which were new and often experimental.

“I told them the guys do not need to go to school, but rather they need to be shown how to drive out here,” Flint said.

Flint said he built a small road where he would take two or three men at a time to teach them to operate the equipment.

“They were a great bunch of guys,” he said. “To tell you the truth a great many of them turned out to be better drivers than me.”

Louge said the 75th anniversary of Conchas Dam is also the 75th anniversary of the Corps’ Albuquerque district.

The time capsule will be filled with items from the Albuquerque office, including blueprints, safety gear and Corps shirts.

Louge said Conchas Dam, completed in July of 1939, was the largest civil works project in New Mexico. He said the cost of the dam was $15 million. The state’s budget at the time was $8 million, he said.

Officials estimate 250,000 tourists visit the dam annually. It provides critical water supplies for the Canadian River and for Tucumcari.