National Geographic : 1952 Nov
were coming into the Willamette Valley, many of them avoided toilsome overland routes past Mount Hood by loading their goods on river steamers and portaging around Umatilla, Celilo, and Cascade rapids. Nowadays numerous tugboats drawing big barges ply the Columbia between Portland and Umatilla. They pass Celilo rapids by The Dalles-Celilo Canal and Locks. When the McNary Dam is finished, river traffic will go around it by similar locks. Materials for building the new dam were being brought to Umatilla in barges at the time of our visit. On the return trip to Port land, the hulls which had carried cement to the dam were loaded with wheat. Tall ele vators at the riverside filled the holds by long spouts swung out over the water. Oil barges were taken downstream empty. River transportation, flood control, and reclamation of desert lands, though economi cally important, cannot alone justify con struction of the tremendous system of dams in the Columbia Basin. Production of hydro electric power to satisfy the phenomenally growing demand of new industries in the Pacific Northwest is a major reason. Six Aluminum Plants Now Operating When I was in Oregon in 1945, I had learned about large deposits of laterite, low grade aluminum-bearing ore, near Portland. Although the aluminum companies have acquired land and tested the laterite beds, they have done no actual mining there. The alumina, a white, granular powder, now being used in six reduction plants in Oregon and Washington is shipped from bauxite-refining plants in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and elsewhere. Eventually the laterite may be used, but for the present imported and do mestic bauxite is cheaper. In 1939 the Aluminum Company of Amer ica built a huge plant at Vancouver, Wash ington, just across the Columbia from Port land. In 1941 the Reynolds Metals Company began reduction at Longview, Washington, 40 miles downstream. To meet war needs, the United States built a third plant at Trout dale, Oregon, which it subsequently sold to Reynolds. From the Government the Kaiser Alumi num & Chemical Corporation purchased two other wartime reduction plants, one at Mead, near Spokane, and one at Tacoma. The Aluminum Company of America has com pleted a sixth plant at Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee. At present these Pacific Northwest reduc tion plants have about 40 percent of the Na tion's capacity to produce new aluminum, material vital to the national defense. The great Boeing airplane factory at Seattle is their biggest Northwest customer. By far 590 the greater part of the output, however, goes to eastern markets. Mac and I went through the Alcoa mills at Vancouver to watch alumina pass through intricate processes and emerge as pig alumi num. It is taken in solution in a molten cry olite bath, and an electric current is passed through it to reduce it to metal-aluminum. Aluminum melts at about 1,300° Fahren heit, a temperature considerably lower than that required to melt steel. Cooling, it is cast into pigs and then into ingots. From the reduction plants we walked into a rod and bar mill where the ingots were converted by machines into aluminum cables with cores of fine steel wire. I had seen many such cables on the long-distance trans mission lines carrying power from Grand Coulee. They are highly efficient conductors of electricity. The steel cores strengthen the cables and prevent sagging and breaking.