Saturday, April 22, 2017

Watermaster, Irrigation Engineer, and Musician Forrest Sower [otd 04/22]

F. L. Sower. Beal & Wells photo.
Engineer and irrigation expert Forrest Lindsay Sower was born April 22, 1887 in Battle Creek, Michigan. The family soon moved to Idaho, and Forrest graduated from Caldwell High School in 1907. He then attended College of Idaho for a time before transferring to the University of Idaho. He earned a B.A. degree in 1911.

Also a talented musician and composer, Sower pursued that hobby at UI: He played professionally in various bands, and had a number of songs published. Forrest played several wind instruments as well as the organ.

Sower joined the U.S. Reclamation Service right out of school and worked on the early phases of the Boise Project. The Service, today’s Bureau of Reclamation, began its first Boise area irrigation project in 1905. That was the Deer Flat Reservoir, now known as Lake Lowell, about seven miles west of Nampa. The Service then spent several years building or improving canals in the area.

About the time Sower joined the Service, planning had been completed for the next major Project phase, Arrowrock Dam. In 1911, track layers extended a railroad spur running southeast out of Boise so trains could deliver materials and workers for dam construction. Crews completed the dam in 1915. At that time, Arrowrock was the tallest dam in the world and contained some of the most advanced design features known.
Arrowrock Dam, Boise River, ca. 1916. Library of Congress.

Sower worked his way up the promotion ladder over the next few years. The Boise Project added many new dams and canal systems to provide water to the Boise Valley and some of the nearby higher plains. For several years after about 1915, Sower acted as watermaster for the systems in operation around Wilder, 10-12 miles west of Caldwell.

He also maintained his musical interests; the Idaho Statesman reported (January 18, 1920), "A dance will be given in the near future for the benefit of the Wilder band. The band is practicing under the leadership of F. L. Sower."

In 1926, the Bureau of Reclamation transferred substantial assets to the various irrigation Districts for routine operation. Concurrent with that, Sower became assistant engineer and watermaster for the Boise Project Board of Control. That Board oversees and integrates the operations of the various irrigation Districts affiliated with the Project.

In 1934, Sower became Manager of the Nampa-Meridian Irrigation District. Ten years later, he was named Manager of the Boise Project Board of Control. He would hold that position for the rest of his life.

Forrest was a licensed professional engineer in the state of Idaho and a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers. He was also a member of the American Federation of Musicians, being a member of the union Local in Nampa.  He even organized his own dance band and conducted it for a number of years. An active Shriner, he also played in their local band.

Sower passed away in January 1959. His obituary noted that Forrest was “one of the prime movers in the program of covering irrigation ditches as a safeguard against summertime drownings of small children in the area.”
References: [B&W], [Hawley]
Boise Project, U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, D. C. (2009).
“Obituary: Forrest Sower,” Caldwell News-Tribune (January 16, 1959).
Francis W. Shepardson and James L. Gavin Gavin, Songs of Beta Theta Pi, Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, Montana (June 30, 2005).

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