Wachusett Dam & Reservoir

One Man…One Shovel

How They Moved Over 7 Million Cubic Yards of Soil with Just a Shovel



“The Largest Hand-Dug Dam in the World”

So it’s been said. In those days America was undergoing the Industrial Revolution and very large projects were everywhere.

Development of diesel-powered earthmoving equipment was decades in the future so they used what they had – horses, steam engines, some electricity and…shovels.

In the Reservoir, armies of men wielding shovels were put to work stripping the basin floor of its dark farm soil, endlessly filling horse carts and railroad cars for transport to the great dikes in Clinton where more men with shovels dumped the soil and spread it.

At the Dam, other men dug to depths of eighty feet or more to reach the bedrock upon which the enormously heavy structure would be founded.

This is the story of how the contractors organized the basic unit of labor, a man with a shovel barely half a square foot in size, into highly choreographed gangs to keep the work flowing smoothly in all weathers, without slowdown and without exhaustion.


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