Imagine life during the 1930’s when construction on the Hoover Dam was started. Families from the east moved out to the vast desert of Southern Nevada and began their stay in tents along the Colorado River. Air conditioning was non-existent, and as for refrigeration, there aren’t many electrical outlets in the sand.
Temperatures were recorded as reaching over 120 degrees. Word got out that the workmen and their families were constantly at risk of heatstroke, dehydration, and even death; doctors and researchers from across the country came out to the Reservation to study and treat the effects of intensive heat.
Dr. Clare Woodbury, a physician from Las Vegas who cared for men who were affected by the heat, remembered men who were brought to him with body temperatures at 112 degrees. Dr. Woodbury placed the men in tubs of ice water and within an hour, their body temperatures returned to normal.
In late 1932 a two man physician team, Dr. John Talbott and Dr. David Dill, showed up at the Reservation to conduct tests on themselves and the workmen. Through the research of doctors throughout the country, the men concurred that workmen in high temperatures develop a salt deficiency and are prone to heat cramps.
The solution seemed to be that the men needed more salt in their diets, so they began putting it in their water, in their food, and even in their lemonade! A sign was placed in the worker’s mess hall that read, “The Surgeon Says Drink Plenty of Water and Put Plenty of Salt on Your Food.”
In last month’s BC History column, I wrote about one of the best ways those 31ers kept cool in the hot desert, by wrapping themselves in wet sheets. Our educational outreach team structured the Museum’s “Wet Sheet Relay” at this year’s Fourth of July Damboree for participating kids to stay cool and learn a bit about Boulder City history. From what I saw, the kids had a blast. The younger ones may not have understood the story behind our game, but participated in a fun take on a historic and practical function in daily survival of those who were the first to settle the area that would come to be known as Boulder City.