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As Power Project marks 50th year, ex-worker announces upcoming book

About 11,000 workers built the Niagara Power Project between 1958 and 1961. Twenty of them died on the job.

Tuesday, one of the men who worked on the project announced that he will soon publish a book, seven years in the making, telling for the first time the story of the massive construction project from the workers' perspective.

Ken Glennon of South Bend, Ind., attended a ceremony at the power plant Tuesday marking the 50th anniversary of the first production of power there.

His 385-page book, "Hard Hats of Niagara," is scheduled to be released Aug. 13, with a book signing at the power plant.

Glennon presented New York Power Authority President and CEO Richard M. Kessel with a draft of the book and a vintage hard hat.

The helmet's brim was inscribed with the names of the 20 workers who died, and nine veteran workers who attended the ceremony autographed it.

Glennon said the names of some other former construction workers who died while he was working on the book also were engraved on the hard hat.

Glennon said he interviewed scores of fellow workers while writing his book.

"There were no written documents to research who worked here. It was all networking," he said.

In 2007, Glennon, a national technical consultant for AM General, the South Bend company that makes the Army's Humvee personnel carrier, organized the first reunion of the Power Project's construction workers.

They received the first hard-hat tour of the workings of the power plant since security restrictions were clamped on after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Another reunion was held in 2008, and members of the Hard Hats -- the organization born during the reunions -- are expected to be on hand for the book signing.

Glennon said, "Workers came from across the United States. They even had some come over from Europe."

Glennon said his father moved from Indiana to work on the Power Project in 1958, and the following year he lined up a job for his son, who had just graduated from high school.

"I was a field checker, also known as a timekeeper," Glennon said. "I would check crews for attendance. I would deliver paychecks. I would give people rides."

Glennon's book is crammed with firsthand stories about the project, including some eyewitness accounts of the deaths.

"They had very good safety regulations," Glennon said, "compared to the big dams out West. Their losses were in the hundreds."

"We need to reflect and pay homage to them and what they accomplished here for the people of Western New York," said Michael J. Townsend of Rochester, chairman of the Power Authority Board of Trustees.

"Imagine today trying to build a power plant in three years," Kessel marveled. "When you look at this, you know this is a jewel in the state and the nation's electric system."

The Niagara Power Project, constructed in the wake of the destruction of the Schoellkopf Power Plant in a 1956 rock slide, is the third-largest hydroelectric plant in the United States.

Authority Trustee D. Patrick Curley of Orchard Park said the plant today provides power to about 130 companies employing a total of 31,000 people in Western New York, with a total payroll of $2.1 billion a year.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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