the film
Economic and dam related articles

Window into a Simpler Time

by Martin J. Kidston
Independent-Republic, June 10, 2007

The fog rolled up the Garnet Mountains, sweeping into the ghost town of Coloma, where a team of archaeologists from the University of Montana dug in the dirt, looking to unlock the town's many mysteries.

Mark Timmons, an archaeologist who specializes in mining and gender, said miners who worked in Coloma depended on a rickety steam generator to help light the mines.

Down in Canyon Ferry Dam, however, the rush of river water past three giant turbines creates enough power to light the town.

I went from one to the other this week, climbing the tower at the Cathedral of St. Helena, walking Coloma, touring the dam, observing the changes brought by a century of progress.

It's been raining all week. The ghost town is soggy, the moss thick and green, even in the shadows.

But down in the dam, 120 feet below the surface of the lake, the rain is a world away, though water seeps from the walls, the drips echoing through the tunnels.

That's a lot of dripping water.

"Not really," says Doug, the dam operator, while grinning proudly. "We're the least leaking dam I've ever worked. The dams on the Snake River were the worst. Water used to shoot up through the floor this high."

Doug held his hand at waist level, showing the height of the water leaking from the Snake River dams. It's about as high as the pine trees now growing from the roofs of the collapsed cabins in Coloma.

In the ghost town, the birds are nesting in the rafters while the pack rats scatter their wears across the cabin floors.

Slowly, the forest will reclaim this forgotten town, eating the wood, grain by grain, until there's nothing left but scientific records and oral histories.

Nothing lasts forever, though the dam better last awhile. Down in the tunnels, stalactites grow from the concrete walls - the tunnels running cave-like for nearly 1,000 feet across the river bed.

Nothing lasts forever. Even the wooden rafters up in the belfry at the Cathedral of St. Helena have seen better days.

Nearly 90 years old, the timbers have been worn by the weather, rattled by the chiming of the bells. The view from the cathedral's belfry is splendid, not as gray and dreary as the view inside the dam.

But if I had my way, I'd take the view from Coloma, the fading ghost town, and the simple life found in the old way of living; sitting on a porch, chewing a pipe (I don't chew a pipe, but I might if I lived in Coloma).

In the old way of living, when the sun goes down it's dark and that's it. No lights, no generator, just the sound of the forest, and the miners drinking whiskey by lantern in the tavern.

Martin J. Kidston
Window into a Simpler Time
Independent-Republic, June 10, 2007

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation