The Garrison Dam is the fifth largest dam in the United States. It is 210 feet high, and two and a half miles long. With five hydropower generating units in the powerhouse, it produces enough electricity to supply the electrical needs of a large city. It is responsible for creating Lake Sakakawea, the third largest man-made lake in the country.
Construction of the dam began in 1947 and ran until 1954. It took a lot of manpower to build this dam. Theodore Goth was one such man; he operated heavy machinery.
On this date in 1959, the dam had been completed for several years, and Theodore Goth was long gone from the area. However, North Dakota residents were seeking him out.
While Goth had been working n North Dakota, sometime around 1949 or 1950, he lost his wallet in a pile of lignite dug from the deep channel cuts on the project. He never did find his wallet before he left the area in 1954.
More than two million tons of lignite were salvaged by the Corps of Engineers in the building of the Garrison Dam. Some of this mined coal was being used for fuel in Riverdale’s steam and power plant. It was brought into the plant on a conveyor belt, and five years later, it was on that conveyor belt that one employee, Ed Stark, noticed an object that didn’t quite match. When he picked it up, it turned out to be Goth’s wallet—very brittle after sitting in a stack of lignite for several years, but recognizable as a billfold. It held some money, a Social Security card, army discharge papers, and some other personal papers.
So, as Goth was sought, newspapers wrote: “The proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ has been found. In this instance, the ‘needle’ was a ‘cat’ operator’s [wallet] and the haystack one of the giant lignite piles below Garrison Dam.”
Lost to history, however, is whether Goth and his wallet were ever reunited.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Mandan Daily Pioneer, Friday, June 5, 1959, p6